The winter woods can be a place of majesty and beauty.

One occasion stands out for me. We were hiking on a piece of public land the morning after a heavy snowfall. The way eventually led to a stand of immense evergreens, each tree a century or more old, and correspondingly tall and wide.

They were, in spots, packed so tightly together than it was impossible to walk between them without showering yourself in snow.

Elsewhere, though, there was more open space. A deer trail wound through those places.

Following it, the walking was a bit easier. But the setting is what made the way impressive. All around us were dark green boughs covered in powdery white snow, highlighted by shafts of sunlight piercing the openings between the trees high above.

“It seems enchanted,” said my son. “Like a cathedral.”

Indeed it was.

We were able to experience it – or at least do so reasonably easily – because we were wearing snowshoes.

The same snow that made the woods around us so lovely was piled high and drifted even higher in the field we’d crossed to get here. The woods were full, too.

Now, we could have waded through it in just our boots. But it would have been exhausting.

Snowshoes – thought to have been invented in central Asia maybe 6,000 years ago – allowed us to make our way with a degree of ease. They work by distributing your weight over a wider area, essentially giving you a bigger footprint.

You don’t float across the snow. The first person in a single-file line of snowshoers, breaking trail, can get a workout, which is why it’s best to take turns leading.

But without a doubt they make walking in deep snow easier. And more fun, too.

That’s something more and more people are learning. An Outdoor Industry Association report showed participation in snowshoeing among all Americans ages 6 and older grew by 33 percent between 2007 and 2016.

So how to join the movement, get involved and have fun?

Here are 10 snowshoe tips for an outing on snowshoes.

Get the right ones. Snowshoes – which have left and right feet, just like regular shoes – come in different shapes and lengths. Some are better for open terrain, others for more wooded country. Get those best for where you plan to hike. Pay attention to load, too. All snowshoes are rated by the weight they’re expected to carry. Pick ones that can handle the combined weight of you and your gear.

Use poles. Hikers and backpackers know the value of using a trekking pole, which adds another point of contact with the ground when moving. Poles come in handy for balance when in snow, too.

Dress in layers. The amount of clothes you need to wear to stay warm when outdoors in winter varies by your activity level. Plan to snowshoe in, then sit still for hours watching wildlife? You’ll need more clothes when stationary than when briskly moving. If you have layers on, you can add or subtract clothes as needed.

Bring a pack. A pack gives you a place to put those extra clothes, as well as carry a first aid kit or emergency supplies.

Pack snacks. Speaking of packing, throw something to eat in your bag. Snowshoeing, like any hiking, burns calories. You’ll need to replace them. High energy foods – peanuts, granola bars, chocolate – give you a boost to keep going. You can even bring warm food, like soup, in an insulated bottle or bring a backpack-sized stove and heat it up on site.

Add water. Everyone thinks to drink lots of water when it’s hot and humid outside. But you need to replace your body’s fluids just as much in winter. If possible, warm your water and keep it that way in an insulated bottle. Drinking warm water rather than cold will help your body maintain its temperature.

Bring hand warmers. There are versions of these that run on fuel, and they’re both dependable and reusable. Or you can opt for those chemical and disposable ones. Whatever you choose, bring some for everyone in the group.

Be ready for breakdowns. Gone, for the most part, are the days of snowshoes made of willow and rawhide (though those are fun, too). Most have aluminum frames and some sort of synthetic webbing. Even the modern versions can break, though. Stuff some duct tape or zip ties in your bag to make emergency repairs as necessary.

Make fire. Speaking of emergencies, getting stuck outside in winter, maybe overnight, can be every bit as cold as you’d imagine. A fire can make a huge difference. Carry at least one, and preferably two, tools for starting fire, from waterproof matches to a lighter. Throw a fire starter of some sort in there as well.

Pack sunscreen. Think sunburn is only a summertime thing? That’s not so. Sunlight reflected off brilliant white snow will burn you, too. Consider sunglasses to ward off glare, too.

And then?

Well, head out there. Winter fields and woods are magical under a blanket of snow.

But don’t take out word for it. Strap on some snowshoes and go adventuring.

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See also: Winter perfect for studying animal tracks.

 

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