When thinking about winter activities that can bring satisfaction and provide aerobic health benefits, a simple yet entertaining form of recreation is often overlooked…snowshoeing! Many people use winter as a perfect excuse to enjoy the ‘home comforts’ of good food, warm beverages and indoor pleasures due to a lack of safe, affordable, and enjoyable activities to pursue. Snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding are three of the most common forms of winter activity that come to mind when one thinks of winter sports… unfortunately, for people in the age category of fifty+ these may not be easiest to get into due to the required time investment, relatively weaker health, and lower fitness levels involved. Well, with the advent of snowshoeing as a form of recreational enjoyment the time for enjoying warm hot chocolate and rich foods can be balanced with positive activity!
Modern snowshoeing doesn’t require a costly start up instructor class like its counterparts (skiing and snowboarding) and has a smaller chance of minor and major sports-related injuries. To get started, all you need is a modest pair of snowshoes (prices range from $70-200) and the desire to get out there! There’s a common saying among those who love snowshoeing: “If you can walk… You can snowshoe.” If you just want to enjoy some scenic nature trails or look to continue the hobby of recreational running and/or walking well into the winter months, snowshoes are your first step toward being fit and active. For the cost of renting a pair of beginner’s skis for 5 days, you can purchase an excellent pair of snowshoes that you will enjoy for many seasons to come, and the novelty of walking along the top of snow will make even your usual hiking places seem new and improved.
Getting started with snowshoes is as simple as choosing how strenuous you would like to make your newfound hobby. There are three different types of snowshoes one can purchase: An athletic pair, a recreational pair, and a mountaineering set…and while the athletic and recreational can be used by starters of any fitness level, the mountaineering pair would probably only be chosen by those with experience in both snowshoeing as a sport and hobby as well as experience with outdoor wilderness hikes into high hills and mountains.
Athletic snowshoes are the smallest and lightest and are very adept at allowing users to run with a very high degree of mobility. They’re also not intended for backcountry use. Athletic snowshoes are commonly referred to as ‘bearclaw’ snowshoes, as they form a smaller circle rather than the teardrop form of the recreation and mountaineering snowshoes.
The recreational types tend to be a bit larger and are meant for use in gentle-to moderate walks of 3-5 miles, while mountaineering shoes are the largest and are meant for serious hill-climbing, long-distance trips, and off-trail use. A general rule of thumb for purchasing snowshoes is that for every pound of bodyweight, there should be one square inch of surface (14.5 cm[squared]/kg) per snowshoe to adequately support the wearer (it’s always good to consider the weight of any gear you will be packing, especially if you expect to break trail). Many manufacturers now include weight-based flotation ratings for their shoes to help simplify picking the proper snowshoe.
The health benefits of snowshoeing are as apparent as any other form of aerobic activity, and of course being able to continue previous aerobic activity into the winter months is an excellent way to maintain an active lifestyle. Some of the benefits of aerobic activity include lowering blood pressure and helping your arteries to maintain their elasticity; your arteries expand and contract two to three times more while exercising, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This means you are not only looking better, but also feeling better by keeping active through the winter months as well as the spring and summer. These forms of exercise are also beneficial for slowing down aging, as you are less likely to experience bone and muscle loss. Bones grow and become stronger by responding to physical demands, while those who don’t put this type of demand on their bodies allow a sedentary state that makes them more susceptible to osteoporosis as they age. Snowshoeing warm-ups and cool-downs are the same as any degree of summer cardio activity that you may enjoy. This includes running, power walking, or simply enjoying a peaceful hike.
Preparations and precautions taken while snowshoeing vary a little depending on the intensity and distance of your snow hike. Dressing in layers is crucial to maintaining the proper body temperature throughout the length of your adventure. Having layers that you can easily slip into and out of is as crucial as having a proper way to store them once removed; remember: you can have as easy a hike as one taken through a snow-covered city park to deep snowy trails outside your family cabin or ski resort. Hats are also very important, as a great deal of body temperature can be lost through the head. Having light layered headwear or headgear you can switch out from a small bag is also recommended.
Never forget light snacks and proper hydration again depending on the length of your planned hike! A light snack might be appropriate to keep energy levels up for a quick afternoon outing or even for a short jaunt through the park. You might want to consider bringing along a water bottle too. People tend to forget they sweat while out in the cold due to their sweat being drawn away from the skin and evaporating. A small percentage of water is also lost from the simple act of breathing too, so always stay hydrated while keeping fit.
A final tip for trekking in the wintertime is to plan on heading into the wind for the start of your journey and returning with the wind at your back, as your exertion will be greatest during the final half of your hike. You also don’t want to become chilled due to sweat freezing on your body as your move into the wind…plus the best part of any journey is when the wind is at your back pushing you along. There’s no better time for this than the last leg of your journey.
In conclusion, I hope this has intrigued you enough to consider being active during the snow season instead of simply enjoying the creature comforts of home!