Posted on January 18 2016
by Jason Ross
The noble outdoorsman, family in-tow, forays into the wild, evading the chaos erupting behind him. He leaves the city, steely-eyed and with single purpose: to ensure their survival. They trek across the hinterlands, pausing occasionally to trap a downy-furred rabbit that they cook on a spit over the fire. While he stands security, out past where his night vision might be compromised, he plans his next move…
ReadyMen think about these things. Admittedly, we day-dream about these things.
In our daydreams, however, we’re usually passing through the verdant wilderness, with animals aplenty and ample forage growing trailside. Rarely do we dream about crossing through snow and mud, winter-dead plants and hibernating animals.
But, don’t most of our homelands spend at least half the year winter-bound? But, since we don’t spend nearly as much time outdoors in the snow, the winterscape doesn’t come to mind as readily. It’s easy to forget that, especially in the mountains and forests, it’s just as likely that we’d be bugging out in snow.
If your bug out plan runs any risk of traversing snow deeper than twelve inches, you need snowshoes. And, you and your family would be well-served to achieve a level of comfort with your snowshoes beforehand.
Walking through the snow in boots works alright so long as the base is frozen solid and so long as there’s less than a foot or so of snow. But, if there’s any snow at all, it typically drifts much deeper in some places and grows far more challenging on north-facing slopes. So, even if your area experiences moderate snow, you need to make sure that your snow isn’t piling up, becoming a serious hurdle to cross-country travel.
Without exception, snowshoes unlock snow-bound terrain. So long as your snowshoes have a large enough footprint, you can move overland efficiently. With that said, even with snowshoes, you’ll burn more calories and take more time than walking. If you’re pounding through crotch-deep powder, you’ll double or triple your calorie burn. If you’re sliding across groomed trail, add twenty-five percent to your time and negative calorie count.
In a gunfight, snowshoes can mean life or death. I’ve run tactical scenarios with boots in snow. Like a nightmare where you’re slogging through the swamp with some grotesque terror on your heels, you don’t want to be trying to maneuver in snow wearing boots. It’s extremely taxing, slippery and slow. In a fight where you have snowshoes and the other guy doesn’t, you will maintain vastly superior movement and speed. He’d be the one in a nightmare.
Snowshoes range in “deck” size based on your weight and the terrain you’ll be traversing. A bigger deck drags more, but floats better. The heavier you are, the larger deck you’ll require to stay on top of the snow. Smaller snowshoes make less work of walking, but they punch deeper into powder.
Snowshoes also vary in terms of the aggression of the “crampon.” If you expect to encounter a great deal of ice, or steep conditions, you may want a more prominent crampon on your snowshoe.
For most mountain conditions, I prefer the Atlas 1230s, but they’re not cheap. Cheaper snowshoes often lack the aggressive crampon you’ll need to scale hills and defeat ice. But, if all you need is to float on top of snow over rolling hills, a cheaper snowshoe, like the Atlas Access, may do the trick. Having tried many snowshoes, I prefer the Atlas for one reason alone: the binding.
Getting in and out of your snowshoes blows. Trying to cinch bindings in the cold with gloves is a royal pain in the ass. Also, most bindings loosen while you walk — with your snowshoes slipping off every 45 minutes or so. That’s probably due to “operator error” but, again, a binding should be as simple and carefree as possible. Remember, you’re not putting the snowshoe on in the comfort of your home. You’re putting it on when you’re already cold and bundled up. Odds are, you’re going to screw it up and not get it “just so.”
The Atlas binding is simple and easy. You can do it wearing gloves and you can do it fast. Best of all, I’ve never had my foot slip forward or backward out of my Atlas binding, which is a quantum improvement over all my other snowshoes. The Atlas binding holds the middle of the boot instead of relying on toe-to-heel tension. It’s more reliable and more comfortable.
Atlas is the difference between stopping every thirty minutes to screw with your binding or never stopping at all.
