BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Despite the unseasonal early November heatwave running its course across the upper Midwest, winter is nearly here, and with it comes snow, snow and more snow.
Our first instinct may be to hibernate in our homes, bundling up on our couches and perhaps, straying from the healthy recreation that can still be had outdoors.
But if you’re looking to take a break from the monotony of winter this year -- and get a little exercise in while social distancing -- snowshoeing is a fantastic activity to get the job done.
Not only is it a fun, low-impact aerobic exercise that can be learned by all ages and ability levels, it’s inexpensive and doesn’t require much gear to get started.
As a newbie to the activity, it can be difficult to know where to begin. So here is a beginner’s guide to snowshoeing that’ll have you on your way to getting outside and enjoying the beauty of winter.
The great thing about snowshoeing is it’s very similar to hiking, so it’s easy to get the hang of it once you’re used to having snowshoes on your feet.
If you’re a beginner to the activity, renting snowshoes is a good first step in trying things out. It’s important to ask for help in choosing the right size and style of snowshoes, as they should be suitable to your weight and the conditions of the area you’ll be snowshoeing.
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Remember, the taller and heavier you are, the bigger the snowshoes you'll need. While larger snowshoes work best in deep, unpacked snow, smaller ones work well on hard packed snow.
If you’re purchasing your first pair of snowshoes, recreational hiking -- or flat terrain -- ones are perfect for beginners. For a solid pair of snowshoes, pricing typically runs from $100 to $300.
And though optional, poles are a great addition to snowshoeing because they offer you better balance and support, especially on hills or steep inclines.
If you can walk then you can probably snowshoe, however, there are some key things to keep in mind to avoid falls and muscle strain when snowshoeing.
A snowshoer should walk with their legs parallel and their stride should be a bit wider than usual. Also, they should pick their feet up higher than they normally would walk to minimize any clipping of the snowshoes.
When making a turn, a snowshoer should lift their leading leg high in the air and rotate before placing their foot back on the ground.
New snowshoers should first practice these techniques in flat, open spaces before heading out on a trip.
Choosing the right outfit
The right outfit, which will protect against wintertime elements, is essential for a fun, comfortable and safe snowshoeing excursion.
Snowshoers should dress in layers that can be easily adjusted or taken off, as it’s possible to become heated from the physical activity or a change in temperature. Also, wear waterproof pants to keep legs warm and dry.
It’s best to avoid cotton garments and instead go for those made of synthetics or wool because they wick moisture and retain warmth even when wet.
Although snowshoes can adjust to accommodate most winter footwear, insulated and waterproof winter boots will serve a snowshoer best in their outdoor recreation.
Additionally, be sure to wear wool socks, and always bring an extra pair in case the ones being worn get wet. Wearing headwear, sunglasses and gloves is also recommended.
Although snowshoeing is a social distancing friendly activity, it’s thoughtful to still consider those who will come along after you on the trails.
Because snowshoes can compromise trails shared with skiers, be sure to stay closer to the side and leave the trail as it is. Snowshoers can create their own trail along the edge if there isn’t one already formed for use.
If a skier comes along, they have the right-of-way. This rule also applies to snowmobiles, but snowshoers should try to avoid trails used by snowmobilers.
Additionally, be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles.
Where to go snowshoeing
You can snowshoe anywhere in Minnesota's state parks and recreation areas, except on trails that are specifically groomed for another activity, such as skiing or snowmobiling.
You can also snowshoe in Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas, to explore and enjoy some of the native habitats of the state.
Some Minnesota state parks offer snowshoe rentals for $6 a day, and the Minnesota DNR has a comprehensive list of those parks on its website.