Basic snowshoeing techniques

If you are going on a snowshoe hike for the first time, here are some tips and techniques for safe snowshoeing.

Walking with snowshoes on flat terrain

Snowshoeing on flat terrain is intuitive. When walking with snowshoes, take slightly wider steps than when hiking. You must be careful not to step on the inside of the snowshoes. If you step on your snowshoes, you may trip and fall. Because of the wider steps, the muscles in your hips and groin may hurt a bit. If you are persistent, you will quickly get used to walking with snowshoes and master the technique.

Walking with snowshoes uphill

The sharp teeth on the toes of the snowshoes will come in handy when you’re going into more hilly terrain with snowshoes. Always place your feet firmly on the snow, and keep your hiking poles in front of you. When walking with snowshoes, we can use different walking techniques. It depends on the snow base and the terrain on which you will go.

Use the kick-step technique in dry snow. You lift your foot slightly and kick the toe of your shoe into the snow to create a step. To create a firm enough surface for a steady step, you will need to step on the same spot several times. Your snowshoes will be at an angle to the slope, the back will hang down behind you, and the toes will be above your shoes. 

This plants the sharp crampons at the bottom of the snowshoes into the snow, directly underfoot. If the conditions are such that the kick-step technique only creates a deep hole in the snow, find another way.

You probably won’t be able to take a step in frozen snow. Instead, use crampons or snowshoe pins, and don’t forget your hiking poles. If the path is too steep, find a less steep one.

On moderate to steep slopes, you can use snowshoe heel lifts. You will find them under the heel of many snowshoes. Using this, you will have your foot in a neutral position. It will make the way up much easier and less tiring.

In ancient times, snowshoeing was the only way people could travelled in winter.

How to descend with snowshoes

When going down, keep the poles planted in front of you, knees should be slightly bent and relaxed. Shift your body weight slightly back. Walk smoothly and plant the heel first as you walk. (On some slopes, you may never turn on your toes after placing your heel because doing so risks your foot sliding down.)

Hiking poles provide extra balance and control when walking with snowshoes, especially when going down. It is recommended to use slightly longer poles when descending.

Avoid excessive leg swing, as the back of the snowshoe, can cause you to trip over the snow, lose your balance, and fall.

How to cross a slope with snowshoes

Traversing or “side climbing” is a common method of snowshoeing and can be used to avoid steep or difficult terrain. Maintaining balance is key.

Push the top of the snowshoe into the slope to create a step in the snow. Always transfer your body weight to the upper shoe. If possible, follow in the footsteps of the person in front of you.

Adjust the length of the walking poles and use them when crossing the slope. Lengthen the descent pole and shorten the ascent pole until their tops are even when their tips touch the snow.

How to use hiking poles when snowshoeing

Hiking poles are not mandatory snowshoeing equipment, but they will be of great help if you know how to use them properly. Not only do they provide better balance, but they also help exercise the upper body. Adjustable hiking poles are best because they can be shorter for walking uphill or lengthened for walking downhill. When crossing a slope, set the length of the poles to different lengths.

To adjust the stick length for flat terrain, turn the stick upside down and hold it just below the basket. Adjust the length until the elbow is at a right angle.

Raise your arms through the bra straps from below. This allows you to rely only on the straps when you need to loosen your grip to give your hands a brief rest.

How to get up after a fall while snowshoeing

Until you’ve mastered snowshoeing, you’re bound to stumble a few times and end up on your butt. Most often this happens on the descent. When you feel yourself starting to fall, try to fall uphill if possible. To be able to stand up, you must first release your hands from the straps of the walking poles. When standing up, use poles to help you by placing them in front of you in the snow and shifting your weight onto them. Then it will be easier to transfer your weight to the snowshoes and stand up.

If you have poles, push them under your chest, parallel to the slope, and then push yourself off the slope with them. If you fall into deep snow on flat ground, you can make an X with the sticks in the snow in front of you, then grab the sticks in the middle and use them as support when getting up.

If you don’t have poles:

Open your hands and press down, which will likely make holes in the snow. Fill the hole with more snow, then press again in the same place. Repeat until you’ve built a solid base of packed snow, which you then use as support to hold on.


Explore Slovenia, Julian Alps, Hiker in Vršič