It was late spring when I moved to the Boulder area, and I took advantage of my (f)unemployed status by hiking every local trail that I could come across. My husband and I planned day trips around the state based on fun and challenging trails we researched, and I became even more addicted to hiking. When the weather turned colder, I wasn't about to slow down. I had always been interested in snowshoeing, which was something that I had never tried before.
As soon as I tried snowshoeing, I was immediately hooked. I had finally found a way to hike, even in the deep snow, and it was such a great workout. I also picked up a pair of Diamond Grip Ice Trekkers, and eventually MICROspikes® for when the snow is packed down or trails are icy. I've found that between a good pair of boots, snowshoes, or MICROspikes® I'm able to do some winter hiking in any type of snow or icy conditions.
Here are my (somewhat newbie) opinions about which type of footwear is best, depending on the conditions.
I actually don't have a great pair of "snow" boots. I've had trouble finding a pair specifically designed for snow that I like because I'm not a fan of outdoor boots that are mid-calf height. Instead, I wear my favorite (waterproof) hiking boots with a pair of gaiters (to keep the snow from getting into my socks and boots). But most of the time when I'm wearing boots, I don't actually need the gaiters at all because the snow isn't deep.
I hike with boots when the snow is sparse and not packed-down. The soles of my boots are grippy enough that I don't slip and feel in control. I wear the same boots in every condition, but attach accessories on to them based on the type and amount of snow.
Crampons and other products that can slip directly over your boot for enhanced traction, such as MICROspikes®, Yaktrax and Ice Trekkers, are perfect for hiking on trails that don't have deep snow but may contain slick snow or ice patches. MICROspikes® and other products that use a chain system with spiked traction are my favorite hiking accessory, which you can see by how excited I look in this photo.
I almost like hiking on the ice while wearing MICROspikes® more than I do on a clean, dry trail! They are designed with a series of welded chains and stainless steel spikes and easily slip right over your shoes or boots.
And, they're perfect for handling icy conditions!
For me, wearing MICROspikes® took a bit of getting used to- and a lot of trust. It doesn't seem natural to be able to hike on a sheet of ice without slipping, but it can be done while wearing these bad boys! I've hiked up and down steep terrain with no problem at all. The blades grip into the ice and can provide even more stability and control than you would have descending a steep section of trail. And, they're perfect for hiking across frozen lakes!
Besides ice, MICROspikes® are perfect for maintaining control on packed-down snow. When there isn't ice present, Ice Trekkers or Yaktrax are also helpful. Some of these systems don't have the same sharp blades as MICROspikes® but can still provide a decent amount of grip. They also slip over your shoes (and can be worn over any type of shoes or boots). I wouldn't suggest wearing Ice Trekkers or Yaktrax on icy or steep snow-packed terrain, but they're great for moderate, snow-packed trails.
After doing a little bit of research, I picked up my first pair of snowshoes from Sierra Trading Post about three years ago. I decided on a pair of Tubbs, which got great reviews and seemed to hold up well. I also got a pair of trekking poles (with larger baskets for snow) to help with steeper terrain.
Snowshoes can vary in length, shape and weight. I chose a longer pair, which are better for hiking in deep snow. I also made sure that mine had heel lifters in the back, which are extremely helpful in hiking uphill.
In my opinion, hiking in snowshoes provides a completely different experience than any other type of hiking. I typically snowshoe in the high country where the snow base is a few feet deep and everything is quiet, peaceful and generally desolate.
My friends and I typically drive up to a trail that's around 10,000' elevation to set out on a snowshoe trek. We either hike some of our favorite year-round hiking trails or head out to the back country. If we're lucky, we'll see some wildlife (which is most often moose!). Regardless, we are always rewarded with a great view.
There have been a few times where we've gotten a larger snowstorm in the foothills (where the elevations is around 5,300') and a foot of snow has dumped on the ground. These types of storms also make for great snowshoeing -- and I'm lucky enough to have trails that connect to my neighborhood!
There's something so awesome about being able to strap on snowshoes right outside of your front door and take off on a trek.
I wouldn't recommend wearing snowshoes on trails that are packed down, as they are not going to be much benefit to you. I come across this all the time in the winter, and always wonder if the people realize that they're doing a lot more work than they really need to. In my opinion, it's best to stick with other winter traction systems on that type of snow.
If you've been hanging up your hiking boots as soon as snow hits the ground, please reconsider! Winter hiking in the snow is one of the best outdoor activities and can give you a whole new appreciation for winter.