The Science of Snowshoeing

Taking your first steps toward a new outdoor activity.

There are few things better than a great hike on a beautiful day, checking out gorgeous scenery and snapping the perfect photo. But for most hikers, that fun ends when the snow falls. However, a somewhat unknown alternative can help those who need to scratch their exploratory itch: snowshoeing.

Snowshoes gives explorers the ability to walk on up to 2 full feet of snow without falling through. In fact, any snow amount between 2 inches and 2 feet can call for snowshoes, enabling trekkers to keep their legs moving throughout the winter.

“Snowshoes give users the ability to explore, encounter and experience the most our outdoors provides in the winter,” explains Brent Tommerdahl of Expedition Outdoors. “The purpose of snowshoes is to allow you to stay aloft in deep snow conditions, in terrain you would never normally go.”

All About Aluminum

If you’re new to snowshoeing, there are a few factors to keep in mind when looking for a first pair. There are different bindings, materials and weights to consider. The binding mechanisms, either a ratchet strap or quick set–quick release, offer a couple different methods of keeping the snowshoe on your foot while allowing for an easy removal.

The ratchet style has two straps that feed through a small clip; then you simply pull until a snug, comfortable fit. To remove, simply press the release clip and remove the strap. The quick set–quick release, or “Quick Tight,” however, is made more for those younger snowshoers or folks who could struggle to reach down to their feet. It’s simply a matter of personal preference and what works best for the user.

When looking at frames, it might be difficult to find what works best for you. But according to Tommerdahl, anodized aluminum is a must.

“The benefits of aluminum is that it doesn’t rot or rust and it’s lightweight,” said Tommerdahl. “The type we use is very strong, so the frame is difficult to break. Anodization is twofold. It’s for cosmetics, meaning the color, and it protects the aluminum from corroding or tinting of the metal.”

Snowshoe Specifics

Once you get an idea for what materials and binding type works for you, the next step is to find and select the perfect pair to get you going. Expedition provides four models: Truger, Classic Trail, Expedition Trail and Explorer Plus. Each offers some different variations, so there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find the right pair. And if you’re in need of some accessories, many shoes come in kit form and include a carrying case and walking poles.

With the Truger series, you’ll find an anodized gray frame made of lightweight and strong 7075 aluminum, the “Quick Tight” binding system and an articulating silicone and stainless steel toe bar brace. The Classic Trail, while also made of the 7075 aluminum, offers a one-hand ratchet system as opposed to the “Quick Tight” system.

The Expedition Trail series boasts the same aluminum type as the two previous models but offers a dual ratchet system for added security, an articulating toe brace bar and a handy carrying bag. Finally, the Explorer Plus gets you a durable 6061 aluminum frame with a bright golden bronze frame and dual ratchet bindings.

Location, Location, Location

The world is your oyster when it comes to where to snowshoe. Most city parks, state parks and even national parks encourage snowshoeing. And if you know the right folks, even private land (as long as you have permission, of course) can be utilized for snowshoeing.

“Woods, lakes, parks, swamps, mountains and hills are great places to trek,” Tommerdahl suggested.

However, there are a few safety concerns to consider when hitting the terrain, like the use of caution in areas that are unfamiliar. When snow is covering the ground, it can be difficult to judge what’s underneath it, so consider that the terrain underneath could be dangerous, and proceed carefully.

Tommerdahl suggests trekking in the daylight hours, or if you do get out at night, make sure to bring a compass and have proper lighting. “If you are a beginner, practice in your yard, local parks or easy areas to trek,” he explained. “Once your skills improve, find your way into the outdoors.”

Even as the snow begins to fall, covering up the gorgeous green hiking trails that trekkers covered all spring, summer and fall, the exploration doesn’t need to end. With all of the various features available in Expedition Outdoors snowshoes, there’s no doubt a perfect fit out there to ensure that your sense of adventure can stay alive and well all winter long.

-Ski Bum

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Wandering Around This Winter

For thousands of years, man has struggled with getting around in snowy, icy conditions. Snowshoes made from pine tree branches and trekking poles made from tree limbs were about as advanced as this technology got. Lucky for us, we have the advantage of modern technologies and constant innovation to give us affordable, effective methods of getting around in the winter’s worst.
 
