Snowshoeing Safety Tips


Winter / Thursday, July 30th, 2020

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Snowshoeing offers a beautiful winter adventure that is in stark contrast to summer hiking. Many of the same dangers like dehydration exist but new dangers present themselves. With proper planning, preparation, and the right gear, you can have a safe, enjoyable adventure.

To ensure your safety this winter, keep these snowshoeing safety tips in mind:

Use Common Sense

Common sense… That innate wisdom granted to you by instinct, perception, God… Use it! It can keep you out of trouble and alive.

Many of the tips we’ll cover involve common sense. Honor that wisdom by listening and responding accordingly.

Physical Conditioning

Man doing walking lunges with weights in a gym in preparation for snowshoeing.

Condition yourself before you go snowshoeing. You don’t want to wear out before you get back to the safety of the trailhead. A greater load will be placed on your hip and thigh muscles than experienced when hiking.

These exercises will help you prepare for snowshoeing:

  • Hiking with weighted pack and poles on various terrain
  • Weighted step-ups with dumbbell and ankle weights
  • Weighted step-downs with dumbbell and ankle weights
  • Walking lunges
  • Cable hip flexion
  • Isolation hip flexion
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Burpees
  • Planks
  • Reverse calf raises
  • Weighted lying leg curls

Improve Your Survival Skills

Some of the common risks involved in snowshoeing are:

  • Altitude sickness
  • Overexertion
  • Hypothermia
  • Dehydration
  • Avalanches
  • Snow cornices
  • Tree wells
  • Frostbite
  • Trench foot
  • Slips and falls
  • Falls into icy water
  • Getting lost
  • Weather changes

Understanding potential dangers and improving your survival skills to cover these risks will dramatically improve your safety when snowshoeing. Classes and those more experienced are great learning resources.

Practice Avalanche Safety

Snowshoeing safety includes watching out for the dangers of an avalanche.

Avoid avalanche-prone slopes.

Always check avalanche conditions for your snowshoeing trail before heading out. The best place to start is the U.S. Avalanche Centers list on the National Avalanche Center (NAC) website.

The National Avalanche Center offers education too. You’ll need to know the signs of unstable snow and how to safely snowshoe in backcountry. A little knowledge can save your life.

For snowshoeing safety, everyone in your party should have and know how to use an avalanche beacon, probe, and snow shovel.

Understand Your Limitations

Physical, mental, and knowledge limitations restrict all of us in one way or another. Do not exceed your capabilities and place your health at risk. Failure is not an option when participating in winter sports like snowshoeing.

Choose a Safe Snowshoeing Location

Due to the risk of avalanche, many popular hiking trails are unsafe snowshoeing locations in the winter. Consult, guides, guidebooks, park services, and ski resorts for safe trails that are designated for snowshoeing and avoid frozen bodies of water. Breaking through the ice can be deadly.

Don’t Snowshoe Alone

Group of people snowshoeing which follows the snowshoeing safety tip of not going alone.

It’s potentially dangerous to hike alone. Snowshoeing combines the same concerns with the possibilities of frostbite, hypothermia, and freezing to death.

Don’t snowshoe alone. Snowshoeing with friends increases your safety. If something goes wrong, you’ll have someone to help you or who can call for help.

Keep an Eye on the Weather

Keep an eye on the weather leading up to your snowshoeing adventure and during as well. You don’t want any weather events to take you by surprise.

When you know the current weather conditions, you can react accordingly.

  • Solidify plans
  • Dress appropriately
  • Reschedule
  • Return home
  • Increase pace
  • Seek shelter
  • Seek help
  • Be prepared

The weather can change on you quickly. You must prepare for unexpected weather events by taking the necessary items. The right gear can save your life.

Ready Your Vehicle for Your Snowshoeing Trip

You may be ready for the wintery conditions that go along with snowshoeing, but is your vehicle ready for the trip to and from the trailhead?

  • Prepare for freezing conditions and road conditions by having your vehicle serviced.
  • Your fuel tank should be kept at three-quarters full so you don’t out of fuel in remote areas or during dangerous winter conditions… Also, in times of crisis, barring mechanical failure, your vehicle’s heater can keep you warm until help arrives. You’ll need that fuel.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your car that contains:
    • A warm blanket
    • Extra clothing including gloves
    • First aid kit
    • Flashlight
    • Ice scraper with a snow brush
    • Emergency flares and reflectors
    • Extra windshield washer fluid
    • Jumper cables
    • Rock salt, sand, or kitty litter
    • Tow rope or chain
    • Basic tool kit
    • Charger for cellphone and satellite communicator
    • Water and non-perishable food
    • Electric air pump for tires

Check Road Conditions

Snow covered road in the mountains make for treacherous conditions on the way to go snowshoeing.

