Snowshoeing: an ideal activity for the Arctic and Antarctica
One of the most beloved polar sports is also one of the oldest. Snowshoeing has been the preferred means of foot travel in the Arctic since antiquity, and in the years since Antarctica was discovered has been highly popular among researchers and polar tourists alike.
The reason is pretty self-evident: Snowshoes are easy to use, light to carry, and make walking in snow far more feasable - and fun.
But for Arctic and Antarctic expedition cruisers, snowshoes also represent a great way to see the outdoors while also enjoying an invigorating aerobic workout. (So you can keep enjoying all that delicious on-board cuisine entirely guilt-free.)
Here are five reasons why we recommend snowshoeing for your Arctic or Antarctic cruise.
1. Snowshoeing has a long and rich tradition
Snowshoes have been around for perhaps as many as 4,000 to 6,000 years, and were probably first used in central Asia. Essential for mobility over deep snow, snowshoes would have been common gear for trappers, traders, and anyone who lived in the far north.
Early snowshoes were fairly crude by today's standards, typically composed of a hardwood frame covered with rawhide lacings.
But despite their relative simplicity, even today there are avid snowshoers who only use wooden-framed snowshoes. This may be as much for the aesthetic as for practical purposes, since wooden frames don’t freeze as easily and are quieter over the snow.
This traditional snowshoe design has long since evolved, however. Modern snowshoes are usually made with aluminum frames and composite polypropylene elements, which require little maintenance and are lighter, stronger, and therefor safer than wooden snowshoes.
These newer designs may also explain the sport’s enduring popularity. Even ski resorts offer snowshoeing trails for those who appreciate a slower-paced sport.
2. You get an amazing workout with snowshoeing
Not surprisingly, snowshoeing is an excellent way to not only burn calories but also improve your cardiovascular fitness. In fact, it's estimated that snowshoeing can expend about 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed.
Snowshoeing is also a low-impact activity, so your joints won't suffer while you're getting this great aerobic exercise.
Image by Andreas Umbreit
3. If you know how to walk, you know how to snowshoe
Sure, it will take a moment or two to get used to snowshoes if it's your first time wearing them. But once the devices themselves become familiar, snowshoeing really is just walking over the snow.
Here are a few techniques that will help you get the hang of snowshoeing faster:
Widen your stance as you walk. This allows you to avoid stepping on the snowshoes themselves. Your muscles might feel a bit sore after your first session, but this is totally normal.
Use your toe or crampons for traction when going uphill. If you find yourself in powder, kick into the snow to make a step that will fully support your weight. On hardpack, use your crampons or claws as well as your poles to get a firm footing.
Keep in mind that snowshoes aren't very effective on ice. Beginner snowshoers sometimes climb up steep slope only to have a hard time getting back down. Check your route before forging ahead.
Body position is important when going downhill. Keep your knees bent and relaxed, with your body weight leaning back just a bit. With your poles in front of you, walk by planting your heel first and then your toe.
If the going gets steep, try sidehilling. This just means zig-zagging up or downhill to make the incline less difficult. As you walk, push the uphill side of each snowshoe into the hill to create a shelf for you to step on. Then try to keep your weight on the uphill snowshoe. To make best use of your poles, lengthen the downhill pole and collapse the uphill pole so they're even.
When available, use adjustable poles. Using poles on flat ground is not often necessary, though it can help for balance. When on uneven terrain, however, poles come in handy - especially adjustable poles, as they can be shortened for uphill and lengthened for downhill. Generally, the most effective pole length allows your arm to bend at a right angle.
4. You can wear ordinary polar clothes for snowshoeing
The same clothes you'll pack for an Antarctic or Arctic trip will work for snowshoeing.
In cold and wet climates, cotton garments aren't a good choice, as they don’t insulate well and dry slowly when wet. We recommend you layer your clothing so you can remove layers as you work up a sweat or add if you get colder.
For your base layer, use synthetic or wool long underwear that will insulate and dry quickly. Over the base layer, use a synthetic or wool insulating layer to retain body heat. Finally, use an outer layer to block out water and wind. For this outer layer, a waterproof and breathable shell jacket is best.
Also, your head and neck lose an enormous amount of body heat if not insulated. Use a wool or synthetic hat or balaclava to stay warm. And to keep your hands dry, always wear waterproof gloves or mittens.
Because UV rays can be unusually intense in snowy Arctic and Antarctic areas, don’t forget sunglasses and plenty of high-quality sunblock.
And then there's your feet, maybe the most important area to protect. Use insulated, waterproof boots with thick soles (offered on our larger motorized ships). Wool or synthetic socks are likewise best to keep your feet warm. You might also consider gaiters. Strapping these over your boots will keep out the snow while snowshoeing.
5. Snowshoeing is just as fun in the Arctic as in Antarctica
Whichever area of the polar regions you visit, snowshoeing is just as exciting, invigorating, and enjoyable. For this reason, we offer a wide variety of snowshoeing trips in both Antarctica and the Arctic.
Every snowshoeing group is accompanied by an expedition guide with extensive experience in the sport, and the general fitness level of the group is taken into account when deciding the exact route and duration of the trek. Outings commonly follow our usual three-hour timeframe.
Join us on an Arctic or Antarctic snowshoeing voyage, and enjoy the polar regions by the power of your own two feet!