Staying On Top
 
What’s the real benefit to wearing a tennis racquet-looking contraption on your feet? How does that help you walk on deep snow? According to Dan Roy of Yukon Charlie’s/Synergy Sports, it’s the design that keeps a snowshoer from sinking down into the snow.
 
“In deeper snow conditions, snowshoes will keep the user from sinking right in up to their waist, which would make it almost impossible to walk or travel through,” Roy explains. “By using snowshoes, the user’s weight is distributed under the area of the snowshoe which allows the user to walk through snow with a much more reasonable level of exertion and stability.”
 
But it’s not just the deep, fluffy snow that is best for snowshoes. Because of their wider design and crampon treads on the bottom, walkers wearing snowshoes on harder, icier terrain will also benefit from the use of snowshoes.
 
One of the most important features to keep in mind when shopping for snowshoes are the bindings. Roy explains that with Yukon Charlie’s, they designed a 1-pull binding system that enables the user to take them off easily as well as EVA padding, which eliminates hot spots and pressure points for longer treks. No matter the terrain, be it deep and fluffy or hard and slick, snowshoes will keep you on your feet this winter.
 
A Well-Balanced Trek
 
What about keeping your balance in these wintry conditions? No matter the season or weather, trekking poles will keep hikers balanced and hiking as far as they can. In order to keep a trekking pole from sinking right into the snow, as a traditional walking stick would, snow baskets act as a snowshoe for your trekking pole. They displace the weight and pressure, keeping the trekking pole from sinking into the snow.
 
“Typically, the snow baskets are larger in diameter, which helps to prevent the trekking pole from just pushing right through a pile of snow and sinking to the bottom. The trekking baskets are smaller, as the ground conditions during non-snow seasons are firmer and do not need the larger basket to be able to gain some firm ground underneath.”
 
Through Snow and Ice
 
But if you’re not necessarily looking to be hiking or walking in terrain that would require the use of snowshoes or a trekking pole, there’s another variety for the minimalists out there. And the best part is that they’ll allow you to wear them with any type of footwear. Although, we wouldn’t recommend wearing these in high heels.
 
YakTrax are made from elastic outer bands with steel coils along the bottom — similar in design to the crampons on snowshoes — fit easily over existing footwear, offering a safe grip in icier conditions, even for runners.
 
“Anyone and everyone who has to stand or move across ice and snow can use them,” explains Eric Lund of Implus. “Mailmen, construction workers, utility workers, or anyone that spends a lot of time outside on their feet will appreciate the Yaktrax Pro. Runners and athletes will appreciate the Yaktrax Run, which has a hybrid coil and spike design and anatomic right/left design that makes it ideal for natural running and jogging on ice and snow.”
 
Dry and Repeat
 
As anyone who’s hiked, or even made a snowman, can relate, winter conditions often result in cold, wet gear. However, it’s not only moisture coming from the snow. As activity increases, so does the amount of sweat that winter gear can absorb. And when your gear gets wet, it means you get cold. Luckily, through warm air-circulation, DryGuy dryers can quickly get all of your attire warm and dry so you can get back out in the snow.
 
“Heating elements in the dryers warm the surrounding air which circulates in and out of the footwear, evaporating the moisture as it leaves,” said Lund. “This can be convection based, where warm air currents rise naturally which is usually a slower, overnight dry system. Overnight or it can be forced air based, which a fan physically pushes the warmed air for accelerated drying.”
 
As Lund explains, DryGuy has been on the forefront of innovating these older, convection-based dryers that kept snow enthusiasts at bay. The advances that they’ve made aren’t limited to speed of drying — they’re also focused on safety.
 
“There are also now a variety of portable units available,” said Lund. “Today, dryers also have timers to automatically shut off, and thermal switches to shut the unit down in the event of overheating, reducing risk of fire.”
 
When winter arrives, bringing in those beautiful snowy landscapes, they’ll also bring dangerous icy conditions. However, that shouldn’t sway anyone from getting out there and experiencing all that winter has to offer outdoor enthusiasts. While earlier man resorted to items found in nature to assist them in getting around, products from Yukon Charlie’s, YakTrax and DryGuys offer efficient, affordable and most important, effective methods to wander around this winter.
 
