Snowshoe Running – Fun or Flop?

Atlas Snowshoes[Hi visitor, if you’re interested in snowshoe running take a look at our snowshoe running basics and snowshoe racing articles.]

Winter is fast approaching in many parts of the United States, if it hasn’t arrived already. With snow on the horizon it’s time to start thinking about how to stay in shape when your favorite trails are covered with snow. One way many snowbound trail runners get in some winter trail time is by snowshoeing. While we here at iRunFar headquarters have run many a mile through snow, we’ve not had snowshoes strapped to our feet for a single mile of it. With that in mind, we thought we’d open up iRunFar to a discussion of snowshoeing by the experts among our readers.

  • Atlas Snowshoe Team Helen CospolichWhile we know that Atlas, Kahtoola, Crescent Moon, Redfeather, North Lites, and Dion make running snowshoes, we’d love to hear what your favorite running snowshoes are and why? (Trail Goat’s really interested in what you suggest, as he’s looking to pick up a pair.)
  • What kind of special clothing or other accessories are needed or useful when snowshoeing? Are regular running tights sufficient? We did find Atlas Snowshoe’s FAQ, which includes discussions of footwear, clothing, and poles.
  • Is there any training one should do before attempting their first snowshoe run? How about training tips for folks who are regularly floating on powder already?
  • Know of any great resources that beginner or even more experienced snowshoers should check out?
  • Most importantly, what do you like most about snowshoeing? Share your cool adventures. Sell the iRunFar readers on why they should be snowshoeing!

As this is a discussion post, be sure to check out the comments for useful information and interesting perspectives on snowshoeing.

[iRunFar Fun Fact of the Day: This is iRunFar’s 300th post!]

There are 27 comments

  1. Steve W

    Well I hardly qualify as an expert but I took up snowshoe running/racing in 2008 as a way to give my knees a break from road running.Equipment: Dion Snowshoes, made specifically for snowshoe running/racing. They are lighter and smaller than traditional snowshoes. I normally wear running shoes or trail shoes while snowshoeing. Racing snowshoes are quite narrow and allow you to run with pretty much a normal running stride. The cleats can be swapped based on snow conditions. Racing snowshoes are really designed for groomed trails or single track though. If you do go bushwhacking, you'll sink right down to the ground. Most of the time I wear gaiters to keep the snow out of my shoes. I also invested in some waterproof socks this year to try to keep my feet a bit more comfy. Poles are not used.Clothing: Typical winter running gear. A couple of items to note: Snowshoes kick up quite a bit of snow (rooster tail)and your backside will get wet/cold. You'll also burn a ton more calories and will heat up quickly. Don't over dress. The effort required to snowshoe run is taxing. Plan on running 2-3 min per mile slower than trail or road running AND have the effort be greater. It is a workout, no doubt about it.Races: Most seem to be in the 5k range )+/- a few k's) and can be on groomed Nordic trails, single tracks or just about anywhere there's snow. This was my rookie year and I can't for the snow to fall this season! Snowshoe racing is a blast!! It is HIGHLY recommended.

  2. Paul DeWitt

    You must run this race:http://salidarec.com/ccrc/snowshoe/20-mile-snowshoe.htmat least once before commenting on how fun/not fun snowshoe racing can be!On a serious note, snowshoe racing is sort of like racewalking, or seeing who can whisper the loudest. The fastest way to run over snow is w/o snowshoes. Most races have minimum size requirements for the shoes because runners soon realize that the smaller (and thus less float) the better. We run on snow, and often deep snow, all winter here and never wear snowshoes except when we do a race that requires them.

  3. Hoyawolf

    i have not run a snowshoe race but have a lot of time in snowshoes in the backcountry. particularly mountaineering in the bavarian alps when i lived in germany. it is closer to cross country skiing than real running in my opinion. you definitely have to watch your layering because of the exertion level, esp if you get off into deeper snow. that being said you have to hydrate as well. i'd love to do some snowshoe racing and i may pick up running "shoes" as well.

  4. Sara

    I've been snowshoe running and racing for 5 seasons, and can't imagine winter without it. It's such a lot of fun, and a great running workout. They make it a lot easier to get out on the trails through the winter. The learning curve is practically nothing, and you can even do quality workouts on them – hills, tempos, etc. Or if the snow is very deep, your heart rate gets high enough just chugging along.I've tried quite a few types, and I think Dions are the best. Light, comfortable, and they allow a very natural running stride. The parts are interchangeable, which allows you to switch up the crampon length for different snow conditions. That's very handy.Races are a fun challenge – a tough 10k snowshoe race can have all the pain of a 5k road race, but take as long as your half-marathon! (That will only make sense once you've tried it!)Check out http://www.snowshoemag.com for lots of info, including a race calendar.Looking forward to hearing how you like it, Trail Goat. Keep us posted.

