So you’re excited to try snowshoeing, but maybe you’re a little unsure what you need to take with you and what you need to wear.
Don’t worry you’re not alone. This list of snowshoeing essentials is perfect for you to put your mind at ease, so you can be sure you are heading into the winter wonderland fully prepared! The list is also a good reminder for more experienced snowshoers.
The good news is you don’t need lots of new kit to go snowshoeing. In fact, if you are a keen hiker then you will already have a lot of the kit, but there are some items out there that can make the day easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable and potentially safer.
This kit list below is based on my personal experience as an adventure for 15+ years and as a qualified hiking guide. A lot of the items you hope you will never need, like emergency shelter, but in the event you get lost or injured, you will be so glad you have them.
If you are new to snowshoeing, then you are likely to be venturing out on prepared marked trails in a resort (these are often near cross-country ski pistes), and therefore some of the items listed below might not be necessary (such as avalanche safety equipment). However, I wanted to make the kit list comprehensive for all, so it includes items for those people who are heading off for a day hike in the unmarked backcountry areas.
Right, let’s get stuck into that list.
Snowshoes – If this is your first time snowshoeing then I would highly recommend renting snowshoes from a shop in the resort. This way they will make sure you have the right snowshoe for your weight, the terrain and the snow conditions. If you have booked a guide or are on an organised snowshoeing holiday, then it is possible that snowshoes will be supplied for you.
Poles – I would highly recommend using a pair of adjustable/telescoping poles when snowshoeing especially for when you start venturing off the groomed trails. Poles provide great stability when going uphill, downhill and traversing on tricky terrain. You don’t need to go out and buy specific ‘snowshoeing poles’, you can upgrade your hiking poles to be suitable by buying and attaching some large powder baskets. If you are renting snowshoes then you will be able to rent poles alongside.
Small Backpack – I would recommend a pack that is somewhere between 20 litres and 35 litres, that you find comfortable when loaded. I would recommend a pack that has a waist strap/hip belt, as a hip belt places the load of the pack on your hips rather than your shoulders, making it much more comfortable. A chest strap can also add additional comfort by keeping the pack close-fitting.
Pack liner – (optional) An added layer of internal protection against the snow (or heaven forbid…rain!). Many backpacks come with a waterproof cover, these are okay but can often blow off in strong winds. I would recommend instead, or as well as, getting a large pack liner/drybag to go inside your backpack, to keep everything dry if snow is forecast. (A heavy-duty bin bag will do if you’re looking to save pennies!)
Sit mat – (optional) This is one of my favourite pieces of inexpensive equipment. A folding foam sit mat costs just a couple of pounds and can prevent a cold wet bum when stopping for breaks and lunch.
Snowshoeing Clothing & Footwear
Having the correct clothing with you can be the difference between a wonderful days snowshoeing and a very long miserable slog! The key to comfort is the principle of layering, adding or removing layers of clothing in response to changes in weather conditions and body temperature. Please don’t think you have to buy lots of ‘technical’ outdoor kit, you probably have plenty of suitable layers already.
Boots – You need a boot that keeps your feet warm and dry, ideally a winter boot that is insulated, waterproof and has thick soles. If you don’t have a snow boot then a waterproof hiking boot will probably do. Please DO NOT head out all day with new boots that you have not sufficiently worn in, as the blisters will very likely ruin your day! If you have any hot spots that have blistered in the past, then I highly recommend buying some wide Zinc Oxide tape (Strappal) and pre-emptively tape your feet before you even leave the house.
Socks – Breathable hiking socks keep your feet ventilated as much as possible and provide some cushioning. I wear just one pair of mid-weight hiking socks, but some walkers opt to wear a pair of thin liner socks and a thicker outer pair. This is completely personal preference, so my suggestion is to go out and try walking in various socks on hikes of just a few hours to see what works well for you. Do not try new socks on a big day… blisters are a real spoiler.
Spare pair of socks – A spare pair just in case yours get soaked as blisters are likely to form when your feet get wet, so drying your feet and getting them into some dry socks as soon as possible is imperative.
