Snowshoeing 101

Written by Rachel Magnussen, Sports Basement Outdoors Guide

There's tons of snow in the mountains (hooray!) but a very photogenic change in the weather doesn’t have to spell the end of low-key nature walks and heart-rate elevating hikes. There are lots of ways to continue to enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer in the winter, and probably the most accessible option is snowshoeing! With relatively little gear and the ability to put one foot in front of the other, you can take to the trails all winter long.

We’ve all seen the giant, wooden contraptions that old-fashioned frontiersman strapped to their boots for their sepia-toned winter expeditions. Modern snowshoes resemble their older counterparts in shape, but are made of lighter materials and have easy-to-operate bindings. The effect is the same, though: snowshoes are the all-terrain vehicles of winter. Strap them on, and you can tromp through deep powder, ascend steep trails, and walk efficiently on packed snow. With your body weight spread over a greater surface area, each footstep sinks into the snow less, avoiding what is called “post-holing”, which is slow, difficult, and tears up winter trails. But be warned! In deep snow, your snowshoes will still sink in, and walking will be a significant workout.


If you are new to snowshoeing, you can try renting a pair from your local Sports Basement. Our rentals staff will help you choose the correct size and send you on your way with poles to complete your kit. Snowshoe season leases are another great option if you want a set to use all winter long.

If you are ready to invest in your own pair or are purchasing snowshoes for a holiday gift, snowshoe sizing is easy to decipher. Sizes range from 20 to 30+ inches. A larger person or a snowshoer carrying a heavier pack needs a larger snowshoe to support them on the snow. If you don’t intend to carry more than a daypack and will use your snowshoes only on packed or groomed trails, something from 23 to 27 inches in the sizes of Atlas Snowshoes that Sports Basement carries will serve you well. If you have some serious powder tromping to do or plan to carry a backpacking pack or a kid-carrying pack, choose something between 27 and 35 inches, taking your own body weight and weight of your pack into account.


Any winter recreation requires a bit more gear than a simple summer hike. For snowshoeing, trekking poles or ski poles with wide snow baskets help with balance and efficiency on the trail. Trekking poles have the advantage of adjustability for different users or trail profiles. A snowshoe set that includes poles will cover your bases.

Aside from snowshoes and poles, you will need a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or snow boots. Hiking boots are more supportive for longer jaunts but snow boots, which are also available to rent, will get the job done too. Gaiters are also a must. Even if you’re not walking through deep snow, you will kick snow up into your boots and eventually end up with wet socks, which is no fun.

As far as clothing goes, the key to staying comfortable while snowshoeing is layers. Start with a non-cotton base layer. Softshell pants are great for breathability and flexibility. Add a fleece or light puffy and a waterproof jacket that will most likely stay in your daypack. Light gloves or mittens and a hat are also good to have. Snowshoeing can be a really intense aerobic workout so you likely won’t need much clothing while you’re walking. When you slow down or stop, or if the weather is less than ideal, you’ll want those warm, dry layers to stay comfortable.

If you’re looking for more guidance on snowshoeing or winter camping, join Sports Basement Outdoors (SBO) for a Yosemite snowshoe adventure. From overnight beginner trips in Tuolumne Grove to a three day excursion from the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, SBO has an itinerary to suit everyone!

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