Winter is in full swing across the majority of North America, which means the potential for snow … lots and lots of snow! Instead of having that chilly white stuff ruin your family hiking plans, it’s time to partake in one of the most family-friendly winter activities: snowshoeing! Not sure how to get started? We have broken it down for you in this step-by-step guide for family snowshoeing fun. We also included tips from our own wonderful Hike it Baby community to inspire you to get out there and try it.
Choose your mode of child transportation
How you choose to transport your child will determine your destination and the gear you need.
1. Carrier: Snowshoeing while babywearing isn’t much different than hiking while babywearing. And the type of carrier relies heavily on personal preference. I prefer to back-carry my toddler (he’s around 30 pounds) in our Onya Outback soft-structured carrier. But if we go longer distances, we use a framed carrier so I can carry more stuff like water and lunch. If you’re new to snowshoeing, consider practicing without your child to get the motions down. This can be done in your yard, and you’ll likely only need a few practices before you get the hang of it!
2. Pulling or pushing: Not in the mood to wear your child? Another option is to pull or push your child through the snow. Many parents choose to attach a sled to their waist and pull their child through the snow. And I have a feeling this is a top choice for many kiddos also! Another option is to purchase stroller skis, which are attachments that fit onto the wheels of your stroller and make pushing your child through the snow MUCH easier.
“Bring a sled to tow behind you! Great for hauling toddlers who don’t want to be worn or to walk.” –Erin from Green Bay, WI
3. On their own feet: This is where things can get a little more complicated since more gear is involved, but it is so worth it! While the majority of kids’ snowshoes start at age 3, any walking toddler can give snowshoeing a try! The bindings on kids’ snowshoes can fit most toddler shoe sizes and can grow with them for multiple years. Here are some tips for helping children learn to snowshoe:
- Snowshoeing is easy to learn with a little practice! Start on flat terrain (such as a snowy or even grassy yard) and have your child(ren) get used to walking in snowshoes.
- There is a bit of a learning curve when just starting out since snowshoes are designed to only move forward, not backward. Instead of backing up, you will need to teach them to do a U-turn in order to go in the opposite direction.
- This is about the only time I recommend being a “fair-weather fan”. When your kids are just starting to learn to snowshoe, pick a day (or days) when the weather is mild so that you won’t be competing with wind and super-low temperatures when trying to get the kiddos excited to try something new.
- Lower your expectations… and then lower them again. Your little one may be content to frolic in the snow with their snowshoes one day, and only last about five minutes the next. That’s okay! At least you got them outside for fresh air and exercise!
- That being said, we recommend having a backup plan (such as acarrier or sled) in case they tire easily or are just not having it that day (especially when they are just starting out).
“Try to put the snowshoes on your toddler BEFORE you put the infant on your chest in the carrier or things get tricky. We snowshoe a lot (started at 3 with my son and 2 with my daughter) and have a blast.” –Sarah from Pioneer Valley, CN
Choose your destination
Once you’ve determined your mode(s) of child transportation, you can choose your destination. Keep in mind that you and your family will likely tire more quickly on snowshoes due to the extra weight and effort required with snow (especially freshly fallen snow). It’s important to start slow with flat easy trails, especially if you are carrying the extra weight of a child. We recommend finding a short loop or out-and-back trail the first few times. This is especially important if you have a pint-sized explorer who is new to snowshoeing and may not last long!
“I wore my 2 yr old the first time I went snowshoeing and loved the workout! Definitely couldn’t go as far snowshoeing as hiking. Legs burn in different places (burns so good)!” –Joey from Utah County, UT
“Kids complain a lot more on snowshoes than while hiking. The snowshoes plus snow are very heavy. With a toddler, be prepared to only go a very short distance.” –Maria from Ft. Collins, CO
Gather your gear
The following is a list of gear needed for snowshoeing along with some helpful links to articles on how to layer for outdoor winter fun.
1. Snowshoes: Are you renting or buying? Renting is a great way to try out a new sport. But if you plan on making it a habit, buying may be a better option. When you have the snowshoes on hand, you and your family are more likely to use them! Thankfully, youth snowshoes are fairly inexpensive, and can be used for a number of seasons.
**One thing to keep in mind when considering which size to rent/purchase is that you need to factor in the total weight of you and your child if you are carrying them. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, and plan to carry a 30 pound child, you want a size that is ideal for a total of 170 pounds.
2. Hiking poles: Hiking poles can make all the difference when snowshoeing, especially when you are carrying a child or pulling a sled! That being said, consider forgoing poles for kids. Attempting to coordinate their new footgear with distracting poles may spell disaster! Have them get used to walking with just the snowshoes before adding poles to the mix.
“Use poles! If you’re any type of clumsy, snowshoes will make that worse, especially in the learning phase. Poles help stabilize you. I hate poles for generally hiking, but add snowshoes and they are a must!” –Lyndsey from Monadnock, NH
3. Appropriate clothing: Dressing your family in the right type of layers is key when doing any outdoor activity in the winter. Check out the following links to help you dress the whole family and ensure your outdoor winter adventures end on a positive note!
- Essential Winter Gear for the Whole Family
- How to Dress Infants for Outdoor Winter Activities
- Winter Gear for Adults
- Winter Layering Options for Mothers
- Winter Carriers for Babywearing
Also since babies can’t tell you when they’re cold, make sure the baby is dressed appropriately for the cold temps. Ella’s Wool has a great visual for parents to help them layer infants correctly so they stay warm and dry so they too can enjoy the snowshoeing adventures.
“One thing to keep in mind is that snowshoeing with a child strapped to you can produce some major heat! If you are wearing your child, consider wearing fewer layers (but bring them with you, just in case!). You don’t want to overheat!” –Natalie from Capital Region/Southern Adirondacks
4. Waterproof footwear: While snowshoe bindings can accommodate a wide variety of shoe types, we highly recommend using either sturdy waterproof hiking boots or insulated waterproof snow boots. These will prevent feet from becoming wet and cold while moving through all types of snow, helping you and your family last longer on the trail. I know when my toddler gets cold or wet feet, he almost instantly turns into a grouch monster, making the remainder of our outdoor adventure miserable for everyone! That’s why we invest in high quality boots for the whole family. Personally, we prefer the Keen brand for adult boots, and either Keen or Oaki for our toddler.
5. Gaiters or waterproof pants: These are optional, but may make for a more comfortable experience depending on the trail conditions. Most gaiters cover your boot laces and extend to calf or knee height. This provides a waterproof seal that prevents the pant legs from getting wet and stops snow from creeping into the top of the boots. Waterproof pants (such as those used for skiing and snowboarding) are also an effective way to prevent snow from entering your boots, keeping you warm and dry.
6. Pack the essentials: What goes into your pack will largely depend on the adventure you have planned. Personally, I recommend packing the 10 essentials, regardless where you hiking. They include navigational tools, sun protection for eyes and skin, insulating layers, a light source, a first aid kit, fire supplies, multi-tool or quality knife, more food and water than you think you need, and an emergency shelter. In addition, consider packing some hot chocolate for afterwards as a celebration (and to help warm everyone up!).
Get out there and have a blast!
As you venture out more on your snowshoes, it will become as second-nature as hiking in nice, warm weather. We hope this guide will encourage you to hit the trails this winter! Do you have other snowshoeing suggestions, or are you planning a family snowshoe excursion? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Rebecca Hosley and Natalie Kendrach. Photos by Natalie Kendrach.
Does your family also snowshoe? Share some of your tips in the comments below.