Winter is a time of year when many people can fall into unhealthy habits and put on weight. Not only do the holidays tempt us with an endless parade of sugary, fatty foods, but all of those cold, dreary days can make it difficult to stay active. While the beautiful days of spring, summer, and even fall, beckon us outdoors for hiking, swimming, gardening, and other activities, the snow and cold of winter can have just the opposite effect, making us want to burrow under the covers for protection.
Nature can be just as beautiful and inspiring in the wintertime as during the rest of the year, though, as long as you’re equipped to enjoy it. Warm clothes, in layers, a good hat, and waterproof boots will go a long way toward making the outdoors feel more hospitable, but what if your favorite hiking trails are covered in snow? For only about $100 — less than you would spend on a gym membership over the duration of a winter — a set of snowshoes can open up a world of freedom, adventure, and fitness.
Snowshoeing is the North America’s fastest growing winter sport — faster than even skiing or snowboarding — because it is inexpensive, easy to do, and a great activity for the whole family. What’s more, snowshoeing is one of the best forms of exercise around, burning an average of more than 600 calories per hour! Everyone who is in reasonably good health, from the very young to the very old, can safely snowshoe, as long as they pace themselves, and have the right clothes and the right equipment.
At one time, all snowshoes were made of wood and leather or gut. Today, they are mostly made of aluminum and synthetic materials, which allows them to be lighter and somewhat smaller. You can buy a basic pair of snowshoes from any sporting goods or outdoor recreation store, as well as at many discount department stores. There is no need to purchase an expensive, fancy pair at first, unless you plan to run in them or go deep into the backwoods. A simple recreational pair should be fine for most people’s purposes. Snowshoes come in a variety of different sizes and weight ratings. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations. The general rule of thumb is that the longer and wider a pair of snowshoes is, the more weight they can handle. It’s always best to choose the smallest pair that will support your weight. If you plan to involve your children in the sport, be sure to seek out special child-sized snowshoes for them.
Sometimes, especially at the end of the season, you can find a used pair of snowshoes. This can be a great way to save money, but be sure to do your homework first to know what size and kind you need, and what they should look like. Be sure that all of the bindings and other components are in tact and free from tears, cracks, or missing pieces. If you’re not sure you’re ready to take the plunge and buy your own set of snowshoes just yet, you can usually rent a set from a ski shop or wilderness outfitter. In addition to the snowshoes, themselves, you’ll also need a set of poles to improve your balance and prevent injuries.
When snowshoeing, be certain to dress in layers and wear a good set of waterproof boots or trail shoes. Thick, wool socks are a must, as is a good pair of long underwear. Steer away from cotton, which holds in moisture, and opt instead for wool, silk, or synthetic fabrics such as polyester.
As with any form of exercise, it is important to gauge your body’s condition and to be careful not to overtax yourself. If you catch yourself becoming winded or exhausted, slow down or take a break. Snowshoeing requires more energy than walking under normal conditions, and it can be easy to overestimate your abilities.
Though walking with giant pieces of metal strapped to your feet can feel strange at first, eventually you’ll become used to the sensation. In no time, you’ll be trekking around the country like an old Canadian trapper!