  5. Sara

    The fastest way to run over snow is w/o snowshoes.Paul, I definitely know what you're saying, and have experienced that too, but haven't found that to be the winter norm where I snowshoe. (Canada, NY, VT)

  6. solarweasel

    i completely agree with paul regarding the turquoise lake 20 mile snowshoe race — it's a classic.one of the things that makes it so tricky is the variation of conditions. there have been dry years where racers had to run part of the course snowshoes in hand, and other years with several feet of fresh, deep powder and whiteout conditions at race time.they do however enforce a rule that snowshoes must measure 8" by 25" at minimum. this rules out several of the "racing" snowshoes on the market and keeps things fairer during drier years.

  7. Grae Van Hooser

    You city boys crack me up! I wear the Northern Lites "Elite Racer" at 30 oz. a pr. are the lightest "legal" snowshoes there are. I wear performance catagory road shoes with Neos Overshoes to keep the snow out as much as possible. This set-up is for racing (some people screw the shoes right on to the decking). You can wear a trail shoe with GTX or Event if your shoeing long, but I always feel like I'm running in cement after a while. Come to think of it, I feel the same way after about a half hour in a snowshoe race anyway! Most races, if that's what you want to do, are in the 10k range. In Colorado, which is far and away the "hot bed" of the sport, they have a lot of races from 5k to marathon distances. If you look at the Atlas team roster you will recognize a lot of elite ultra and mountain runner names on there. I "shoed" the USSSA National Championships at Squaw Valley in 04' and I think Nikki Kimball won the womens race. I once "shoed" the Great American Ski Race (18mi)and finished in the 300's. Not bad considering there were about 1000 ski entries. And I was completely trashed at the end. I found it very amusing to pass people on ski's. You should give shoeing a go as it is a blast and a ton of hard work. Dress light, as you sweat like a pig. Probably cover your ears if it's windy and hands with a heavier weight glove in case you have to fiddle with your shoes and you hands get wet. If you like it, look in to a race. Go to USSSA site for races and rules and that type of stuff. Shoeing in powder is way harder then track's. It you want to ease in to it and spend most of your time running, then your best bet would probably be a Nordic Ski resort, if you have one near you? If not head to your hills and tuff it out. Us ultra runners are tougher then the norm anyway!

  8. Buzz Burrell

    My first time on sneaux schews was a race, where I thought:1) Yikes, all that snow being flung down the back of my neck is really cold!2) Within 5 minutes, being cold was not a problem.3) This is a really stupid, clumsy, pointless sport.4) This is really fun.Paul and others beat me in pointing out the Turquoise Lake 20 is a good example of all the above.My recommendations:* Relax, don't worry, have fun* If you're a good skier, you can blow the socks off the fastest shoer (on most courses).* If the course is hardpacked, which many are, it's actually much faster to ditch the things, and run in your La Sportiva Crosslites (big grippy lugs) or the Kahtoola Microspikes or Flight Boots.* Dedicated shoers direct-mount their running shoes to the sneaux shew, tossing the heavy binding.* No matter what climate or season we're talking about, there is no real need to snowshoe; packed roads or trails (or skis) exist everywhere.* However, it is a boatload of fun, the pressure is off, so it's very worth having a go.* People with a lot of strength but no speed (moi) can get revenge on the quick little guys.

  9. Derrick

    My choices to keep trail running during the long Canadian winters would be…- A bit of snow: Definitely Crosslites. Great lightweight shoe with big lugs.- A bit more snow &/or a bit of ice: screw shoes http://skyrunner.com/screwshoe.htm or hobnails. – A little bit more snow again with a bit more ice: Kahtoola Microspikes- More snow still: Dion snowshoes. Great on packed snow or powder (with deeper cleat)It was interesting when I raced at Rock and Ice Ultra in the Northwest Territories last year. Conditions were soft sugar snow, which offered absolutely no traction. You had the option of running with or without snowshoes (but had to have them in your pack). Everyone thought that it would be faster running without snowshoes, but within a km the entire field was seen searching through their packs and scrambling to put on their snowshoes. Everyone ended up keeping their snowshoes on for almost the entire 3 or 6 days of their race.Snowshoe racing is a blast!

  10. Anonymous

    Great topic! The only way I can keep running in winter is on snow shoes. It is a blast and lots of good comments already.A few thoughts:1. Do you need snowshoes to run on snow? No — if the course is hard-packed snow or shallow powder – then do whatever you want unless it is a race that requires snowshoes. If you insist on sticking to immaculately groomed courses than you must not be a trail runner :) and you probably don't think of xc skiing except on set tracks or clean wide skate trails either :)Yes — if it is not hardpacked, and especially yes if it is hilly and loose or uneven snow. There are no shoe attachments (spikes, etc) that will give you enough traction on loose snow, loose over hard, powder over whatever or any courses that are not hardpacked. I've tried – it is very unstable and hard to make forward progress except by walking. You can often run (I mean actually run, not just race walk) with snowshoes on a much wider variety of surfaces than without snowshoes, and I'm not just talking about off-trail deep unpacked snow (which snowshoes will not allow you to run on anyway).3. I have not tried very many models of snowshoes, but I really like the Northern Lite Elites. Very light, simple but effective binding system (does not slip, easy to use, tracks straight). Who wants to lug around a lot of unnecessary weight ? These also have "normal" surface area, so are not like the tiny "racing" snowshoes that really don't do much besides provide traction. Also, lifetime warranty. I have no affiliation with the company, just like their product.3. Shoes – whatever running shoes you want. I used Inov8 roclites last year. This year I am going to try LaSportiva Fireblades cuz I bought them a little large and can fit somewhat thicker socks in 'em.4. I wear lightwt stretchy neoprene XC ski boot covers over the running shoes to keep snow out.5. Dress for the weather (whatever you would normally wear while winter running at those temps), but I like wind shell pants over my normal winter tights cuz of all the snow that gets kicked up. I live in a windy region anyway, so wind shells are essential. Basically if you would wear it for XC skiing you can wear it for snowshoeing. As others have already pointed out, this is a great workout – you will be warm from the effort, so the biggest challenge is moisture management.6. Stay relaxed, don't worry about speed/pace until you get the groove going. It will be slower than your normal pace, unless you are Greg Hexum or Josiah Middaugh :)7. Pick your feet up! Else you will faceplant WHEN you catch your cleats that your leg muscles don't know are there on a snowdrift ;) OK, maybe that's just me.8. Have fun, of course.Dogrunner (who still can't find his blogger logon).

