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Beginner Snowshoeing: A Simple Family Past Time

Beginner Snowshoeing: A Simple Family Past Time

Most new people that I meet assume that since I grew up in Alaska, I love winter and I must be a skier or a snowboarder. I don’t. I’m not. None of it. 

However, I was a dedicated trail runner, so enter snowshoeing! If you are a distance runner or avid hiker, I highly recommend looking into snowshoeing as an enjoyable winter recreational activity for you and your family.

Similar to running or hiking, snowshoeing is relatively low barrier to entry skill-wise and equipment wise making it a great family friendly activity. 

Winters where I live in the Pacific Northwest are notoriously wet and can be long with the grey, rainy skies. Also, it’s not a guarantee that we will even have snow in the valley bottom where I live. However, I live within 45 minutes of a mountain pass that already has snow and my son regularly asks when we drive by if we can stop and play in the snow. 

Now that he is 4, I think he has the skillset and mindset to do well at and enjoy snowshoeing! He’s never been, but I’ve been talking it up this past year to pique his interest and now he’s excited to try it too. 

Don’t spoil the surprise, but during REI’s Labor Day sale, I picked up some lightweight youth snowshoes from Crescent Moon Snowshoes for him. They will be sitting under the Christmas tree this December waiting for him to open them up!

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beginner snowshoeing with one child being pulled in sled through the woods.
Snowshoeing is a low barrier to entry winter recreational activity that is family friendly! TMM Team Member Jami’s family out for a snowshoe!

Why Snowshoeing?

You may be wondering, “why snowshoeing and not snowboarding or skiing?” I live within 45 minutes of a ski hill and skiing and snowboarding opportunities abound. Very rarely do I ever hear anyone extol the virtues of snowshoeing. EVER. 

The primary reason I believe snowshoeing is a better winter recreational option for families is because snowshoeing has much lower barriers to entry than skiing or snowboarding do.

It is a simple activity to attempt and master. Comparatively speaking, less specialized equipment or technical gear and apparel is required than is necessary for skiing and snowboarding. 

mother with two children, all in snowshoes. one child is being carried on mothers back.
Snowshoeing is a great outdoor recreation option for those with young children. Trekking or ski poles can help youngsters keep their balance while snowshoeing too. TMM Team Member Jami’s family in MSR Snowshoes and Tubbs snowflake on the youngest.

Beginner Snowshoeing – Low Barriers to Entry

If You Can Walk, You Can Snowshoe

If you can walk, you can snowshoe! No specialized skillset necessary. There are no lessons needed to “master” the activity, although I have seen various ski resorts offer lessons or at least guided snowshoe tours which look really fun. 

The more often you do it, the more comfortable you will be walking or even running on snowshoes. This comfort will directly correlate to covering more ground quickly and easily. 

The simplicity of snowshoeing itself is also what makes it a great option for getting younger kids involved. Sure, walking with essentially a shoe platform that is wider and longer than standard footwear takes some getting used to, but once you get used to your snowshoes, self powered mobility and balance are easy!

young girl bundled up for the cold walking in snowshoes
Snowshoeing is as easy as walking! If your child has master walking, they will probably enjoy short winter adventures on snowshoes. (2.5 year old wearing Tubbs Snowflake)

No Specialty Gear Required Other Than Snowshoes!

The only specialty gear and apparel you really need are the snowshoes themselves and weather appropriate attire for the winter conditions. Snowshoes themselves do not require care and maintenance like skis or snowboards do. You don’t need to wax them to ensure smooth travels, you simply put them on and go; then take them off and store them when you are done. 

Snowshoe styles can generically be divided into two categories based on your goals for snowshoeing: those that are made for traveling fast and light, or those meant to support extended back country winter exploration.  

As a runner, I have a lightweight pair of Atlas snowshoes that I have worn for the past 19 years. The snowshoeing I am doing is typically related to running or short, afternoon hikes. My husband on the other hand has a pair of MSR snowshoes meant for longer trekking that are longer and heavier than mine. 

Many of the companies that specialize in snowshoes carry both kinds of snowshoes, those for traveling fast and light, as well as those meant for extended backcountry adventures. Tubbs, Atlas, MSR, Yukon Charlie’s, Dion Snowshoes and Crescent Moon Snowshoes are among some of the leading brands of snowshoes.

Additionally helpful for helping you to select the perfect snowshoe for your interests and skillset is Yukon Charlie’s, “How to Pick the Right Snowshoes for Adults,” webpage.

4 pairs of snowshoes stuck in the snow with mountains in the background
Consider what type of snowshoe pursuits you are interested in and that will help you to narrow down the style of snowshoes you should purchase for you and your family. (MSR Snowshoes for the whole family)

Family Snowshoeing

As mentioned before, snowshoeing is as basic as walking on snow; just in wider and longer shoes. Your child’s physical abilities, agility and aptitude for snowshoeing will ultimately determine their interest in pursuing snowshoeing with you. 