Base Layer Top – This next-to-skin long-sleeved layer wicks away sweat to help keep you warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot and as dry as possible at all times. Choose a technical synthetic fabric, or even better, merino wool. Try to avoid cotton layers if you can, as stays damp and heavy and loses its insulating properties when it gets wet. (I personally also take a spare base layer and like to change into it at the halfway point, or at the summit of the climb. Just so I don’t get a chill on the descent from a slightly sweaty top.)
Mid Layer Top – Your mid layer’s breathability and thickness should be chosen based on the weather forecast, but a standard mid-layer would be a fleece or a synthetic softshell.
Warm Layer Jacket – Make sure you have an insulated down or synthetic jacket in your bag as an additional mid-layer. This can be a useful spare layer for emergencies or to put on during rest stops.
Outer Layer / Hard Shell Jacket – Your outer layer is your breathable, waterproof layer and should have a hood. This is the one piece of snowshoeing kit that is worth investing in and spending a little bit more money on if you can. Gortex hiking/ski jackets are ideal. Underarm zips (pit zips) are also a great additional feature for added ventilation because you’ll be working up a sweat snowshoeing and don’t want to overheat.
Base Layer Trousers – On a cold day you will want a base layer thermal trouser/legging to go under your outer trousers. The same as you might wear skiing.
Outer Layer / Shell Layer Trousers – Like with the jacket, your outer shell should be a lightweight, breathable, waterproof shell that will not only keep you dry but also fend off the wind. Non-padded ski trousers/salopettes are ideal, especially as they often have a built-in snow gaiter to save snow going down the top of your boots. But if you don’t have any, then some really good quality waterproof hiking over trouser should do the job.
Warm Layer Lower Body – If there is REALLY cold weather forecast then you might consider a pair of down/synthetic shorts or skirt. I love mine, it really protects my bum and thighs from the cold.
Woolly Hat / Buff – Pack a warm woolly hat or a headband to cover your ears. I would also suggest bringing a buff as this could be used as a neck warmer but could also come right up to cover your checks if the wind is bitterly cold.
Gloves – I would recommend 3 pairs. You want a thin lightweight liner glove (silk ones are great), these can be worn on their own or under a thicker glove depending on the weather. Your second pair needs to be warm and waterproof, ideally something like a ski glove. I would then pack a third pair as a spare, you would be surprised how often gloves blow away in the wind or get wet, so having a spare can save the day.
Cap / Sun Hat – (optional) If you are lucky enough to be forecast warm and sunny weather, then a peaked cap or brimmed hat is recommended.
Sunglasses – Protect those eyes.
Googles – If the weather unexpectedly turns and it starts to snow and the wind picks up you will definitely be grateful for a pair of ski googles rather than sunglasses, trust me!
Gaiters – If your waterproof trousers don’t have snow cuffs, and even if they do, sometimes a pair of gaiters are worth bringing as an extra defence against snow entering your walking boots! You would be amazed how much snow gets kicked up your legs at the back from the snowshoes.
Map & Compass – Never head out into the mountains without a waterproof map (or if paper then in a waterproof case) and compass. They can help you know where you are in the event you get lost, or maybe you will need to take a detour from your planned route due to avalanche risk or snow conditions. However, both a map and compass aren’t any good if you don’t know how to use them. If you are struggling to learn how to use them and are feeling apprehensive about heading into the mountains then I recommend you hire an International Mountain Leader snowshoe guide. They will not only keep you safe but can also show you the ropes so you will feel more confident on future trips.
GPS – (optional) A GPS device is a good addition if you are heading into the mountains, but you must still take a map and compass too. When a GPS is used in conjunction with a map and compass properly, you will have a pretty failsafe navigation system. Make sure you take spare batteries or a power pack to keep it charged; batteries can drain very quickly in cold temperatures.
PLB / Satellite Messenger – (optional) Personal Locator Beacons and Satellite Messengers are quite expensive, but if you find yourself heading into the mountains on your own more and more it may be something you want to consider investing in. Both offer an SOS emergency feature, they allow you to contact emergency services via satellite even when there is no phone signal, but the Satellite Messenger also allows you to update tracking maps and send messages to loved ones.
