Snowshoes are just about the most useful and versatile means of travel in the winter backcountry of snowy climates. They may not be as swift as cross-country skis, but they allow you to traverse nearly any terrain, including dense forests and shrublands or rugged, rocky areas where skis aren’t much use. In deep, soft powder, snowshoes allow you to float your way along where a winter hiker post-holes and flounders.
Our Crescent Moon snowshoes and accessories provide top-quality equipment for winter backcountry adventures. Here are some basic tips for pursuing this kind of snowshoeing safely and savvily!
Bring Navigational Aids & Know How to Use Them
Having the tools to find your way in the snowed-over wilds—and, crucially, knowing how to use those tools properly—is among the most vital elements of backcountry snowshoeing. Often you’ll be trekking cross-country; even if you’re attempting to follow a designated backcountry trail, the snowpack can make staying on it tricky, underscoring the importance of knowing how to stay on course and find your way back on the map if you go astray. Bring a topographic map of an appropriate scale and a compass (ideally a baseplate model, easiest to use in conjunction with the topo) and only venture onto longer or more remote routes once you’ve mastered their use (taking and following bearings, understanding contour lines, etc.).
You can certainly also bring along your favorite handheld GPS unit and employ your go-to smartphone mapping apps, but don’t rely on those electronics alone. Keep in mind that smartphones don’t always do well in the cold. Invest in a good protective case for cold weather, so you don’t find yourself with a dead battery or broken phone.
Bring Along Wilderness Emergency Essentials
Even if you’re only going on a relatively short snowshoe hike in the front-country, you need to bring along a pack with the essentials of winter wilderness travel. If you lose your way for a while and nightfall catches up to you, or if a winter storm unexpectedly erupts, you need to have the means to stay comfortable and safe out there.
Among these essentials are a first-aid kit, extra food and water, backup insulating clothing, tools for starting a fire, and a portable weather radio. You should also bring a snow shovel and know how to use it to make an emergency snow shelter. In mountainous terrain, snowshoers should carry avalanche probes and transceivers as well.
Heed the Weather & Avalanche Forecasts
Seasoned wilderness travelers in any season know the importance of rigorously following the weather forecast and paying attention to any atmospheric developments out in the field. The rigors of winter weather reduce the wiggle room you have in this department: Plunging temperatures, howling whiteout blizzards, and avalanches majorly up the stakes. Along with bringing the proper gear and supplies, you should stay on top of the forecast and reschedule if your planned trip window looks like it’ll have iffy weather.
Snowshoers out in significant topographic relief need to take avalanche danger very seriously: Abide by all advisories issued by the pertinent local or regional avalanche center, and learn basic snowpack tests so you can assess conditions on the go.
Route Your Way Through the Most Accessible Terrain
If you’re not following a designated trail, study your topo map and evaluate the landscape as you go to find the easiest, most efficient, and safest ways to thread your way through. Some kinds of terrain that are challenging to traverse or virtually impassable during the spring, summer, and fall may offer the best going under a blanket of snow. For example, when the boulders of talus slopes, the shrub thickets of brush fields, or the deadfall, hummocks, and pools of swamps are covered in a decent snowpack, these kinds of land cover may provide easier travel-ways than surrounding dense forest.
Take Advantage of Backcountry-Friendly Accessories
It’s possible to effectively snowshoe on a level, well-packed trail without using poles, but these adjustable hiking aids become downright essential when tackling the rougher conditions of the backcountry. Trekking poles provide much-needed stabilizing assistance and also take some of the strain of snowshoeing over uneven, crusted, or obstacle-strewn snowdrifts away from your lower body and back. Like a snow shovel and snow saw, they can also be used to conduct simple snowpack evaluations to steer you away from risky avalanche terrain.
If you’re snowshoeing in a more rugged country, you’ll want to consider our Snowshoe Heel Lift, which provides extra support climbing slopes. The heel lift can be easily be removed when you don’t need it.
Enjoy Backcountry Snowshoeing With Crescent Moon
There’s nothing like the profound quiet and wild scenery of the wintry backcountry. Prepare and pack responsibly and always err on the side of safety, and you’ve got a lifetime of snowshoeing adventures to enjoy out there in the bush!
For a bit more reading on snowshoe safety, check out our blog here!