Hi friends! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve checked in here, so I apologize for the long and unintended hiatus. As always, it feels great to be back. I miss it! I wanted to pop in and answer some of the questions I’ve received via email or instagram about beginner’s snowshoeing here in the Seattle area.
Before I dive in – while I am not as much of a novice snowshoer as I was 3 years ago – I would still consider myself a “beginner” compared to many of the very experienced outdoor adventurers here in the PNW!
I’ve never been snowshoeing…where do I start?
There are a few considerations here, but one thing I’ll say: it’s intimidating! I absolutely understand feeling a little overwhelmed by what we see and hear from friends and online. Remember: it takes years to build skills and confidence, and you’ll learn from every trip you take! I also want to recognize that snowshoeing/hiking are hobbies that requires a lot of initial financial investment. I’ve been “building’ my collection for 3 years now, and invested in pieces slowly. My tips: look for sales, used equipment, rentals, and opportunities to borrow equipment from friends. Wonderland Gear Exchange recently opened in north Ballard with the goal of making outdoor adventures more affordable and accessible.
Gathering the right supplies
Basic equipment essentials:
Snowshoes: I would highly recommend renting them to start. Depending on your location, you can rent them at REI. If you’re looking to purchase snowshoes, you may experience sticker shock at first. I have a used pair of the MSR Denali snowshoes (similar here) and they are great! If you have the flexibility in your budget to splurge, I would recommend the MSR Lightening Ascents. I also have this bag, which is perfect for transporting and storing my snowshoes.
Trekking poles: hikers have different preferences when it comes to using poles, but I would recommend that beginners start with a pair. You can rent poles at REI as well. Purchasing options include opting for a more budget pair such as the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Collapsible Quick Lock Trekking Poles. Personally, I invested in the Black Diamond Women’s Trail Pro Shock Walking Poles and recommend them!
Waterproof hiking boots: this is probably the most important piece of equipment, especially here in Washington when we get a lot of rain and slushy snow. Wet, cold feet on a long snowshoe hike is miserable, and can be dangerous. In terms of shopping for winter hiking boots, make sure to do your own research. A boot that is advertised as “waterproof” may not indeed be fully waterproof. Look for a product that is insulated, waterproof, and has a thick sole. I originally purchased a pair of “waterproof” boots from Columbia, but after a long snowshoeing day, I arrived back at the car with wet and cold socks – yikes! I recently purchased the Vasque Pow III UltraDry Winter Boots at a used equipment store (but they were new!) and they worked great! My feet stayed dry and warm for a 10+ mile snowshoe trek.
Pack: you’ll need a pack to take with you to carry additional layers, snacks, water, safety equipment and emergency supplies, etc. For shorter, beginner hikes, a regular backpack will work just great. In an ideal world, you’ll want a pack with padded straps that is made out of durable material that is water-wicking. I invested in the Women’s Deuter ACT Trail 28 SL Pack in 2016. I’ve had no issues with it in terms of quality/use, but I do feel it’s a tad too large for a shorter day trip pack (and too small for an overnight backpacking trip!) With packs: be mindful of the size of the straps: really thin straps, especially when the pack is holding a lot of weight, can be uncomfortable on your shoulders.
Water: this one may seem fairly straight forward, but I’ve really enjoyed my Platypus Zip Water Liner (3L). Even for 10+ mile hikes in the winter, I’m still only drinking 1.5L or less of water, so I don’t fill it up entirely. I reserve filling the entire bag for overnight camping trips and super hot hikes in the summer! Of course, a regular water bottle is absolutely sufficient to keep you hydrated, but it does add additional weight and I found myself drinking less when I had to fetch a bottle out of my pack versus just unhooking the straw on my Platypus.
What to wear
- Layers! This guide on layering from REI is a great resource. I will say…I don’t personally follow these recommendations every time I hike. (But maybe I should?) Here’s typically what I will wear:
- Base layer:
- on the bottom: long underwear under a pair of spandex pants or the Arc’teryx Sabria Pant Women’s which I recently purchased when I went to Banff National Park. Also, I prefer wearing seamless underwear when I hike because it’s breathable and more comfortable.
- on the top: an under armor top, a lightweight down vest, and my Patagonia Women’s Performance Better Sweater® Fleece Hoody. Depending on the conditions and temperature, I will also bring a gortex rain jacket and a warm puffy that is easily compressible in my pack. My Marmot Women’s Minimalist Waterproof Jacket (purchased on sale at REI) was the best purchase I’ve made since moving to Seattle. You simply cannot hike in the rainy conditions without a true waterproof jack (meaning, it is made of gortex or a similar material!)
