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by Diane Spicer
Guess where we start our discussion of the basics of snowshoeing gear?
Not with the snowshoes.
What to wear snowshoeing is way more important than the snowshoes on your feet!
Manufacturers have figured out that women need snowshoes suited to their unique strides.
And they're starting to produce decent women's snowshoes.
Wonder of wonders!!
So no worries about how to buy snowshoes - just follow that link above to Hiking For Her detailed tips on finding the best snowshoes for your feet and snowshoeing style.
Here, put your efforts into finding the perfect pair of winter boots first, after you check out the snowshoe gear checklist we'll be covering.
To call yourself a snowshoer, you'll need this gear:
Use this handy REI Co-op snowshoeing gear checklist, so you don't forget anything.
Boots to fit into your bindings will not be the focus of your search, because snowshoe bindings can accommodate a wide range of boot sizes.
Boots which will keep your feet warm and dry - that's a different story!
You need weatherproof boots, with removable liners.
These Baffin boots are what I rely on for winter hiking a.k.a snowshoeing.
Personally, I'd avoid zip up boots, and stick with laces.
In an abundance of caution, I recommend that you carry extra laces with you.
Or at least inspect your laces at the beginning of every season.
Better safe than sorry, right?
Socks deserve a few words as essential snowshoeing gear.
Here's what I've learned works best:
I wear 2 pairs, both of them knee length.
My liner socks are thin, and designed to keep my outer socks in place as well as to soak up moisture from my sweaty, hard working feet.
My outer socks are thicker and not as tightly fitted. Their job is to keep my feet from slipping inside of my boots, and to provide warmth.
I replace my socks every few years, because worn out socks lose their ability to wick sweat and are definitely lacking in the warmth department.
If you'd like to wear just one pair of socks in your boots, be sure you buy a pair of boots that does not have a lot of room around your feet (but not too tight, either).
Now that you have warm, dry options for your feet, it's time to talk about snowshoes.
This is a tricky topic, because the snow conditions, weight of your body and pack, and terrain need to be considered in how to buy snowshoes.
Because there is a lot to say, I'll refer you to my detailed tips here:
Not the critters with sharp teeth!
You'll want a pair of weather proof hiking gaiters to go over your boots.
There are 2 basic types of gaiters:
Personally I hate the idea of trying to thread a small strap through a metal buckle when I'm cold and/or wet, so I prefer the low-tech approach to snowshoeing gear.
Easier to repair, too... just switch out the cord once it's worn out.
But the gaiters with straps hold tight in all kinds of conditions, so if the idea of buckles doesn't bother you, grab a pair like these.
Be sure to buy the full size pair, not the ankle length. You want full protection from snow getting dumped into your boots.
Use the following layers of hiking clothing on the top of your body:
a) a properly fitted sports bra;
b) a base layer of moisture wicking long underwear;
c) a warm long sleeve shirt, with or without a collar, depending upon whether or not you're going to wrap a scarf around your neck; and
d) a fleece or down vest.
A waterproof jacket goes over all this, allowing you a wide margin of flexibility to respond to changing weather conditions or levels of exertion.
For your bottom layers:
a) appropriate underwear;
b) a base layer of moisture wicking long underwear (extra points if it matches the top base layer!);
c) waterproof pull on pants with adjustable waist and full length leg zippers so you can get them on/off over your boots.
Some women swear by a lightweight pair of hiking pants in between these layers.
[Cameras are not necessarily required snowshoeing gear, but it certainly is entertaining to watch the videos of me battling my layers once I get home.]
If you begin to feel cold or shaky, put on more layers.
Read more about choices for womens athletic clothing here.
Snowshoeing gear must include head coverings. If you decide not to wear them, at least carry them as backup layers.
I have 3 winter hats, none of them flattering but all of them very warm.
That's the bottom line, isn't it?
Try fleece or non-scratchy and machine washable wool.
And be as wild and creative about covering your ears as you can be.
On warmer days I wear a fleece or nylon headband, giving me just the right amount of warmth.
On super cold windy days, I wear a headband underneath my wool hat!!
Anything goes, as long as your hair stays out of your eyes and mouth, and you're protected from snow dumps from nearby trees when the wind whips up.
Or chilly breezes down your neck.
Never let cold air rob your fingers of their warmth. You need full finger dexterityat all times on the trail.
Gloves or mittens?
The eternal dilemma of finding perfect snowshoeing gear has a few sides to it.
Here are my thoughts about covering up my hands:
Another option is to try water proof removable glove covers. Good luck finding a good pair - they're elusive. These are what I'm using currently, a 2-in-1 pair.
More ideas on how to choose the perfect pair of gloves here.
I'm going to keep at it until I figure out what the PERFECT combo for snowshoeing gear looks like.
Of course, that depends upon weather conditions, too!
That's why I have more pairs of gloves than I will admit to - because I'm a prepared, smart snowshoer (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it).
My neck is where the cold really gets to me.
I mean it really, really makes me miserable.
So I wrap up my neck in a lovely fleece scarf that my daughter gave me.
And I make sure the ends of the scarf are firmly tucked into my jacket, so they don't distract me when I'm working hard.
Choose one for yourself!
When the winter weather is mild, I switch to a "neck gaiter" (some might call it a bandanna). Try it, you might like it!
Sunglasses are a must for bright conditions on snow.
Protect your corneas from those UV rays so you can avoid cataracts as you age!
Protecting your eyes from bouncing sun rays will also minimize the chance of headaches.
Have a headache even though you're wearing sunglasses?
Consider your hydration status. You might need to be drinking more fluids, even when you're not thirsty.
You need trekking poles!
Read more about hiking poles here.
If you use poles for three season hiking, it's highly likely that they can be converted into snowshoeing poles with the addition of baskets like these.
Just be sure to remove them when the snow is gone, replacing them with a basket with a smaller footprint.
This should be a simple process, if you follow the manufacturer's instructions.
It's no mistake to include backpacks last on the list of snowshoeing gear.
You probably already have one.
Don't have a day pack yet?
You don't need a special backpack for snowshoeing.
Although a waterproof pack makes sense if you're going to be doing winter camping overnight or longer.
But there is one thing to keep in mind: carry protective gear to keep your backpack dry.
You want to make sure your Ten Essentials are in good shape throughout the day.
A backpack cover like one of these is a smart investment.
Cracked lips are a reality in winter conditions, unless you take precautions.
So I'm diligent about applying this lip balm regularly.
The only trouble is that it gets hard as a rock in my pack, so I carry it in my pants pocket where my body heat keeps it pliable.
I use at least SPF 5, as an extra precaution against skin damage.
Consider carrying a survival kit like this, too. You don't want to stay outdoors overnight, but you'll be ready if it happens.
Pay attention to how many calories you carry. You will be working hard as well as keeping your internal organs at a steady temperature, so that takes fuel.
Bring food that's easy to eat and won't turn rock hard in your pack. No to carrot sticks, yes to hard cheese!
Yes, it's true that I use a lot of gear when I'm snowshoeing.
But thoughtful attention to detail will make your snowshoe trips much more pleasant.
And they will keep you safe, which after all is the bottom line with snowshoeing.
Now go outside and play in the snow.
Marvel at how you float on top!
Then come back safely, thanks to your great snowshoeing gear, to enjoy a steaming hot mug of tea or hot chocolate.
Speaking of safety, these winter hiking safety tips might be what you need to go along with your cuppa!
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