I’ve never liked poles for snowshoeing. It’s just another thing tying up my hands and I don’t believe poles provide enough additional stability to make them worthwhile. Yes, you will take tumbles when snowshoeing, especially when running. But, obviously, a fall on snow doesn’t compare to a fall on hard ground.
With the right binding, almost any boot fits in a snowshoe. That doesn’t mean any boot is comfortable in a snowshoe. First off, many bindings (not the Atlas) require a lip at the heel of the boot to keep the rear strap from sliding down. So, that lip’s standard-issue for most cold weather boots.
More importantly, a taller, over-the-ankle boot will keep your boot from filling up with snow. With shorter boots, each step in deep snow packs the top of the boot with snow which then saturates your socks, making you feel like you’re tromping in the ice swamp.
The insulation of the boot becomes less of an issue than the waterproofing of the boot. Warmth can be overcome by buying one-half to one full size larger than normal. Then, layer a polypropylene thin sock with a wool sock (or two.)
But, if your boot leaks, no amount of insulation will save you. Your feet will naturally sweat when you snowshoe. After all, you’re doing a cardio workout. But, if you add a bunch of melted snow to the mix, your feet will get cold as soon as you stop.
Because of the funky motion of snowshoes, count on the blister-factor going way up. I’ve resorted to wearing eight inches of duct tape on my heals when I snowshoe. After my inaugural six snowshoeing expeditions each season, my heels toughen up and the duct tape is no longer necessary.
If you’re running shorter boots, or if your pants don’t come all the way down over your boot, you can run with gators. By covering your pant leg and boot, the gator makes it impossible for water to get in, allowing you to get away with denim pants or even BDUs in foot-deep snow. That’s really nice since cotton (while generally inadvisable for winter wear) breathes better than Gore-tex.
If you bundle up tight for snowshoeing, you’ll roast. This is a highly-aerobic activity and you’ll be amazed at how little you can get away with wearing. For example, it was fourteen degrees fahrenheit, yesterday, and I wore:
- Light thermal underwear, (Cabelas ECWCS)
- Snow pants (North Face, Freedom Insulated Snow Pants)
- A Fleece Beanie that I only wore half the time, and
- Gore-tex Mittens that I only wore a third of the time.
I gear the whole getup to athleticism and staying cool. Yes, getting too hot is the major issue because you’ll be cranking a solid 130 to 150 beats per minute heart rate. That’s why I only wear a full-zip fleece and shell. They stay flapping open the whole time, scooping air onto my core.
The beanie and gloves come off while I’m moving and go back on after I stop, like when I’m glassing for elk. Even so, they generally get soaked.
If I were moving overland in a bug out, I’d still roll with athletic winter wear. There’s simply no way to keep from heating up and sweating. I’d have to complete my movement, then change into dry clothes. I’ve tried every method known to man to stay dry (layering, cool-down stops, etc.) and nothing keeps me dry in the slightest. Snowshoeing is a workout, plain and simple.
Snowshoeing doesn’t require training, per se. You’ll figure it out in an hour or two. But, I wouldn’t want to have my first experience snow shoeing AFTER the SHTF. Your knees or hips might need some time to get used to the motion, and there’s some technique to keeping snow from flipping up onto your head, but that comes with time in-the-saddle.
Plus, I can think of no better way to get cardio during the winter than snowshoeing. If you have bad knees and hips, snowshoeing is much softer on your joints than running or even cycling (for me.) More importantly, perhaps, snowshoeing opens the outdoors in the winter. Learning how to layer, conduct athletic movements and defeat the cold are all mission-critical skills and snowshoes are the gateway those winter skills.
So, here’s my challenge: if it’s possible that you’ll be traversing snow in a grid-down bug out, get your family snowshoe-compliant. The whole endeavor delivers serious side benefits: it’s fantastic fitness and it’s beautiful to get outside in the winter.
And, where I live, I consider good snowshoes almost as important as good boots. It makes sense when you consider that for almost half the year, snowshoes would be the primo mode of transportation.