Snowshoeing: How Far? How Fast?

iStock_000000051788_Large1200Seems like a silly question, but it’s not. Many people do not realize that snowshoeing distances are shorter as you’re not walking on dirt! Worth reading to get a few tips.

When you begin planning your first snowshoe outing, how do you select a trail to match your stamina and ability? Experience is the best way, but if you don’t have a lot of Backcountry experience, you can tap into the knowledge of someone who has.

If you are new to winter walking or hiking, you can sign up for an introductory program at an outdoor store or recreation center, which often will include a class excursion. You can take a guided tour led by a ranger or professional guide. Making your first snowshoe excursion at a cross country center with marked trails, facilities and patrollers is not a bad idea, especially if you are not an experienced summer hiker.

If you want to go on your own, start with one of the easy routes in your area. Altitude, dry air and the unaccustomed weight of your feet can affect you. Until you have some mileage under your snowshoes, be conservative in estimating your energy and limitations. However, if you are an experienced summer hiker, you will probably know the impact of variations in terrain, weather and other factors. For instance, you already know that you cannot make the same time or keep the same pace in the mountains as you do in town.

Four miles an hour is considered a good, solid walking pace on dry pavement. Two miles an hour on a trail up to a 1,000 foot elevation gain is a respectable hiking pace. Leadville, Colorado based snowshoe racer Tom Sobal believes that a fit snowshoer who is used to his or her equipment will go 25 percent slower than on bare ground “under the best conditions,” which is to say snow that is hard packed and fast. Add the element of soft snow, which is kind to your joints but cuts your speed, and your pace will be slower. In addition, breaking trail is slower and requires for more energy that snowshoeing on a packed route.

The upshot to all these variables is: Don’t be disappointed if you are only hiking 1.5 to 2 miles an hour on snowshoes and, more important, plan your itinerary accordingly. Unless you are a runner, a 6 or 7 mile tour could easily take the better part of a day.

When you are ready for your first snowshoe outing, plan to go with at least one other person or in a group. Remember that a group’s pace is only as fast as its slowest member. Underestimating your snowshoeing pace is wiser that overestimating it until you’ve been out a few times and know how accurate your estimates are.

Snowshoeing is an individual yet a very sociable activity, not just for companionship, but also for safety. Again, a guided hike is not a bad idea for your snowshoeing inaugural, especially if you are going alone. Later, as you become more experienced, be sure to tell someone reliable of your plans if you do hike alone, and check in with him or her upon your safe return.