  11. Trail Goat

    Thanks all for your great comments! I think Buzz best sold me on snowshoe running with his "People with a lot of strength but no speed (moi) can get revenge on the quick little guys." I'm a bison, not a pronghorn, so snowshoeing should be to my advantage. I'll have a set of snowshoes when I'm in Yosemite new weekend… now all I need is the snow! :-)

  12. Trail Goat

    Who's Keri Nelson? Just kidding… at TransRockies her team and mine were usually around each other. BTW, great interview Spaff.

  13. Anonymous

    Up here in New England I do a fair amount of snowshoe running (no races yet). It is a great workout and a nice change of pace. As conditions are pretty mixed up here it is always a gamble whether to take snowshoes or traction. My norm setup is a pair of Roclite 315's with GTX socks with Darn Tough 3/4 cush. Depending on the snow depths I will add a Simblissity short gaiter to keep snow out of my shoes. For snowshoes I choose between my NL Elites and my wifes NL Racer Elites depending on snow conditions. For traction I use Microspikes.

  14. tahoedan

    I started trail running after a mountain bike shoulder injury. I thought trail running was fun and then winter came! Snowshoe running is a whole new level of fun. I cannot believe the workout I get, at times such as running uphill in powder it is discouraging because I am going so slow but it feels so good. I think I will come out of winter a runner, My bike will be pissed! http://www.tahoetrailrunner.com

  15. Anonymous

    I have a quick question. many of you said that with running snowshoes you still sink into the snow unless it's packed. how packed is good enough? like if i go on a trail in the woods that is not being used aand is completely covered in snow do u think i'll sink. how about snowmobile trails? and would my weight make a noticeble difference(i way allittle more than 100 pounds)? thanks.

  16. TahoeDan

    Anonymous,you will sink some in the powder no matter how big your shoes are. I am 180lbs and run in 2+ feet of powder with 22" shoes and I love it. Snowmobile tracks are great to run in. Weighing only 100 pounds you should have no problems. I have yet to run on anything packed. Even trails where snowmobiles went 3 or 4 times I am still sinking down some. You cannot go wrong in any conditions, it is all a great fun workout.Check out my blog (click on my name) to see some of my experiences with different snow etc and feel free to email me.

  17. Bryon Powell

    Anonymous, I concur with Tahoe Dan, though I'll point out that sinking could be rather minimal on snowshoe tracks. Stay tuned for some more info on snowshoeing.

  18. Anonymous

    did it for the first time this weekend and loved it. Somebody said that the "pressure was off" got it right i think. Amazing workout for the legs, was on single trak for about 4 1/2 hrs, going up mountain inclines, with the snow cosistancy being mixed. Only thing was when I encounterd deep, soft snow, and had to pick up my feet during a turn the Denali 's I had on hit the inside of my legs. Left some bruising, but, trivial compared to the trainnig it gives. It is definatley a nice alternative and something different thats fun.

  19. jdawg

    I'm the only one that does it here. I've seen some Nordic walkers with snowshoes on, but everyone else skis.it's a lot of fun. I look forward to our next heavy snowfall in eastern Canada, although i will hate shoveling it, i will LOVE running in it.I have GV Cat Trails and they will be great in deeper snow.

  20. wjminwi

    I just wanted to add that I have a plantar fascia injury, and can't run, but I'm able to snowshoe up and down the hills around me and get a good workout. Snowshoeing is saving my sanity so far this winter! I have a pair of Northern Lites.

  21. Mary

    i weigh about 170 and just started snowshoeing. I have a pair of atlas 22" running snowshoes. I ran around a horse farm, open fields, rolling terrain, drifts, trails through woods with down trees (small ones). it was a blast. I did not sink as much as I thought I would, i was able to power over drifts and keep going pretty well, I run all year but this snowshoe stuff is hard, after a half mile I was hanging on my poles to get my breath! I was running alongside hoofprints, and where the horse had sunk to the ground, probably up to its knees, I kept going, no problem. Maybe sank in a few inches. poles definately help.

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