Winter sports are notoriously tricky little monsters.
Popular offerings like skiing and ice skating done on snow or ice take a greater sense of balance than many of the offerings on dry land and have a bigger learning curve because of it.
A lot of the fitness activities you can do spring through fall can’t even be done in the wet, slippery conditions of winter.
So, when winter comes on, many people close up their fitness routines, resigning themselves to indoor workouts that may be less satisfying than getting outside.
But not every sport done in winter is difficult to learn.
If you’ve been hesitant about snowsports because snow is… well… cold and slippery, you should start with one of the most basic snowsports of them all – snowshoeing.
What is snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is really just walking (or hiking if you do it on rougher terrain) through the snow in funny shoes.
To be exact, it’s walking in snowshoes, which are devices you strap onto your feet (over your normal shoes) and look a lot like little rafts.
Snowshoes are both wider and longer than street shoes, so when you wear them they create a bigger base beneath your feet, which distributes your weight over a larger surface area.
This, in essence, allows you to walk on top of the snow instead of sinking down through it.
Is snowshoeing a sport?
Snowshoeing is simply walking on different shoes, and, as such, it is categorized a lot like walking in terms of sports and fitness.
Doing it recreationally or at a slow to moderate pace, it’s not really considered a sport (though, it is still a great fitness activity).
However, once you pick up the pace and break into a run it changes its categorization.
Snowshoe running is a sport with races and championships just like any other running discipline.
Many of these events are organized by the World Snowshoe Association.
Snowshoe running is also an event in the Special Olympics.
So, snowshoeing may or may not be considered a sport.
It all depends on how quickly you move.
Benefits of Snowshoeing
The benefits of snowshoeing are extensive.
While you don’t need any special skills to do it (one major benefit), it’s also considerably more strenuous than walking and involves more of the body.
Some benefits of snowshoeing include:
- Improved strength (mostly lower body and core, but using poles to navigate difficult terrain will add in the upper body as well)
- Improved flexibility (you have to lift your legs higher than with regular walking)
- Improved agility (see above)
- Improved balance (snow is both slippery and unstable)
- Improved joint health (very low-impact due to the cushioning of the snow)
- Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
- Improved respiratory rates
- Improved sleep
- Enhanced immune response
- Weight loss
- Fresh air and quiet time in nature, which in itself can:
- Decrease stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Enhance immune response
- Bolster self-esteem
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce aggression
- Improve overall mental health
Is snowshoeing hard?
Snowshoeing isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy.
It really is just walking with different shoes, which makes it easy to learn.
You’ll only need a wider walking stance to keep your snowshoes from touching as you walk.
That said, snowshoeing is considerably more strenuous than normal walking.
Hard-packed snow is easier to walk on, but more slippery.
Light snow allows your shoes to sink in, requiring more effort to pull your feet back up with each step.
The terrain absolutely adds a level of difficulty to snowshoeing, and it is a hard workout even when you walk slowly.
With the wider stance and new feel of the shoes, you may also struggle with balance when you first start out.
Just take things slow and easy, and don’t get fancy until you’re used to your equipment.
Is snowshoeing harder than hiking?
It depends on where you’re snowshoeing.
If you stick to a flat path when snowshoeing, but hike in hills, snowshoeing isn’t necessarily more difficult than a good hike.
But, at its core, snowshoeing is more difficult than walking, so if you follow the same path on your snowshoes that you take on your hikes, then yes, doing it on snowshoes is more difficult than doing it in boots alone.
Can I snowshoe every day?
Absolutely. If you can find the energy and aren’t in any pain.
Snowshoeing really is just walking, so it’s not going to do any more damage to your body than an active stroll around your neighborhood would.
And snowshoe trekking, where snowshoers cover multiple miles over a series of days, is quite popular.
However, snowshoeing is considerably more strenuous than an active stroll, especially when you first start out.
Beginners can expect to average less than a mile per hour.
With the change in form and necessity of lifting your feet higher than you do while walking, you also have more potential to pull a muscle or simply work muscles (and joints) you don’t normally work.
If you’re body feels tired or you have any pain from snowshoeing, give yourself a day to heal before going out again.
But, eventually, you will be able to snowshoe every day.
How far should I snowshoe?
When first starting out, you are best off snowshoeing around your immediate area.
Snowshoeing is tiring (it’s worth repeating) and done in the coldest of conditions, so you don’t want to get too far away from a place of shelter.
As you get more familiar with your snowshoes and better conditioned for longer walks, a good way to determine how far you should snowshoe is to base your distance on speed, time, and conditions.
It is estimated a snowshoer familiar with their terrain and equipment travels 25% slower in well-packed snow than on dry land.
Powdery snow and unfamiliar terrain will slow you down even more.
Once you are comfortable in your shoes and get a feel for your pace, you’ll be better able to estimate how far you can go in a set length of time.
But stay close to civilization at first.