Part of checking weather conditions also includes a check of the current road conditions with the National Weather Service and ranger stations. Snow, ice, avalanches, rockslides, and fallen trees and other conditions caused by the weather can make certain roads treacherous or impassable.

For up-to-the-minute road conditions, visit the National Weather Service for the phone numbers and websites of each state.

Pack the Right Snowshoeing Gear and Supplies

Snowshoeing gear on a mountain trail.

The appropriate snowshoeing gear and supplies will vary. Conditions due to the type of snow, sun, and wind, the distance of your trip, and the remoteness of location determine what you’ll need.

More clothing, gear, food, and water are needed with harsher weather conditions, longer routes, and more remote locations.

Packing light is not the goal here. Include the appropriate gear from the snowshoeing checklist and the Ten Essentials checklist which will include snowshoe gear, clothing, footwear, food, water, emergency tools, first-aid kit, personal medications, personal hygiene items, fire starter, multi-tool, repair kit, headlamp, emergency shelter, and more.

Let Others Know Your Itinerary

For safety, let at least one person know your itinerary. If you have service, text or call them when you leave from the trailhead, multiple times along the way if it’s a longer snowshoeing expedition, when you get back to your vehicle at the trailhead, and when you get home.

If your plans change and you decide to snowshoe someplace different than originally planned or you take a detour on the trail, let your contact(s) know your change of plans.

All of this may seem like overkill but if something were to go wrong, it will be easier to locate you if you have multiple check-ins along the way.

If your cellphone lacks service in the area you’re snowshoeing, consider investing in a Garmin satellite communicator.

Know How to Navigate the Trail

Man with snowshoes on a trail in the backcountry.

Snowshoeing safety depends on your ability to navigate the trails in adverse conditions. Poor visibility, approaching darkness, fresh snow, obscured trail markers, water crossings, icy trails, snow cornices, and avalanche hazards can cause you to reroute or even lose the trail.

You don’t want to get lost!

Carry and know how to use a compass, trail map, topographic (topo) map, and GPS for navigating the snowshoeing trail. Whenever possible, study the trail maps ahead of time.

One or more of these navigation tools may be needed and you must be prepared to use them. Don’t rely solely on one. Your GPS may fail or your map might get lost or wet.

Stay Warm and Dry

Dress in layers made of wool or polypropylene that wick away moisture and carry extra layers in your backpack for warmth or a change in case you get wet due to weather conditions or from sweat. You don’t want hypothermia setting in.

Stay Hydrated

Be sure to pre-hydrate before snowshoeing and drink plenty during. Water helps prevent hypothermia and dehydration. It’s needed to keep your body functioning optimally while snowshoeing.

Don’t let your water supply freeze when you’re snowshoeing. Consider a ski pack that has insulation to keep your water from freezing in the reservoir and hydration tube and also a vacuum bottle filled with your favorite non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic hot drink or soup can help you stay both hydrated and warm.

Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate avoid these before and during snowshoeing.

There is a right and wrong way to hydrate. You can even over hydrate. So make sure you know how to hydrate properly.

Don’t Get Caught in the Dark

Daylight hours are shorter in the winter. Get started early and plan to be back to the trailhead long before sundown. Temperatures drop quickly at night, the darkness can be disorienting, and trail markers can be easily missed.

Carry a headlamp with extra batteries.

Additional Snowshoeing Safety Tips

People snowshoeing on a trail below the Matterhorn.
  • Know the basic snowshoeing techniques.
  • Keep your distance from wild animals.
  • If you’re camping and snowshoeing, you should only camp or build fires in designated areas.
  • Never count on a fire for warmth. Learn how to build an emergency shelter that will keep you warm.
  • If you’re new to snowshoeing, make your initial trips short on familiar trails and preferably with an experienced snowshoer.

Conclusion

Snowshoeing is a wonderful outdoor activity that provides exercise and beautiful winter views. Though riskier than a Summer hike, these snowshoeing safety tips can help you prepare for a safe day in the snow.

Have fun snowshoeing this season!

Group of people on a snowshoeing trail. The graphic says... Snowshoeing Safety Tips.