- Base layer:
- Two pairs of gloves: one lighter pair and one heavier pair. As you ascend, you’ll want a warmer pair of gloves/mittens for the top when you’re no longer moving and the temperature has dropped. Personal favorites: these for the lighter pair, and these for the heavier pair (thanks Dad!).
- Neck gaiter
- Wool socks: my favorite brand is Socks by Stance, but any wool sock will work great!
- Wool hat
- Calf/Ankle Gaiters to keep snow out of your boots (not necessary for less snowy trails). I finally purchased my own pair yesterday 🙂
What to pack
- Fuel: my favorite hiking snacks are sandwiches, Pro Bars, trail mix, apple sauce packs, dried mangoes, and peanut butter pretzels
- First Aid Kit
- Emergency Kit (10 Essentials Kit)
Snowshoe trails near Seattle
- Gold Creek Pond Snowshoe (beginner)
- Kendall Peak Lakes Snowshoe
- Rampart Ridge Loop
- Hex Mountain Snowshoe
- Skyline Lake Snowshoe (beginner)
- Granite Mountain (moderate – watch avalanche conditions!!)
- Pratt Lake Basin (beginner)
- Granite Creek Trail
- Lake 22 (beginner, but you won’t likely need your snowshoes the entire trip)
Choosing a trail
When deciding on a snowshoeing trail to explore, I usually take a few avenues to get some ideas: ask a friend, check out Washington Trail Association’s website (wta.org), explore recent photos from instagram, and check out posts in the Washington Hikers and Climbers Facebook group. From there, I look at a few things:
- Safety. This is the most important thing before choosing a hike. What are the weather and trail conditions? What is the avalanche risk? Am I experienced enough to navigate the terrain? The WTA trip reports from fellow hikers are invaluable for assessing conditions!
- Distance. After 3.5 years of hiking in the PNW, I personally aim to do a trail that is a minimum of 6 miles and maximum of 12-14 miles. For beginners, I would recommend a 2-4 mile snowshoe.
- Elevation gain. Again, WTA.org is a great resource for determining elevation gain. For reference, some of the harder hikes/snowshoe treks I’ve completed were with a gain of ~4,000 feet. For beginners, I would try to stick to a gain of 1500 feet or less.
- Distance from Seattle. Depending on how ambitious I feel, I may opt to drive ~3-3.5 hours each way for a great adventure (but a very long day.) There are multiple great trails that are ~1 hour from Seattle. Keep in mind sunrise/sunset times when planning your hikes as well. If you’re going to do a trail that is 2-3 hours away, you’ll probably need to leave between 6-7am.
- Transportation: make sure to assess if your vehicle can navigate the roads leading up to your preferred trail. I learned the hard way that a Ford Focus was not the best choice of vehicle for winter outdoor adventures 🙂
- Scenery. Are you hoping for mountain views? Lake views? Greater elevation gain normally means more mountain views 🙂
- Required park passes: make sure to check what passes are required for you to hike/snowshoe. Required passes in the Washington area may include the National Forest Pass, Discovery Pass, and/or a Snowpark Permit. All are available to purchase for single day or seasonal use.
I want to get outdoors more without overwhelming myself – help!
My biggest piece of advice here is to solicit help from friends who are more experienced and willing to tag along on an adventure with you! I would recommend starting small: short, flat snowshoe hike. Renting equipment or borrowing supplies is also a great option. There is no point in investing in equipment if you’re not going to use it again!
Sometimes, I feel that adventuring outside is really intimidating until you do it and experience how refreshing and exhilarating it is to be surrounded by natural beauty. Once the seal is broken, you’ll feel more confident and inspired to do it again!
What is a good equipment starter kit for an entry level snowshoe?
See more details above, but here are the basics:
- Warm clothes, gloves, hat, scarf
- Water bottle
- Arrive early to trailheads. It’s not uncommon to have a 5:30-6am wakeup call on adventure days. You’re more likely to find a parking spot, and less crowded trails are always more enjoyable 🙂
- Bring an insulated canister and cups to enjoy a warm beverage (hot chocolate or tea!) at the summit of your adventure. There is nothing quite like a warm beverage after hours of trekking through snow!
Send me an email or message on instagram: @laurenlovesseattle or @nutrition-elevated. Happy adventuring!