Winter hiking: when to strap on snowshoes, microspikes or your trusty hiking boots

Winter adventure can be intimidating for the devoted summer chasers, but if you can walk, you can snowshoe or strap some microspikes on. It’s the right level of stepping out of your comfort zone and easing into the snow-covered trails. Snowshoes and microspikes actually make winter hiking easier when used in the appropriate conditions – they save you energy by allowing you to float over deep powder and by providing traction on icier trails. But where to start? And when to use which? 

Snowshoes are best utilized after fresh snowfall or when you start to sink into the snow wearing normal boots. They even provide a little traction for inclines or packed snow. Snowshoes widely frame your foot and lift you out of the snow so you don’t sink in. You might feel goofy at first but you’ll quickly get the hang of it - it’s just like walking with a wider stride. When you snowshoe, the snow becomes an endless playground. You can easily step off trail without post-holing, across snow covered lakes and into even deeper powder. However, snow can be unpredictable and deceiving, so take precaution when doing so.  

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When conditions are icy or you’re hiking continuously on snow packed trails, microspikes are the way to go. Microspikes are chains and small spikes that slip over your shoes and while they don’t provide the “floatation” of snowshoes, they provide superior traction for your boots. They are small, lightweight, and easily transportable so when you come across a portion of your hike when you don’t need them, simply take them off until the trail calls for them again.

At the end of the day, snowshoes and microspikes will mainly make your trek through snow more enjoyable – because who actually wants to spend half their time post-holing or slipping when you could spend that time freaking out about this winter wonderland you’re prancing through. While we definitely recommend getting out and trying these different traction methods, if there’s not a lot of snow and you’re on an easier/well-traveled trail, you can get away without either of them.

Our advice? Get started with winter hiking by just getting out there, no matter what that may look like. Before setting out, check the conditions to get a better idea of what kind of trail you’ll be hiking on and then create your packing list. The Estes Park Mountain Shop offers $5 snowshoe and $8 microspike rentals, plus free advice on trail conditions and where to go if you ask nicely. Ask them for their favorite winter trail or check out our list of 9 favorite winter hikes. If you’re looking for other ways to travel the snow, figure out what you need to know to explore backcountry skiing or take a stroll around the plowed and paved Lake Estes. Another way to get started? Consider going with a guide, they’ll fast track you into being a winter hiking pro. 

 

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