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Winter in the backcountry. It doesn’t get much better than this. The crisp air, the falling snow, and the magic of solitude that comes with fewer people on the trail. Winter is a great time to be a hiker. And for hikers looking for an easier way to get outside during the winter months, snowshoeing is a great choice. While it’s possible to slog through snow in hiking boots, snowshoes make winter hiking much more enjoyable by distributing your weight over more surface area. One of the great things about snowshoeing is that it doesn’t take a lot of practice -- for most hikers, there’s not that much difference between hiking and snowshoeing. But don’t let that fool you -- snowshoeing can be tough!

Even with the added help of snowshoes, walking on snow takes more energy than summer hiking. This means that a mile of trail will take longer in the winter than in the summer, so plan accordingly. If you are used to doing a five mile out-and-back, know that you may only be able to comfortably make it a couple miles out before turning around -- at least until you get your “winter legs.”  And make sure to dress in layers. You’ll most likely start cold and then get warm once you start moving. Carying a pack with essentials and room for layers you’ll shed is important.

Snowshoes have traditionally been made of wood and leather, but now there are plastic and lightweight-metal models that have become very popular. Before you buy a pair, consider renting several models to see what you like best. You’ll be able to find entry-level models that are inexpensive but work well, beefy backcountry models that can hold both your weight and your pack, and even lightweight running models for people who like to fly through the snow at a fast clip.