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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Snowshoes Terrain Techniques

Techniques for winter trekking. Find out the advantages snowshoes provide for getting over hill and dale.

by: Kristin Hostetter

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Gearing Up

Snowshoes beat out skis both in start-up price (see equipment reviews) and for quick and easy getaways. Just strap them on and start walking. In a matter of seconds, you can adjust the binding straps and/or buckles to fit almost any size boot.

Climbing Uphill

Snowshoes have crampons on the bottoms that help you climb slopes, even if the snow is crusty or iced over. Though climbing can be tiring, there's no slipping or balancing problem on snowshoes.

Crossing A Slope

The best option is to kick a direct route straight up using the front crampon teeth, then cross over flat ground. Kicking steps across a slope is less stable, plus the toothy crampons on the bottoms generally aren't built to grip in that direction.

Negotiating Blowdowns

If your neck of the woods has lots of trees, chances are that branches or entire trees will fall, especially if ice storms and high winds are common. Save yourself grief and go with snowshoes; they make it easy to pick up your feet and get over obstacles so you're not restricted to open, treeless terrain. The entire forest is yours.

Carrying A Pack

If you can stay upright with a heavy pack while wearing hiking boots, chances are you'll do just as well in snowshoes. Just be sure to bring trekking or ski poles to help you balance.

Getting Up From A Fall

Snowshoes: Just roll over, get the shoes under your body, and stand up. No need to worry about traction.

Going Downhill

Snowshoes: Allowing gravity to carry you plunge-stepping down a steep hill is fun, plus it's more efficient. And the plush feeling of stomping in deep snow is easier on the knees than backpacking on dirt.

Breaking Trail

Trailbreaking can be particularly difficult if the snow is wet and heavy or more than a foot deep, since each step requires lifting your feet high enough to clear the surface. To make trailbreaking easier, use larger snowshoes with optimum flotation, so you won't sink so deep. Switch off every half hour or so, so one person doesn't become exhausted or overheated.

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