-Ski Bum
 
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Out of the Gym and into the Snow

While a lot of people view the winter season as a chance to stay inside and hibernate until spring, there are a lot of valuable ways to keep your body healthy while enjoying the beautiful snowy weather.
 
Two fun activities that actually have a bevy of health benefits, snowshoeing and sledding, are fun, inexpensive ways to make sure your body stays in tip-top shape for the coming spring.
 
According to Carol Wilson, R.N., M.S.N., snowshoeing is a low-impact activity that can be beneficial to people with bad knees. It also burns calories better than running, about 400-900 per hour, and is recommended by the American Heart Association as an excellent aerobic activity for the cardiovascular system.
 
“It works quads, hamstrings, calf muscles and muscle groups in feet and ankles,” Wilson explains. “With poles, it works muscle groups in the back, shoulders and arms.”
 
Judy Shanks, CVCSN, echoes Wilson’s statements and adds that there are other ways snowshoeing can be a benefit, such as alleviating stress and contributing to overall health and well-being.
 
“Cold air increases metabolism, contributes to better sleep patterns, balances hormones and promotes weight loss,” Shanks says. “It increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions through exposure to nature.”
 
While jumping onto a plastic disc and sliding down a hill might not seem like the best type of exercise, sledding can actually burn about 470 calories for a 150-pound person in an hour. With the long trek back up the hill after the ride, you’re toning your leg muscles and keeping your heart rate up.
 
“The steeper the hill, the more beneficial the workout,” Shanks said.
 
One aspect of sledding that might go overlooked in terms of exercise is the fun factor. Just think about how much you laugh when sledding. That giggle while on the hill actually has some health benefits.
 
“Fun that is free,” Shanks said. “It makes you laugh, and laughter doubles heart rate for one minute afterwards. Muscles re-lax for 45 minutes after you laugh, and the immune system is boosted by decreasing stress hormones, increasing immune cells that fight infection and releasing endorphins.”
 
To fully enjoy all the benefits of snowshoeing and sledding, there are some preseason preparation exercises that should be implemented prior to hitting the hill or strapping on the snowshoes.
 
“At least two weeks prior, begin gradually increasing endurance exercising until you reach a 45-minute session three times per week,” Wilson said. “Include incline work on a treadmill.”
 
If you’re a parent and will be pulling your child around on a sled, Wilson recommends that you check with your doctor, espe-cially if you’re over 50, and see if you’re able to engage in some light weight lifting. This will prepare you for performing a mo-tion you’re not accustomed to.
 
“Lift weights so that you can easily lift a child weighing 40 pounds if you plan to take them sledding,” Wilson said. “Ride an exercise bike with moveable handlebars, pedal hard, and turn the handlebars since you will be steering the sled.”
 
Wilson also suggests that you perform stretches prior to your winter activity. Calf stretches, calf raises, leg raises and angled walking should get the body warmed up to prevent any injury. A good warm-up will raise the body’s temperature about 1-2 de-grees Celsius. Some endurance running on a treadmill can prepare the body for extensive outdoor winter exercise. She also rec-ommends some items to bring with on your journey.
 
“Keep hydrated, and keep water with you,” said Wilson. “Take sunscreen and lip balm, energy bars, a cell phone, flashlight and a portable GPS, if available.”
 
Prior to sledding, Shanks explains, sledders should perform some warm-up exercises to aptly prepare for the activity, includ-ing some easy squats and chest-knee stretches.
 
“Before sledding, do knee-to-chest stretches to avoid compression injuries due to repetitive bouncing over snow,” she said. “Either sitting or lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and hold for 30 seconds. At the bottom of the sledding hill, do some more knee-to-chest stretches or squatting movements to restore flexibility.”
 
With some preparation before the season and before your snowshoeing or sledding experience, your winter wonderland can stay just that. Preparing the body in the fall for your winter activity, ensuring sound hydration before, during, and after, as well as warming up before and after exercise can keep the body healthy throughout the season and throughout your life. So next time you strap on your snowshoes or wax up your sled, make sure your body is just as prepared.
 
-Fitness Fanatic
 
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