Best Snowshoeing
Safety Tips

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

If you love the idea of snowshoeing on a crisp winter day, you also need to carry some gear to stay safe. Find out what you need with these snowshoeing safety tips. #hiking #snowshoeing

Snowshoeing safety tips + snow means you can get onto that lovely snow and make some footprints.

But before you head out to play, it's important to know a few tricks about winter hiking.

Snowshoeing safety:
big ego, big trouble

Snowshoeing safety involves these factors:

  • advance planning,
  • common sense,
  • proper gear and food,
  • an eye on the weather,
  • physical conditioning,
  • survival skills,
  • and lack of ego.

Let's clear up the last factor first.

Ego gets hikers & snowshoers into trouble.

Big ego, potential for big trouble.

Ego shows up as stubbornness, blindly clinging to opinions, and inflexibility in the face of changing conditions.

Snowshoer examples of big ego:

  • Doesn't want to "waste" the day by turning back when the weather starts turning.
  • Stubbornness is masquerading as "steely resolve".
  • Guessing about what's ahead on the terrain, or about the safety of crossing steep slopes.
  • Exhausted but too proud to slow down.

If you're snowshoeing with someone like that, you have to keep an eye on yourself to know when you've reached your limits.

  • Too shy/embarrassed to admit to your snowshoeing buddies that you're tired out and need to rest?
  • Starting to really feel the cold in your fingers and face?
  • In over your head but don't want to ruin the trip for others?

Hmmm... think about it.

Your pride, versus your life.

Should you be snowshoeing with folks you don't trust? Or can't be honest with?

Are you really "wasting" the day if you turn back, or are you learning that you need to be more prepared next time?

It's all in how you spin it to yourself.

And as far as steely resolve goes, get over it!

Every human body has it limitations, and when you're tired and cold, game over!

  • Cover up all exposed areas with dry gloves, hat, scarf, and balaclava.
  • Eat a snack.
  • Sip a hot drink that you carry in an insulated container.
  • Or prepare one quickly, right there on the trail with a JetBoil.
  • If you have to sit down, use cushioning on top of your backpack.
  • Then head back to the trail head, guilt free and safe.

Consider these safety factors

Now let's get back to that list of snowshoeing safety factors.

Advance planning involves doing your homework.

Research the availability of marked trails or routes, or pour over topographical maps to get a bird's eye view of where you're headed.

Build a mental map of the terrain.


To be prepared for water crossings, avalanche hazards, exposed wind swept areas that may be icy, or densely forested patches where you might lose the trail.

  • Don't just blindly strap on your snowshoes and head off.
  • Know what's in front of you.
  • Know how far you intend to travel.
  • Set a turn around time, with due consideration of early nightfall in winter months.

Bottom line:

Snowshoeing safety rests upon knowing the way into the area, and out again, even when the weather goes sour in the short hours of winter daylight.

Make it a solid habit to check the weather conditions before you head out on your adventure to avoid nasty surprises.

Use your sixth sense!

Common sense simply means listen to your gut.

Or maybe I should use the more "feminine" word: intuition.

Every woman knows when her internal alarm goes off.

You may get a twinge in your gut (solar plexus area), warning you that something doesn't feel right.

Some women report tingling or pins & needles sensations up their backbone.

The word "uh-oh" may even flash through your mind.

If something seems "off", it probably is.

Honor that wisdom.

Stop in your tracks and survey your surroundings.

Then take a mental inventory:

  • Did you hear something that alerts you to potential danger? (falling snow, a cracking sound)
  • See something unusual out of the corner of your eye? (movement, a change in color)
  • Is there a new odor?
  • Gather as much data as you can about what has changed, and then react.

Gear up for success

Proper gear will vary.

It depends on the type of sun, snow and wind conditions you're facing.

For example:

  • In the Pacific Northwest, on the west slopes of the Cascade Mountains, snow is heavy and wet.
  • Drive up and over the crest of the Cascades via Stevens or Snoqualmie Pass, and the snow becomes dry & powdery.

This requires a snowshoer to wear & carry versatile gear.

Waterproof outer layers are a must.

However, frostbite prevention is common to all snowshoeing endeavors, so layer up like you mean it!

And keep your feet warm with these tips.

Condition yourself first

Physical conditioning can be a pain in the rear - but that's exactly what it prevents.

Snowshoeing calls upon your hip and thigh muscles in ways that dirt trails won't.

You might have to tweak your usual work out routine as you prepare for the winter season.

  • Extra stair climbing, more cross training, special attention to leg muscles... whatever it takes, right?

You don't want to run out of muscle power when you're facing cold, windy miles to get back to your car.

For more tips on pre-hike conditioning, go here.

Survival knowledge

Snowshoeing safety depends heavily upon survival skills:

You can never have too many snowshoeing safety skills, especially in bitterly cold weather or stormy conditions.

So here are a few more for your reading pleasure:

Don't let this happen to you!

Please don't make the mistake of packing light because you'll "only be gone a few hours".

Recently, I had a great "refresher" lesson from Mother Nature on  snowshoeing safety.

I was several miles from home base, on a bitter cold and windy day.

While stepping up onto a snow bank after crossing a frozen stream, my snowshoe punched through an air space in the bank.

  • I fell forward, lodging my snowshoe deeply into the snow.
  • I was stuck!
  • Plus I was standing on slippery ice with one leg, while the other leg was off balance.
  • And I had snow all over my face, neck and arms.

Luckily, I was able to remove the other snowshoe and use it to dig myself out.

But if I had not been able to move, the good news was that I had warm clothes, food, and a space blanket in my pack to keep me safe until help arrived.

The bad news?

  • In the process of digging, I jammed cold, wet snow deeper into my clothes, and my gloves were soaked.

Extra clothing to the rescue!

  • Read about why you should carry the Ten Essentials here.
  • And promise me you'll carry them for winter hiking, when they matter the most!

Questions about snow shoeing?

Try more in depth snowshoeing tips:

Let me know if I can answer any questions or concerns you have about how to become a smart, prepared snowshoer.  Use this link to contact me.

Snowshoeing is a great sport, you just have to give it the respect and careful planning which it deserves.

You might make a few new friends, too...

Gray jay perched on yellow snowshoes

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Snowshoeing Safety

About the author

Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.

She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.





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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.

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