Gear Review: Snowshoes and Portable Hot Chocolate

January 19, 2010, 2:13 pm

Next month, the Winter Olympics roll into Vancouver following a quadrennial tradition that has lasted more than a century. The Summer Olympics feature events that, while unrealistic, I felt that at some point in my life I had the potential to participate. Perhaps if I made some different decisions and was a bit more disciplined… I know, it’s a dream. But when compared to the Winter Olympics events—Nordic Ski Jumping, Giant Slalom, Speed skating, Biathlon—summer sports seem downright plausible.

My winter sports abilities are much better defined by the agony of defeat than the thrill of victory. That’s just one reason why I love snowshoeing. Unlike many other winter sports and activities, snowshoeing can be picked up by anyone in a matter of minutes. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.

If you’ve ever tried to hike in the snow, you know how tiring, fruitless and, frankly, how difficult it can be, especially if you’re up to your waist or chest in powder. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and you can easily navigate through the deepest snow. It’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Denali Snowshoes

If you're considering investing in a new pair of snowshoes, you’ll be pleased to learn that snowshoes by design are relatively uncomplicated and easy to purchase. To get started, know your weight (including gear you’ll be carrying), the type pf snowshoeing you plan to do and the type of terrain you plan to traverse.

When calculating your weight for snowshoe sizing, it's important to be accurate—a pair of snowshoes can tell when you are lying. The heavier you are, the more surface area you need for optimal flotation in the snow. While you’ll sink into fresh powder even with properly sized equipment, it won’t be nearly as deep as with boots alone.

Snowshoes come in a variety of lengths, generally between 20 and 36 inches and the width is designed to be proportional to the length. As a result, a lighter hiker's snowshoe will be narrower to match their narrower stride. If you are between sizes, a smaller snowshoe will offer improved maneuverability and traction. Smaller snowshoes are also better for steep slopes, thick forests and wet snow. By contrast, larger snowshoes will compress more of the snow beneath you and will make you feel like you are floating higher in snow. In light, dry powder and on flatter, straighter routes, you'll definitely improve with a larger snowshoe. Use the sizing guidelines below to determine what snowshoe is best for your plans. If you’re like me, you’ll keep your fingers (and toes) crossed that they’ll add snowshoeing to 2014 winter games. If not, feel no pity— there’s always curling.

• Snowshoes usually come in three sizes: 8"x25," 9"x30" and 10"x36"

• Women's-specific models are designed with smaller (8"x21") contoured frames and bindings that accommodate women's smaller-sized footwear

• Youth models usually come in 6"x15" and 7"x18" sizes

Size / Snowshoe Length      Your weight

8" x 21"                                   75 - 140 lbs

8" x 25"                                   120 - 180 lbs

9" x 30"                                   160 - 220 lbs

10" x 36"                                 Over 200 lbs

The Denali snowshoe bears little resemblance to the tennis-racquetty designs that most snowshoes have had for generations. Manufactured with bulletproof UniDeck™ injection-molded decks, these lightweight platform snowshoes provide superior flotation and traction and will perform season after season. The Denali’s hassle-free binding system goes off and on like a bedroom slipper so you’ll spend more time on the snow and less trying to get your boot in (backcountry snowboarders and skiers love its enlarged boot hole which accommodates larger boots). The boots grip like a snowcat thanks to steel traction blades, crampons, and molded braking bars. Best of all, the Denali and its cousin, the Denali Evo are among the most adaptable snow shoes available thanks to their modular flotation tails (available separately). These snow wings attach easily for use in soft snow or deep powder, when carrying a heavy pack or when you want to lend them to a taller, heavier friend.

Lake Champlain Hot ChocolateNothing goes together quite like snowshoeing and hot chocolate, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time outside. Rich in antioxidants, hot chocolate will also warm your bones and your spirit. I love Vermont’s own Lake Champlain Chocolate's traditional recipe—rich, full flavored and just delicious. Trust me, it’s so good it makes the Swiss Miss blush. It’s great with milk, and vegans and lactose intolerants will love it with soy or rice milk.

Klean KanteenKeeping your hot chocolate (don’t ever call it cocoa) hot for a whole day is no problem with Klean Kanteen’s new double-walled, vacuum insulated wide-mouth bottle. Like other Klean Kanteen products, it’s made from 18/8 stainless steel and is BPA free. Its wide mouth makes cleaning a cinch which you’ll appreciate if you decide to use it as a container for or other hot foods (it’s so much better looking and performing than Tupperware).

Remember to stay hydrated before, during and after your day snowshoeing. Studies show we have an increased risk of dehydration when exercising in cold weather than in hot weather. We lose a great deal of water from our bodies in the winter due to respiratory fluid loss through breathing. Our bodies work harder under the weight of extra clothing, and sweat evaporates quickly in cold, dry air. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, even if you are not thirsty!