Today's guide comes with a little homework. Don't worry! It's not too painful--just a little (ahem) warm-up reading. Our Guide to Cold Weather Hiking covers how to dress warmly and stay dry and be safe while moving your bod outdoors during winter, and we list some retailers that carry clothing that will actually fit us larger girls. See? Not painful at all. Now let's get to it.
First, some reasons why snowshoeing is a great activity for fat girls:
* Just about anyone who can walk can snowshoe (even me, and I'm as clumsy as they come)
* It's low tech, low impact (easy on those joints!), and carries less chance of injury than skiing or snowboarding
* It's inexpensive compared to other winter sports and activities (no lift tickets, no special boots needed)
* You can snowshoe just about anywhere - no need to drive to a resort - and you can practice in your back yard
* Snowshoeing allows you to hike above the snow instead of "post holing" knee- or waist-deep through it
Now for some snowshoe-specific gear tweaks on our cold weather hiking guide:
Layering - Some outdoor sports require thicker long underwear, with good reason. If you'll be standing around for hours watching Winter Olympic snowboarding or going hunting or snowmobiling, then winter weight underthings are the way to go. But because I'm a sweaty Betty once I get moving for winter hiking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing, I tend to wear a lighter base layer made of water-wicking, synthetic fabric (i.e., NOT COTTON) that moves sweat away from the bod, keeping you warm and dry.
Footwear - Winter starts with the letter W, and that's how you'll want to think of the boots you'll strap into your snowshoes: warm and waterproof. You don't need spendy, high-tech performance boots, just sturdy-but-comfy snow boots that work well with your body, offer great ankle support, and won't get wet or leave your toes feeling chilled on the trail. As someone who hikes year-round and spends hours sledding with my three sons, I never skimp on socks - winter-weight socks (again, not cotton) like these snowshoe-specific ones by Thorlo or these winter hiking socks by SmartWool, which come in XL, are a worthy investment.
Outer Shell - This is basically whatever type of waterproof jacket or parka you own, plus snow pants. Skip the heavier ski pants or jackets because you'll be plenty warm walking around over the snow.
Poles - If you'll be snowshoeing in the mountains or very hilly terrain, you might want to spare your knees and buy or rent some poles. There's a wide array of trekking poles available; check a local, trusted outdoor retailer to help you find the right size, strength, and weight.
Snowshoes - There are three basic types of snowshoes, and they're generally defined by activity type and level: recreational, backcountry/mountaineering, and adventure/running. Beginners need look no further than the recreational style, which is great because they're the most affordable. Snowshoes are sized in length and based on the user's weight (including whatever load a person will carry in a daypack), not shoe size, which makes shopping easier. However, the more you weigh, the harder it can be to find shoes designed to carry you over the snow, and larger snowshoes can sometimes cost a bit more.
I asked Beth Mairs, founder and director of Wild Women Expeditions, Canada's largest outdoor adventure company for women to offer some snowshoeing pointers for this guide. "I use and recommend Atlas brand snowshoes, and their Elecktra line of snowshoes for women work with how women walk and stride." Their 27" beginner model, the Elektra 8, is sized for people (and daypacks) weighing between 120-200+ pounds. If you're new to this sport and not sure you want to commit to it, many ski and outdoor shops rent snowshoes so you can get a feel for it before buying.
Testing your snow legs with an outfitter is a great way to get started; retailers like REI, local independent outfitters, and some park and conservation districts run beginner workshops. For you visual types, REI has an excellent series of videos and expert advice on basic snowshoeing techniques, such as moving up or downhill. Once you get going, it feels a bit tougher than walking in general, but easier than walking barefoot over an uneven sandy beach. You'll be picking your feet up a bit higher than normal, so expect some soreness in your thighs later on, depending on your fitness level.
I asked Beth Mairs for tricks to getting snowshoes on, especially for those of us who have a hard time bending down due to flexibility issues and/or bellies getting in our way. "My trick? Put one snowshoe on inside, being careful not to put your full weight on the floor due to the teeth (crampons)! And sitting is a must; only extreme (as in extremely annoying) jocks will be able to put on and take off snowshoes while standing."
"Stay out of the way of cross-country skiers," says Mairs, a cross-country skier-turned-snowshoer. "Snowshoeing is maybe more of a personalty type B than a type A activity." Tread Lightly, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting outdoor ethics has a nicely crafted set of guidelines for outdoor sports, including:
Be considerate of others on the trail.
Keep to the right when meeting other winter recreationists and yield the right of way to downhill traffic.
Respect established ski tracks. If traveling by foot or snowshoe, don’t damage existing ski tracks.
When stopping, step to the side of the trail to let other skiers and recreationists pass.
When skiing, move to the right to allow faster skiers to pass.
If crossing private property, ask permission from the landowner(s).
Best Times to Go
Mairs describes the ideal snowshoeing weather as "during mid-winter, when there's an adequate base packed down already but then some sexy, soft powder falls, say six inches. That's the stuff." Her final words of advice? "You're out to explore and marvel in nature's beauty, and able to go places you could never be except for the buoyancy that the snowshoes give you over the surface of the snow. Savor that." That's a technique we can all get behind.
So, as we often ask here at FGG, if you've been curious about snowshoeing, what are you waiting for? If you have questions, ask away. If you're experienced, please share your tips and tricks in the comments section.