How to Snowshoe with Kids

Photo: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

By Ethan Hipple

Snowshoeing is a great way to introduce kids to winter sports. Not only is it low-cost, but unlike skiing, it requires no real training period. You simply strap on your snowshoes and walk. Plus, it’s pretty. Without leaves on the trees, sunlight reaches deep into the untrammeled woods, providing magical views.

That said, even a winter wonderland loses its luster when kids are frustrated or tired. To help your brood find its snowshoe groove, try these 10 tips.

1. Newbies of any age should start on groomed snow, such as a cross-country ski trail. It’s much easier to snowshoe on a packed surface than in deep snow. Once the kids are confident, try the fluffier stuff.

2. For your first outing, aim for a distance slightly shorter than you would take kids hiking. Snowshoeing may be straightforward, but it requires more energy than walking. If your kids can handle a 3-mile hike, try a 2-mile snowshoe. For capable 6-mile hikers, try a 4-mile snowshoe.

3. You can snowshoe any time of day. Just be sure to bring headlamps if you’re heading out near dusk. Nothing beats a full-moon wander.

4. Let kids know they’ll have to lift their feet higher than when walking. They’ll also want to keep their feet a shoulder’s width apart, so the snowshoes don’t catch on each other. For extra grip on steeper slopes, they’ll need to dig in the metal crampons on the bottoms of their snowshoes.

5. Especially for novices, I recommend poles for balance. Any old ski poles from the thrift store will do. Good winter boots are also essential. Any brand is fine, as long as they’re waterproof and warm.

6. Wearing the right size snowshoe will yield the best experience. Snowshoes are sized according to weight, with snow depth as a secondary factor.

Most beginning and intermediate trompers should choose recreational or trekking snowshoes. Both have good flotation and a rounded tail for better stability, and many are adjustable for varied conditions. The more snow there is, the more surface area you want; extending the tails will give you extra float.

Backcountry models are burlier, feature a heavier-duty crampon, and have a larger footprint—overkill for beginners. Also stay away from racing models, unless you plan on trail running. 

7. Don’t forget the cocoa! This is the best advice I can give you. You’ll be ready for a steaming cup once you reach your destination.

8. You’ll want to conserve heat when you do take a break, so bring something to sit on. It’s always a good idea to carry foam pads in case of injury, but if you’ll be out for more than an hour, consider adding lightweight camp chairs.

9. Always bring the 10 essentials—always, whatever the season. As a reminder, that’s navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, nutrition, hydration, emergency shelter, and tools.

10. Take heed, parents of toddlers: Snowshoeing can be hard on those newly able to walk. To avoid breakdowns, wait until the kids are on solid feet before attempting to snowshoe.

The great news is there are many ways for little ones to enjoy snowshoeing, even if they’re too small to try it themselves. Some families strap the kids into a baby backpack, but if you’re sticking to relatively smooth, low-grade trails, a converted bike trailer works beautifully. You can also make your own winter kid trailer. Popular in Scandinavia for centuries, these are known as “pulks” or “pulkas.”

If only adults had it this good!

Get more tips on raising outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and browse family trips in AMC's Kids Outdoors