If You Can Walk, You can Snowshoe
My first chance to try snowshoeing came as an outing from my gym. We formed up carpools and stopped at a ski shop to rent snowshoes, at a cost of $9 per day including ski poles.
Poles are optional in showshoeing just as they are optional in hiking. They can be nice to help you maintain balance, but are not necessary. Gaiters and layered clothing are highly recommended.
The snowshoes went on easily with 3 straps. You can use them with any shoes or boots. I wore them with my waterproof New Balance 962 walking shoes. Once on, it was easy to move about simply by walking. Only a few times did I manage to step one showshoe onto the other and trip myself.
The showshoes grip the snow with crampons at toe and heel. This is what allows you to simply walk along without slipping and without using any fancy technique. Going uphill and downhill use the same maneuvers as when walking except on extreme slopes where you may want to kick steps into the snow. It is important to plant the snowshoe flat on the surface to get a grip with the crampons.
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Burning Lots of CaloriesShowshoeing can burn over 1000 calories per hour. I certainly felt a good exertion and heated up quickly, shedding layers after the first mile. At that rate of calorie burn, you WILL sweat no matter what the temperature.
Speed can be surprisingly similar to plain hiking - we covered 2.5 miles in about 50 minutes. A round trip of 5 miles with a lunch stop took up only 3 hours.
The muscles used are similar to those used in walking and in hiking in hilly terrain. Your hip flexors may feel more of a workout, and your quads may get more exercise than usual in walking due to the lifting motion with each step.
Dressing for Winter SportsLayering is important to wick away sweat, keep you insulated and protected from snow and wind. Your inner layer should be of a wicking fabric. The middle layer on top should be an insulating layer of wool or fleece. The outer layer should be windproof and either water-resistant or waterproof depending on the climate. Hat, gloves, and sunglasses or goggles are important. Carry a pack with water, snack, map and other essentials. A cell phone is strongly suggested when hiking on winter trails.
I found snowshoeing a great way to enjoy winter trails without need for lessons. Use it for a great winter walking workout.Related > What to Wear Winter Walking
Photos copyright February, 2002 Wendy Bumgardner, licensed to About.com