Tales of a Mountain Mama Team member, Jami Rogers, advises that with particularly young youth, it may be wise to bring along a sled. With a sled, your young kids can snowshoe, but when they get tired, you can put them in the sled and pull them along. This helps keep a family snowshoe hike fun for youth, even if they are not actually snowshoeing themselves.

If you are looking for more tips for Snowshoeing With Kids, check out TMM Team Member Rita Muller’s blog post about it!

mother snowshoeing while pulling child in sled.
By pulling a sled, even the youngest adventurers in your family can join in the fun of a family snowshoe hike. Photo courtesy of R. Hosley.

Beginner Snowshoeing Gear and Apparel Needs

As mentioned before, the ONLY specialty gear REQUIRED for snowshoeing is the snowshoes themselves. Snowshoeing is truly a versatile past time that is family friendly. Depending on your interests, the snowshoes you invest in, the conditions you plan to snowshoe in, can determine your options. 

If you’re interested in traveling light and fast, you may choose a snowshoe that is smaller and lightweight. Those interested in longer, backcountry excursions will probably invest in larger and longer snowshoes.

birds eye view of 4 people standing in a circle wearing snowshoes.
TMM Team Member Kristen’s family in MSR snowshoes for fast and light snowshoe travel or snow play. They are wearing very basic cool weather layers, nothing fancy!

What to Wear Snowshoeing

A typical snowshoe outfit for me looks like this from toe to head: my Atlas snowshoes, water-proof trail running shoes over wool socks and wool liners, my Craft winter running pants, a lightweight wool base layer top, Craft mittens and a wool headband. Nothing fancy, just basic cool weather layers.

Check out all our recommended baselayers here!

Dependent upon the snow conditions, and if cooler conditions are expected, I may opt for my La Sportiva hiking boots or even Arctic Muckboots instead of trail running shoes, particularly if I am not planning to be running but hiking or walking. If the snow conditions are extra wet, I may choose to wear my OR gaiters with either my trail shoes or hiking boots as well. 

On my upper body, I might add a midweight wool hoody or a winter puffy jacket if it’s supposed to be extra cold. If conditions are windy or wet, I may additionally go for a wind proof/water proof shell

Since I have frost bitten my ears in the past winter trail running and my hands have been so cold I lost all manual dexterity making it nearly impossible to fish my car keys out of my pocket, I do regularly carry warmer layers for my head and hands if temperatures and wind chill plummet. 

If conditions are on the colder side, or I expect to be out longer, I will wear my favorite wool hat from Swix and large insulated mittens from Mountain Hardware. Many TMM Team Members also swear by Aurora Heat as a natural and effective way to add warmth to gloves, mitts and boots. 

woman jumping on groomed snow trail in snowshoes wearing basic cool weather layers.
TMM Team Member Mary Burton showing her sweet aerial skills while snowshoeing in basic cool weather layers. Photo courtesy of M. Burton.

Snowshoeing Fast and Light (running, short day or afternoon hikes)

Because my interest in snowshoeing has always been as a way to continue hiking and running outdoors in the winter with the limited free time I have, I have always opted to go fast and light. That is why smaller snowshoes and simply my standard winter trail running apparel has always been adequate. 

I have used the same pair of smaller, lightweight Atlas snowshoes since my senior year of high school. Primarily, I was using them to run on snowy trails that were somewhat groomed, or in snow that wasn’t too deep or powdery. 

Their smaller footprint and size made them lightweight and convenient to run in without altering my gait too much. However, the smaller size also meant that if I was in deep, powdery snow, they really didn’t help me out that much which is why I was mostly running on packed or groomed trails with these.

If you plan to snowshoe for shorter periods of time, determine the rest of your required apparel and gear based upon current and expected winter weather conditions. For me, since I am primarily running or doing short day hikes on snowshoes, a quick review of the current and expected winter weather conditions paired with basic cool weather apparel sufficed for keeping me safe and comfortable while snowshoeing.

Longer Snowshoe Expeditions (backcountry travel, overnight snow camping, etc)

For those more interested in backcountry expeditions on snowshoes, I’d recommend the larger and longer style of snowshoes. Due to a larger surface area and footprint, they may serve you better for staying aloft on deep, powdery snow found in the backcountry. 

These styles are typically a bit heftier than the lightweight style I run in and a bit more pricey, but much more necessary if you plan to be putting in long days and/or nights in the backcountry or areas without ungroomed trails to follow.

Since a backcountry expedition is significantly different from a morning or afternoon walking or trotting with young kids, I would carry more gear and invest in more technical apparel. Alpinistas offers a curated snowshoeing collection of women’s apparel and gear that covers the range of snowshoeing activity, from those wishing to travel fast and light to those pursuing backcountry trekking.

