Once the snow has fallen and you've committed to finally trying out snowshoeing, the most important piece of equipment, obviously, is the snowshoes themselves. But next on the list should be the right pair of snowshoeing poles.
They will help you keep your balance and also take some of the load and shock off your knees—especially if your hike involves long, steep hills. When headed up hills, poles can help you disburse weight throughout your shoulders, arms, and back, keeping fatigue away and giving you an extra push with every step during the ascent.
Once you've got your snowshoes,, head to the poles section. Here you'll find a wide variety of trekking poles and hiking staffs, but for snowshoeing, you'll want to home in on those that can be easily adjusted for height.
Poles are constructed in either two or three telescoping sections, which allows for adjustability from about two feet, which is a great length for stowing the pole, to about four and a half feet. This gives you the freedom to adjust the height of your poles to better suit your exact surroundings, or even slide them closed and store them in your pack when they aren't necessary.
When you're climbing uphill, you'll want to shorten the poles to keep from having to raise your arm higher and reach further up the trail. Conversely, when you're headed downhill, you'll want to be able to extend the poles so they can reach the trail below.
When looking for poles, you'll also notice that they offer a wide range of basket sizes. You can spot trekking poles by their smaller baskets, which need only to prevent the pole from sinking into loose dirt, not snow. Just as your snowshoes keep you from sinking in, a broad basket will keep your poles from sliding too far below the surface.
For snowshoeing, baskets should be at least two inches in diameter, but even this is conservative. When the snow is fresh, soft, and piles up, you'll need a wide enough basket to make your poles effective. Trekking poles and snowshoeing poles are essentially the same, but if you do use trekking poles while snowshoeing, be sure the basket is acceptable. Your best bet, however, would be to find poles that come with more than one size of basket.
You'll also notice a number of different kinds of grips, and the best way to decide which one is for you is to simply dive right in and get a feel for which grip you like best. Some will be ergonomically designed for comfort, while some will be more neutral, and they may be made out of cork, rubber, or foam.
You may see extended foam grips, which are extremely convenient when taking snowshoeing trips with many changes in elevation. By simply shifting your grip either up or down, you effectively change the length of your poles—just like adjusting them—allowing you to easily account for the ups and downs on your trail.
Odds and Ends
Other factors to consider include whether the poles are made of aluminum or carbon, which will affect the poles' weight. This is mostly up to you, depending on if you're a stickler for how much weight you're carrying. Wrist straps are also a matter of personal preference.
Snowshoeing is a great way to get outside no matter the conditions, and by being fully equipped with the right cold-weather gear, you can be sure you won't exert unnecessary energy and focus instead on the outdoors around you.
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