Avalanche Safety Equipment – If you are heading into more adventurous terrain and away from the groomed marked trails, then you are likely to need avalanche safety equipment; transceiver, shovel and probe. Make sure every member of your group is carrying these three items, and even more importantly make sure they all know how to use them and be able to read the snow conditions. If you are in any doubt, take a qualified International Mountain Leader with you.
A Headtorch – You shouldn’t need this on most day hikes. However, it is an important piece of safety equipment in case of an emergency so always take it with you. Plus spare batteries.
First Aid Kit – Please always take a first aid kit with you. Just have it in your bag and keep it there so you never forget it! While it’s unlikely that you will have an emergency, things like blisters, scrapes and cuts are more common, so make sure you have at the minimum; some sterile dressings, a bandage, paracetamol, plasters and some zinc oxide tape for blister prevention.
Repair Kit – It’s rare you would ever need it, but a mini repair kit can help you fix the unexpected, like a broken snowshoe binding and prevent a ruined day! I would include; a fire source of waterproof matches or a fire starter, a small knife or multitool, a spare lace, some cable ties, and that oh so important gaffa tape. I tend to wrap the gaffa tape around my water bottle or trekking pole to save space, rather than having to pack a roll with you. You also want to include a whistle as it’s the easiest way of attracting attention in an emergency. Although many rucksacks now incorporate a safety whistle as part of the chest strap buckle.
Emergency Shelter – I always take a heat-reflective foil bivy bag with me, they weigh next to nothing and can be a lifesaver. Just put one in your bag and never take it out, that way you will never forget it. If you are hiking in a group, then I would also recommend taking a Bothy Bag shelter between the group. Not only is it fantastic in an emergency to get everyone out of the elements, but it’s also good to get in for lunch on a bad weather day.
Food & Hydration
Hydration – You will need a couple of robust water bottles, I recommend the Nalgene bottle. In the winter I wouldn’t recommend using a hydration reservoir/bladder, as the hose tends to freeze up. Even a Nalgene bottle can start to freeze up if it gets really cold, you can buy insulated covers for them but you can also just wrap the bottle in some clothes in the centre of your bag for protection against the elements. 2 litres should last you the whole day. If you are planning to refill in streams and springs that you know will be flowing (unlikely in winter but maybe in spring), then you can pack a purification system like a Lifestraw or water purification tablets.
Flask / Hot drink – (optional) Personal preference, but a warm drink on a cold day can put a smile back on anyone’s face 🙂
Packed Lunch / Snacks – Take all your lunch items and snacks you need for the day. Don’t skimp on this, on a 6-8 hour hike you will be burning a lot more calories than you think, especially if its cold.
Emergency Food – Also, include a few emergency extras… what if there was an incident and you had to stay out hours longer than expected, or even the night! Have some spares, as eating keeps you warm.
Hygiene – Toilet paper, and a zip lock bag to store used paper in, hand sanitiser.
Sun cream – In the hope you have a beautiful sunny day.
Lip Balm – Lip balm with a good SPF is essential in the mountains, even on a grey day your lips can dry out from the cold and wind.
Money – There might be the opportunity to buy cake on the route, so have money with you just in case.
Charged Phone – Bear in mind there is often no phone signal up in the mountains, so although it is good to take it with you don’t rely on it for navigation. I would also possibly take a small power pack to top up the charge, particularly if you will be using your phone as a camera, and don’t forget to bring the right cable to plug in your device.
Watch – If you’re anything like me, you probably use your mobile phone to tell the time these days. Well in the great outdoors it’s best not to rely on your phones battery life too much, so a traditional wristwatch would be advised.
Rubbish bag – I always suggest you bring a small rubbish bag with you, not only for your rubbish but also great if you can pick up any litter you saw on the route so that we leave the environment in a better state than we found it.
Camera – It’s going to be beautiful!
Binoculars – If you have a lightweight pair of binoculars then take them with you. Snowshoeing often takes you away from the busy resorts into quiet wild places where all the animals hang out.
Feel free to ask me any questions, happy to help where I can.
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