If I were planning on backcountry snowshoeing, I’d probably invest in a good pair of snow pants or at least the Backcountry Hotpants (insulated) from title nine. I’d also be carrying a pack with lots of wool and additional warmth layers, a headlamp, food, water, shelter and emergency avalanche beacon at the bare minimum.

Best Snowshoes for Toddlers:

Tubbs Snowflake Snowshoes – Toddlers

These tiny snowshoes are some of the smallest out there. 14″ long by 6.5″ wide, these are meant for tiny kids around ages 3-6. Weighing in at 1lb 5oz, these snowshoes are lightweight plastic that are easy for little feet to use. TMM Team Member Jami started her petite daughter on these at 2.5 years old.

Kid’s Luna Foam Snowshoes from Crescent Moon

I went with these simple and lightweight snowshoes as a Christmas gift for my four year old this year. The single, velcro-like straps look like they will be easy for my son to figure out putting on and off. With the snowshoes being made of foam, they should be lightweight enough for him to also be able to walk or even run easily on groomed trails.

Yukon Sno-Bash from Yukon Charlie’s

Although the website says these are best for ages 6-10 (or those weighing 100 lbs or less), in the reviews, people were able to successfully cinch the bindings down on 2 and four year olds. These are a lightweight aluminum snowshoe designed for trail walking. Conveniently, these snowshoes can be purchased alone or as a part of a snowshoe kit which entail trekking poles and a travel bag to pack your gear in.

Kids’ L.L. Bean Fun Trax Snowshoes

These lightweight snowshoes are made with EVA foam and designed for snowshoers weighing less than 50 lbs. The Kids’ Foam Snowshoes from Crescent Moon may have the edge on these as far as traction since they sport ice cleats, whereas the traction on these is reliant upon molded foam.

Best Snowshoes for Kids:

Kids’ Spark Snowshoe from Atlas

Besides youth snowshoes that are shorter and narrower than adult snowshoes, I really appreciate youth snowshoes made of the same quality and durability of materials as their adult counterparts. The spark is not only lightweight and simple to secure to your feet, but it features an aluminum frame with ice cleats at the heel and toe for traction. These are designed to fit snowshoers 50-120 lbs in size wanting to snowshoe the backcountry.

Yukon Penguin from Yukon Charlie’s

Similar to the Yukon Sno-Bash, these snowshoes could be cinched down to fit younger children since what really determines Yukon Charlie’s youth snowshoe sizing is weight more than child age. The frame and decking material is made of lightweight polypropylene and these can be purchased alone, or as a part of a kit with trekking poles and travel bag.

Kids’ Winter Walker Snowshoes from L.L. Bean

What I like about these snowshoes for kids is that they are built of the same high quality construction materials as the adult snowshoes from L. L. Bean are. These are narrow and lightweight with built in aluminum crampons for traction. The 16″ long snowshoes are made for snowshoers 25-60 lbs, while the slightly longer 19″ snowshoes are designed for those 50-110 lbs.

MSR Tyker Snowshoes and MSR Shift Snowshoes

Another TMM Team Favorite, the MSR Tyker and MSR Shift. The Tyker (17″) are for smaller youth, up to 90lbs. The Shift (19″) are a little beefier and good for kids/pre-teens up to 125lbs.

Best Snowshoes Beginners:

Atlas Race Unisex Snowshoes 2023

Either the Atlas Race or the Atlas Run is the snowshoe for you if you are wanting to get into snow running or racing, and to travel fast and light. The lightweight aluminum frame with the Nytex decking allows snowshoers to float on top of snow conditions, while the crampons allow wearers to have suitable traction for crusty and icy conditions.

Evo Ascent Snowshoe Kit from MSR

Although I myself have always been into fast and light, short snowshoe trips, this Snowshoe Kit from MSR seems like a great option for beginners wanting to get into backcountry snowshoeing. MSR tends to create quality products and this kit features snowshoes, poles and a pack to tuck extra layers, food and hydration vessels into for longer off-trail exploration.

Of course, if you are already outfitted with trekking poles and a pack, I would also recommend looking into MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes or the Revo Ascent Snowshoes as well for rugged backcountry snowshoeing.

Dion 164 QuickFit Binding/Deep Cleat

Dion is another reputable and quality brand of snowshoes that carries snowshoes for racing, trail walking, back country travel and mountain hiking. Plus they are all made in Vermont and Upstate New York! These offer superior floatation on powdery, backcountry snow along with great traction for more icy conditions. A lightweight, yet durable snowshoe with an easy to secure binding.