Is snowshoeing good exercise?
Oooh buddy, is it!
And the more difficult the conditions and faster you go, the better exercise it becomes.
Is snowshoeing good cardio?
Snowshoeing is an aerobic exercise on par with running or riding a bike and will get your heart pumping as it increases your oxygen levels.
Can you lose weight snowshoeing?
Not only can you lose weight snowshoeing, snowshoeing is an EXCELLENT calorie-burner.
So, grab your snowshoes and hit the powder for some weight loss.
Calories Burned Snowshoeing
Studies done at the University of Vermont and Ball State University found snowshoeing burns at least 7 calories per hour at low speeds in good (hard-packed) conditions.
That’s about the same as jogging an 8.5-minute mile.
Those same studies also found snowshoeing powdery hills at 3 mph can burn upwards of 1,000 calories/hour for a 180-pound person.
And that’s still a moderate walking pace!
Basically, snowshoeing isn’t just a good calorie-burner, it’s a calorie blaster.
What muscles does snowshoeing work?
If you are just walking on snowshoes, you will already use more than your legs.
Snowshoeing also engages your glutes and core muscles to provide stability and keep you on your feet.
Add in poles (which you’ll need if you want to snowshoe anything but the most basic trails), and you’ll engage your arms, shoulders, and back muscles as well. (You’ll also increase your calorie burn.)
For more information on snowshoeing and muscles, check out Muscle Groups Used in Skiing, Building a Snowman and More.
Snowshoeing for Beginners
When you first start to snowshoe, the best way to learn is to strap a pair of snowshoes onto your boots and keep things simple until you get used to the feel of walking in them.
Stick to trails with only slight rises and use poles to start conditioning your arms for more difficult terrain.
All of this, you should be able to do without much guidance (if any).
Walking in snowshoes really is just a matter of adjusting the width of your legs to accommodate the width of the shoes.
If you decide you want to snowshoe more difficult terrains, like climbing and descending steeper hills or traversing slopes sideways, you will want to learn a few basic techniques. (You can learn these through lessons at a ski resort or there are plenty of videos online.)
But you don’t really need them to get started.
Even on the flattest paths, you’ll still get a heck of a workout snowshoeing.
How to Get in Shape for Snowshoeing
Have I mentioned snowshoeing is strenuous?
Because it is.
In fact, snowshoeing is so physically demanding it’s not a bad idea to do a little conditioning before you strap on your shoes for the first time.
When it comes to conditioning for snowshoeing, there are a few main things to keep in mind:
- One, snowshoeing takes more balance, flexibility, and agility than regular walking (you’ll be lifting your legs higher).
- Two, snowshoeing uses continuous, repetitive movements over an extended period of time.
- Three, snowshoeing is cold so you will be wearing more clothes, which makes you heavier.
What this means for beginners is that you will be happier with your snowshoeing experience if you work on your balance, stamina, and strength.
To get more agile and improve your balance for snowshoeing, we recommend three simple exercises:
- Single-Leg Stands
Preferably performed while holding weights.
These bodyweight exercises will improve your balance and the flexibility of your hip flexors, which is where you’ll need flexibility the most.
(Before you conquer more difficult terrain, you will also want to do some core work, which will help you maintain your balance on hills, but that can come later).
To improve your stamina for snowshoeing, we recommend brisk walking (or running) at a pace of 4 mph or higher (if you’re shorter, you can do a lower speed and get the same results).
The key is to be just to the point where you are almost out of breath.
However long you can keep up this pace is how long you’ll be able to comfortably snowshoe.
To get stronger for snowshoeing, add weight to your cardio, like wearing a packed backpack (or weight vest) while you walk on a treadmill or elliptical, or, better yet, go hiking with a full pack.
This is the closest you’ll come to mimicking the feel of snowshoeing in heavy clothing.
Perhaps the best thing about snowshoeing is that it requires very little (and relatively inexpensive) equipment.
The only thing you will absolutely need is the shoes themselves.
At some point, you will probably want poles as well, but the shoes will get the basic job done.
For help choosing beginner snowshoes, check out our Ultimate Guide To Buying Your First Snowshoes.
What to Wear
Other than your snowshoes, the most essential pieces of snowshoeing gear you’ll need are your clothing and your boots.
To stay warm, dress in layers and wear waterproof pants and boots to keep your feet and legs dry.
When it comes to activities done in the snow, snowshoeing is one of the easiest for beginners to learn.
It really is just a different, more strenuous form of walking.
Snowshoeing is also an amazing full-body workout (if you use poles) that burns loads of calories and enhances balance and agility.
The time spent in nature is good for your mental and emotional health, and the snow acts as a cushion for your knees and other joints.
If you’ve been looking for a winter activity that doesn’t involve careening down a hill or staying inside, snowshoeing could be just the solution you’ve been searching for.
Want more yuks with your snowshoeing content? Check out our Snowshoeing Puns.