What is Snowshoeing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Snowshoeing is a winter sport in which participants wear specially designed gear on their feet which distributes their weight, allowing them to walk on snow without breaking through it. Fans of snowshoeing often say that “if you can walk, you can snowshoe,” illustrating how easy the sport is, and people of all ages can be found snowshoeing in winter recreation areas all over the world. One reason many people like the sport is that in addition to being easy, snowshoeing does not require any special equipment, beyond the snowshoes and clothing which is appropriate for winter weather.

Using snowshoes, a person can make winter excursions to places otherwise inaccessible.
Using snowshoes, a person can make winter excursions to places otherwise inaccessible.

Like many winter sports, snowshoeing has its roots in a practical need to get around. People have been making versions of snowshoes since at least 4,000 BCE, according to archaeological evidence. Traditional snowshoes were made with wooden frames strung with rawhide, causing them to look rather like oversized tennis rackets. It is still possible to find traditional snowshoes, although many people prefer to use lightweight modern versions with aluminum frames and webbing made from nylon and similar materials.

To snowshoe, one attaches snowshoes to the feet with bindings and simply starts walking. For first-timers, it can take a few hours to get used to snowshoeing, as the sport requires a special gait and it can be tiring at first. It can also be challenging to turn around in snowshoes, as the large webs reduce maneuverability quite significantly. However, once one gets familiar with the mechanics of snowshoeing, it is possible to cover large amounts of ground.

Organized snowshoeing races can be found in many snow-covered regions, especially in the Arctic, where people have been using snowshoes for centuries. Some of these races are sprints, requiring participants to move as quickly as they can on their snowshoes, while others are longer stints, testing endurance on the snow.

Some people like to combine snowshoeing with skiing, packing in camping and skiing supplies to the backcountry on snowshoes. Campers may snowshoe out to the sites where they plan to camp, and snowshoers also travel to hunting and fishing base camps. Others simply enjoy using snowshoes casually on the same trails they might hike in snowless seasons. For people who are intimidated by other winter sports like skiing, snowshoeing can be a great way to get outdoors and explore in the winter.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Snowshoeing is a great exercise during winter months. It does not take much preparation or learning. You simply strap on snowshoes and you are ready to go.

It is a great workout for young and old alike. It is a particularly good substitute for running on snowy winter days.

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