Dion also provides snowshoers with various customization options to alter the bindings and/or traction cleats on any of their snowshoes so you have a truly tailored product to fit your needs.

Crescent Moon Vail 24.5

These trail snowshoes are a favorite of TMM Team Member Jami. She loves the secure bindings and study cleat on the bottom. The teardrop shape make for easy walking! Suitable for snowshoers up to 165lbs or shoe size women’s 12. If you need a bigger snowshoe, check out the Leadville 29.

Snowshoe Poles:

I have never been a person to have a need or desire to carry trekking poles. However, if you are planning to embark on a longer, backcountry winter trekking experience, carrying a heavier pack, or carrying a child, trekking poles are a great option to consider! They will aid in stability while trekking, particularly if you are carrying/pulling a heavy load.

Any trekking poles with snow baskets will work just fine for snowshoeing! Also, there are many snowshoes kits that come with snowshoes, poles, and a carrybag. Here are some of our favorite trekking pole recommendations, some come with snow baskets, others you need to add.

Trekking Pole Snow Baskets

Adding snow baskets to your existing hiking poles easily transforms them into snowshoe poles! Just check to make sure the baskets are compatible with your specific poles and threads as there are a few different types.

Komperdell Ti-7 EXP Contour Snowshoe Poles

Easily adjustable poles with interchangeable baskets.

REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles

These adjustable poles include both snow and trail baskets.

Snowshoeing with Kids: Make it Fun

As I mentioned, I picked up a lightweight foam pair of snowshoes for my son for Christmas this year. I opted for this kids pair from Crescent Moon Snowshoes because they are lightweight, brightly colored and had decent reviews. 

Plus the lime green color will be appreciated by his baby sister and brother in future years once he outgrows them. I am also envisioning that if my son really does end up enjoying snowshoeing, we can always purchase a more technical pair for him when he outgrows this pair. Yukon Charlie’s carries youth snowshoes, as does Tubbs, Atlas and MSR.

I really like TMM Team Member Jami’s suggestion of dragging a sled that kids or gear can be towed in. Plus, maybe if youth are very young, snowshoeing to a sledding hill would be a great incentive to get kids to try snowshoeing, if even for a short while! 

Other considerations for making snowshoeing fun for youth is making sure they are properly outfitted for the current and expected winter weather and snow conditions. Check out TMM blog posts about the Best Winter Gear for Kids by Amelia Mayer and Team Member Kristin Drenzek’s post about Surviving (and Thriving) Below Zero With Kids for more ideas on how to dress properly.

Also, packing fun things like snacks or a MSR Pocket Rocket to make hot cocoa with will also make the whole winter experience more magical. Or make your hot cocoa ahead of time and put it in your favorite thermos! For more ideas on how to make an outdoor winter adventure more fun for youth, check out TMM Team Member Rita Muller’s blog post regarding 11 Tips for Winter Hiking for Beginners.

If your kids need a little more incentive or motivation to find the joy in a winter hike outside, consider TMM founder Amelia Mayer’s book, “Hiking Activity Book for Kids”. It has activity suggestions for kids while hiking that could be adapted to snowshoeing or winter exploration in general. 

kids having fun in the snow with snowshoes on.
I just love K. Drenzek’s photo of her kids having fun on snowshoes in Alaska! what happy kids wearing the MSR Shift and Tyker Snowshoes!!!

Slow Down to Snowshoe and Reconnect

Snowshoeing is a great opportunity to slow down, observe and reconnect. It is easy to carry on a conversation and walk side by side with someone while snowshoeing. There is no rush, it’s an opportunity to slow down in a very busy world.

It’s my hope that we get at least some snow down here in the valley bottoms this winter. That way I can strap my snowshoes on with my son and we can walk around our farm together looking for animal tracks in the snow while pulling his baby sister and brother in the sled behind us. 

Another fun opportunity would be doing a full moon snowshoeing tour together across our farm. We hosted a full moon hike on our farm in October for our local homeschool group where we hiked through our fields and woods under the light of the full moon.

A snowshoe hike this winter on a clear night with fresh snow on the ground would be even more magical! We could bring along a thermos of hot cocoa to enjoy on the trek and the snow reflecting the light of the moon would be simply beautiful. 

Beginner Snowshoeing – Its Easy to Get Started

One of the other great things about snowshoeing is, you don’t need a ski pass or to be a member of a special club to snowshoe. Often times those public lands you enjoyed hiking or trail running on throughout the summer are still accessible to you- just grab your family, strap on those snowshoes and away you go!

Your snowy yard will work just as good too! Now get out there and enjoy the snow!

mother with young child in snow, both wearing snowshoes.
TMM Team Member Rebecca Hosley snowshoeing with her son. Aren’t tiny kid’s snowshoes the cutest!?!

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Beginner Snowshoeing: A Simple Family Past Time

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