Snowshoeing:
How to get started

For some of us, the thought of snowshoeing evokes childhood memories of wearing heavy, clunky wooden snowshoes during school outings. Luckily, the times have changed...

people snowshoeing

Snowshoeing has evolved over the years, and is now an activity that is really gaining in popularity. Not only is it an inexpensive way to enjoy winter, but it’s also respectful of the environment and allows for discreet observation of wildlife. You don’t need to wait in line for a ski lift, or have impressive athletic skills. Snowshoeing is one of the most accessible winter activities out there; it's perfect for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Want to snowshoe, but don't know where to start? Read on for some key tips to follow.

1. Choose your adventure

Before choosing your snowshoes, think about what kind of outing you’re hoping for. There are several reasons to start snowshoeing - here are a few:

- Enjoying a fun activity with your family, with children
- Hiking alone, or with a friend
- Staying in shape and discovering a new sport
- Appreciating natural landscapes

2. Explore the great outdoors

Before you buy or rent a pair of snowshoes, it's important to know what type of terrain you will be exploring on your adventure. Classic snowshoes are perfect for marked trails with packed snow. But, it you're feeling more adventurous and want to hike off-trail in the backcountry, where powder snow is the norm, you may want to get a pair of larger snowshoes for this outing.

Couple snowshoeing on an uphill slope

3. Choose your equipment

Here are the three main criteria to consider:

Load capacity: This is the ability of the snowshoe to support your weight above the snow. Don't forget, this includes any equipment you may be carrying on your back. The heavier you are, the bigger your snowshoes should be.

Cleats: Made to give you better stability and traction on icy trails, as well as more control during ascents and descents. The type and size of cleats needed will vary according to the trail's terrain. 

Bindings: It's a good idea to have bindings that are easy to adjust, especially for children. If you plan to explore steep terrains, prioritize a model that includes a heel lift (a wire bar at the back of the snowshoe where your heel can rest). This allows for easier ascents and reduces the strain on your calves.

Couple on a mountain descent with snowshoes

Fun Fact

Decathlon's Quechua snowshoes are perfect for beginners. They are made in Quebec by Faber*, a company that has specialized in high-performance, quality products since 1870.

Yannick, our consultant, offers some great advice* for beginners. He suggests choosing one of two plastic models: either a classic type, or one with a heel lift for ascending slopes. For more experienced hikers, he suggests tubular aluminum models: The SH100 for off-trail snowshoeing, and the SH500 (no heel lift) and SH520 (with heel lift) models for both off-trail and powder snow.

Not ready to buy right away? Many places offer snowshoe rentals: Outdoor centres, sports clubs and sports equipment stores. Now that you’ve decided which snowshoes are best for your adventure, you can start planning your winter activity.
* Video in French only

4. Plan your adventure

The essentials:

Boots: You don't need to have performance boots unless you’re an avid snowshoer. However, your boots should be waterproof, warm and comfortable. They should also cover your ankles to provide better support and help you to avoid injury.

Clothing: Dress according to the "multi-layer" system. Don't forget your toque, gloves or mittens, neck warmer, extra pair of socks and a backpack. If you plan to venture into the mountains, or anywhere with powder snow, you should add gaiters to your list. Gaiters are waterproof sleeves that cover the lower leg and attach to your boot; they keep your calves and ankles better protected from snow and ice.

Poles: For a simple, casual walk on groomed trails, poles are not always necessary. You can use your ski poles or telescopic hiking poles if the terrain is more uneven, or has difficult trails. They will help you distribute your effort and increase your stability.

Snacks: Always bring lunch or snacks and water (or even a yummy hot chocolate) with you when you are snowshoeing. It can be a relatively gentle and fun activity, but your body will still work hard, and you will most likely get hungry while you're out there! Snacks like nutrition bars, nuts and dates are always a great idea.

Safety equipment: Remember to pack a first aid kit, sunscreen, compass, topographical map, hand and feet warmers, avalanche safety equipment, fire starter, repair kit, and spare snowshoe straps. Keep in mind that, in some areas, your cellular signal may be weak or non-existent; so always be prepared! 

Group of friends climbing a mountain with snowshoes

Pre-departure advice

- Check weather conditions and avalanche risks on Avalanche Quebec and Avalanche Canada.

- Plan an itinerary and remember to give a copy to a friend.

- If you plan to venture off-trail in the backcountry, but are not very experienced, there are places like Chic-Chac in Gaspésie that offer safe guided excursions in beautiful surroundings. Consider going with a group for your first snowshoe adventure.