Just as I started pulling out my seed catalogs to plan our garden nature let me know winter wasn’t done with me yet.
We’ve gotten close 3-4 feet of snow in the past few weeks and it’s still coming down! In our house, when February delivers snow – get a shovel and don your snowshoes!
Snowshoes: The Practical Necessities That Make Life Easier
Snowshoes transform a winter snowdump into an invitation to get out and explore. And as my husband points out, they can be a lifesaver. We won’t go on any long winter road trips without a few pairs in the back of the car in case we get stuck. As many mountain men can testify – they are a practical tool for any winter traveler. My husband was dumbfounded when he first put his 190 pounds on a pair of snowshoes and found himself almost floating as he walked on the snow, sinking in only a few inches below the surface.
Snowshoes are also an invaluable part of managing our homestead. Many winters when our woodpile has run low my husband and I snowshoe out back to find dead trees we can fell for firewood and carry them back in 4- 6 foot lengths. Without snowshoes, this would be impossible. Around this time of year, we also use them to put our maple taps into the trees, monitor the sap buckets and collect them when the snow is still too deep.
The Snowshoe Challenge
All this being said, snowshoe traveling can still be awkward. I’ll warn you – when you start you’ll probably land on your face a few times (good thing it’s done on soft snow!). You have to lift your legs up enough to get the toe part out with each step. And widen your stance so you don’t step on your other foot while walking.
But eventually, with practice, you can get a nice rhythm going. If you can bring it up to a jog, you’ll discover it’s a potent workout. (Warning number two: Wear snowpants since you’ll probably kick snow up on your butt as you move forward if you jog.)
You’ll feel it in your quadriceps primarily. But it can work out the muscles in your shins too – a great way to prepare for track season in the spring. By strengthening these muscles you can prevent shin splints.
Today, with the big snowfall, I trooped outside with my daughter to enjoy a little snowshoeing. We’ve been trekking out on snowshoes since she was about 4 (she’s now 16). We jog/trekked past the garden and chicken coop along an old logging trail into the back field.We walked carefully among the trees, alert for falling branches. One tree made a long slow creeek that raised our hackles. But nothing but snow fell around us. The trees, weighed down with snow, made a magical tunnel that opened up into the white expanse of the field.
The field gave us a nice gentle uphill slope – good for a slow jog and extra workout until we reached the other old logging trail that led through our back maple grove. Again, we tuned our ears to creaking trees and wended our way to the pond. A few branches had already fallen in the way, blocking the path, forcing us out onto the pond.
A quick crossing and then another jog up the slight hill to the house. With our hearts pounding in our chests from the exertion, we took a moment to practice our shooting with a air rifle and then went for another jog around the through the wood tunnel, the field, the maple grove and then finally over the pond and back to the house.
We toured our maple trees, brushing snow off the bucket covers to prevent the buckets from falling off. And then circled back to the house for a final snowball fight.
Trekking with Young Children Into A Magical Winter Woods
Years ago when she was tiny, snowshoes opened the world up to her when the snow would make exploring too tedious. Without snowshoes, she would sink too deep to make it possible to walk far. With them, they could trudge along chattering merrily.
We bundled her up in her snowsuit, strapped on her little snowshoes and trekked outside to see how the world had transformed with snow.
There is nothing like exploring winter woods with children. It’s like reading a story book. Animals leave tracks in the snow that turns the woods into a timelapse photograph of all the travelers who have passed through. You can spot itsy mice patters as they skim over the top. We discovered where squirrels hid their nuts, amazed that they seemed to dig with absolute accuracy to find their stash.
We tracked foxes, otters, weasels, coyotes and neighborhood cats. We even came across a few winter dramas as a we’d spot the intersection of squirrel and fox tracks. Spots of blood told the rest of the tale.
Sometimes, my husband and I would hang back and let our little explorers go forward on their own. Allowing them to experience that sense of being the intrepid leader, the first to discover a new vision of winter’s wonders. Sometimes we’d all pause and just listen to the wind in the pine trees.
We’ve snowshoed up our little mountain in the back, crossed streams and traversed fields. Pausing to enjoy the light of the sun setting behind the trees and then turning back, grateful for the warm, welcoming light of our house, its woodstove and the promise of hot chocolate or soup.
Invaluable Snowshoeing Tips
A few tips for making snowshoeing a fun adventure:
1. Get good snowshoes!
When our kids were little we first had some terrible bear claw shaped Redfeather plastic snowshoes. The straps were hard to secure no matter how tight we made them, especially since little kids snowboots are so stubby it’s hard to find a good area to tighten straps around. We’ve loved the Tubbs snowshoes and MSR makes a great looking set – although we haven’t tried them. Both of these look like they’ve been built to make them easier to move in and keep the straps on. If you’re going to make snowshoeing an enjoyable family experience, it’s worth investing in some good ones for the kids. February is great time to get good deals or keep your eyes open for equipment swaps and used equipment on sale.
The same goes for adults – invest in something that will stand up to some tough terrain and years of trekking – and that won’t come off your boots easily. We’ve loved our Redfeather Adult snowshoes – they’ve held up with our use for years. This includes carrying heavy logs or two 5-gallon sap buckets on uneven terrain. And I just broke in a set of Atlas snowshoes hiking up to the top of our mountain and racing back down in time for a midday meeting. They held up great.
2. Dress for winter warmth
I’ve put together a whole article on how to dress for warmth. But critical to keep in mind – with snowshoeing, especially when you jog, you can really work up a sweat. It’s critical for safety and enjoyment to wear layers and clothes that you can vent so you don’t overheat.
3. Wear good-fitting boots
Usually with winter boots you can get away with some roominess. But when you put on snowshoes, you’ll want to tighten them up. We’ve had a few kids leave not only a snowshoe, but a boot behind! And even just a little looseness can make it harder to move efficiently.
4. Fuel up and bring snacks and water
I’ve put together lots of ideas for healthy snacks. Make sure you hydrate well too. In winter it’s just as critical to get enough liquid in your body. And we’ve started off many a good snowshoe hikes fueled by my pancakes.
5. Bring a trail guide and tracking guide
If you’re exploring new trails, make sure you’ve planned your route carefully and brought good maps with you. You don’t want to get lost – particularly in winter.
And bring along a good tracking guide – following animal tracks in the snow is a great way to keep kids engaged. Many wildlife centers hand out free one page tracking guides that fit in your pocket. Or you can get this more in depth animal tracking guide from Peterson’s that goes beyond footprints to discuss all kinds of interesting things like scat (poop).
6. Start small and work up
You’ve heard this before from me – start small for success and build on it. Don’t get over ambitious – especially if kids are involved or you haven’t been too active. As I explained, snowshoeing can make movement easier in deep snow and it’s not too tricky. But it’s not easy as pie. Start with a short snowshoe exploration first that you can finish with a sense of satisfaction – looking forward to the next adventure. And then build on this with a slightly longer trip.
Have you ventured out on snowshoes? Please share your experience and any great tips as well!
About Sarah Clachar And Fit Family Together
Since expecting their first Since expecting their first child, Sarah and her husband Cassius have made fitness a core part of their family life. From biking to hiking . . . from the heart of New York City to a farm in New England, they have found a way to stay active together. And through all this exercising as a family they discovered that family fitness builds not only strong bodies – but stronger families.
A professional health writer with a BA in biology, gardener and foodie Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in nutrition and health. A personal trainer and inveterate tinkerer, Cassius brings innovation to making family fitness work.
Ready to make family fitness part of your family life? Take the Fit Family Together 7 Day Family Fitness Challenge and put your own family fitness plan together.