Making tracks

SUNDAY, JAN. 3, 2010

It’s never been easier to walk on the snow

Snowshoes are not just for transportation anymore. Snowshoeing has become a sport of its own.

It’s easy to see why. Modern snowshoes are lightweight, comfortable and easy to walk in. Almost anyone can snowshoe, and the gear gives people the mobility to get outdoors in winter, enjoy the scenery and get some exercise.

If you can walk, you can do it, virtually anywhere, for free, without waiting in line.

Today’s snowshoes are typically lightweight, aluminum frames with fabric decks and strap bindings.

The size of a snowshoe is based on your weight, not your height or foot size. That includes the weight of your body and the gear you will be carrying.

You also should pick a snowshoe based on the type of snow and terrain you are going to be in. The larger the snowshoe, the less you will sink in deep snow, but larger shoes are heavier and more cumbersome.

Equipment retailer REI separates modern snowshoes into three categories: recreational, adventure and backcountry. (Check out the store’s buyer’s guide at www.rei.com. It has a lot of good advice and information. Click on “Snowshoeing,” and “Expert Advice.”)

Recreational snowshoes are “all around” models designed for groomed trails, or gentle terrain, like golf courses and parks.

Adventure snowshoes are built with more aggressive crampons (the cleats on the bottom of the snowshoe that give you traction) and stronger bindings

Backcountry snowshoes are designed for rigorous use, like mountain climbing, backcountry snowboarding and winter backpacking.

Snowshoes are inexpensive compared to skis and snowboards. They are also durable; some manufacturers give them a lifetime guarantee. Expect to pay about $100 to $300 for a pair.

Poles help you maintain balance and give your upper body a workout, especially when you’re climbing. Some poles are designed specifically for snowshoeing, but a cross-country ski pole will work just as well. Use a pole that’s longer than what you would use for downhill skiing, because you’re likely to be in deeper snow.

A common rookie mistake for snowshoers is to bulk up with heavy clothes before heading out. Then they get sweaty and clammy from the exertion.

You will need less clothing than you might think. Snowshoeing is strenuous enough to produce lots of body heat, and you’re usually not moving fast enough for the breeze to cool you off, as when you’re skiing.

Layer your clothing with a lightweight synthetic fabric next to your body, then midweight fleece or a wool sweater (no cotton!) and a waterproof jacket or parka. Unless it’s snowing, you may want to keep your jacket in a daypack or wear it around your waist until you need it.

You will be kicking up a bunch of snow, so you need pants that will shed snow and moisture. Gaiters are a must.

Although you might want a lightweight hat while on the move, bring a warm hat and gloves or mittens for breaks. One of the easiest ways to warm up or cool off is to put on or remove a hat.

If you plan to be out all day, throw a spare pair of gloves in your pocket or daypack. Gloves often become damp, and a dry pair will keep your hands warmer.

Waterproof leather boots or other waterproof hiking boots will work, but Sorels or other boots made for snow are usually a better option. Make sure they fit securely in the snowshoe bindings.

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