As I said before, looking at a list ‘essentials you should have every time’ and actually bringing those items is something not everyone does. But some equipment you really need when hiking, while some can just really improve your experience–like how you need an ice scraper in your car in the winter but are super grateful to have heated leather seats.
My first time snowshoeing, I brought my ski gloves to wear. Quickly, they were too bulky and cumbersome. Now, I always like to bring thin technical gloves. As long as you aren’t making snowballs or touching the snow constantly, they stay dry enough to keep you warm. I do like pairs that allow for using touch screens too. My current set of two (always have backups!) include a ____ pair I got from my monthly Cairn subscription. Some people prefer to wear super-thin liner gloves underneath larger, waterproof mittens–your preference is up to you!
I’ve always used the namebrand Turtlefur as a regular noun to describe these regardless of actual brand, but in truth tons of companies now make fleece headbands. They keep your ears warm like a hat, but when you’re working hard you’ll be so grateful to have the top of your head free to literally blow off steam. The one I’ve been rocking lately is from Trailheads, which I got in my monthly Cairn box.
Keep in mind if snow is falling it will be similar to a rainy-day hike. I like to keep an extra warm jacket (like a North Face fleece) or flannel shirt inside my pack if I get cold, along with extra gloves and an extra hat. Dry comfortable shoes, spare socks, a plastic bag for my wet shoes, and a towel to sit on in the car can also help the drive home be pleasant.
If snowshoeing, you won’t need spikes. If you have super-great traction on your shoes for a snow hike, you might think you don’t need microspikes. However, microspikes are great for gripping onto snow and ice better, just like spikes help in a cross country run gripping to muddy ground. Microspikes are not to be confused with a traction device like YakTrax, which are better suited for snow in a city setting; or crampons, which are large spikes for mountain climbing. I love my Kahtoolas, many people also like the Canadian brand Hillsound’s microspikes (confusingly called ‘trail crampons’). They are easy to pull on when wearing your boots, but it is far easier to put them on while sitting than standing!
Gaiters are similar to spikes in that you might not need them, but when you do, you’ll be glad to have them. Gaiters are kind of like rain pants for your calves–they slip on kind of like a sock over your shoes to keep rain, mud, and snow from creeping up your pants. Tons of brands make these, but the most-frequently recommended ones I saw were the Outdoor Research Verglas gaiters. I did not practice with mine when I first bought them, which was a major regret–I definitely wore them backwards my first time. Oops! My feet and legs still stayed dry. If you’re wearing pants with a built-in gaiter, like the Outdoor Research Cirque pants, you won’t need a gaiter on top of that.
Something to Sit On
My first time snowshoeing, the boyfriendo’s mom and stepdad generously lent us their equipment–Besides the shoes, they threw in gaiters, poles, a thermos, and lastly inflatable pads. I was scratching my head a bit on that one, but once break time hit on the trail, the boyfriendo whipped that pad out to sit on. A wet butt is awful in any weather, but especially in freezing temps when you have more hiking to do. Keep your rear dry and bring along something to sit on! I opted to not go for inflatable and instead get a Therm-a-Rest Z-seat pad. For around $15, this lightweight foam pad easily lashes to my pack and was a godsend on its first use when I needed to sit to put on my gaiters and spikes. I do wish it were a little larger, but I still am fully on the pad when I use it.
A Hydroflask bowl can be filled with soup at home (or if you’re 12 like me, Spaghettio’s) and still be piping hot up to three hours later on the trail. First fill the bowl with boiling water, dump it out, then fill with the hot food or soup. My first try with my bowl was on a hike that can only be defined as a disaster and I didn’t get to tuck in until probably 5+ hours after filling it, so it definitely wasn’t hot still. Don’t forget a utensil!
Being fairly new to snowshoeing and snow hiking, I’m sure there are still items out there I am missing to make the experience more pleasant. What are your must-haves for the winter trails?