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Winter Hiking: Reclaim Your Fitness
Whenever the Geez turns his thoughts to winter hiking he looks at why he hikes in the first place. Sure, hiking is one of the best forms of exercise, but what does a geezer do when it turns cold outside and backpacking is no longer an option?
My hands and feet freeze at night in the tent even when I’m not snow camping and no amount of equipment, even a zero degree sleeping bag, does the trick. The astute old geezer turns to winter hiking, often characterized by snowshoeing, instead of backpacking.
One of the great things about snowshoeing is that you can get to places that are otherwise inaccessible in winter. Snowshoeing is just as enjoyable as day hikes in other seasons.
It has the distinct advantage of keeping your body moving so it stays warm!
Winter Hiking: Snowshoeing Burns Calories
I don’t know about you but I only put on 3 pounds over the holidays. That is a new record for me, it’s usually closer to 7 pounds. It is hard to resist all the homemade goodies, especially cookies, and my wife’s Rum Cake. She has made it every year for me since our very first Christmas together in 1982.
It would be nice to say that I gained muscle but I’m pretty sure it is fat! I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing of things since I haven’t been hiking consistently for a couple of months and need to get rid of the extra pounds.
As I have officially entered old geezer territory, consistent exercise makes maintaining weight much easier.
Hiking in the winter, in and of itself, burns more calories than hiking during the warmer seasons. Your body is like a giant furnace that, instead of wood, coal, or natural gas, needs calories to maintain its constant 98.6-degree temperature.
When the body runs a caloric deficit it has to get those calories somewhere. Hence, it uses fat to maintain that energy.
Winter hiking is easy to do in climates even without a ton of snow. Living in California, I can easily take a trip to the foothills and find a trail to hike.
But when the geezer wants to gain the maximum benefit from an outing I break out my snowshoes and head to the mountains.
Snowshoeing utilizes all the major muscle groups in your body.
When combined with the increase in metabolic rate from cold weather and added resistance from pushing snowshoes through the snow, I get a great workout.
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How Many Calories Does Snowshoeing Burn
Snowshoeing requires much more energy than either walking or winter hiking. On packed snow, you typically burn twice the number of calories due to the fact that you must lift each foot higher to clear the snowshoe and you exert more energy maintaining your balance.
On fresh, unpacked snow the energy requirement can easily double again due to having to push the snowshoes through unpacked powder.
Snowshoeing typically burns twice the number of calories as simply walking or hiking on level terrain at the same speed. Varying the terrain and type of snow can drastically increase the energy requirement.
Statistics about snowshoeing gleaned from the Medicine in Sports and Exercise journal correlates body weight to the number of calories burned per hour.
- 130-pound bodyweight = 472 calories per hour
- 155-pound bodyweight = 563 calories per hour
- 180-pound bodyweight = 654 calories per hour
- 205-pound bodyweight = 745 calories per hour
An original study published in PUBMED indicates that currently accepted energy expenditures while snowshoeing may be underestimated by as much as 50%.
You may actually burn up to a thousand calories per hour snowshoeing without realizing it. Just increasing walking speed by as little as one mile per hour can double the number of calories you burn.
Why Winter Hiking Makes You Physically Fit
The proliferation of gyms in America attests to the fact that people want to lose weight and stay fit. But why stay indoors? Take your gym outside in the winter and reap the benefits!
Snowshoeing provides a total body workout and gets you outside and away from the everyday hustle and bustle of the crowds.
Snowshoeing is one of the best low-impact activities. Every muscle group in your body benefits from it.
If you are fortunate enough to snowshoe on an uneven trail with ups and downs you will strengthen every part of your body; legs, arms, shoulders, and core muscles.
- Quadriceps are used to ascend slopes and hamstrings get a workout on the descent.
- Traversing a slope works both abductors and adductors.
- Snowshoe poles are used in conjunction with ascending and descending slopes and help maintain balance.
- They provide a workout for the upper body, arms, and shoulders.
- Uneven trails require constant body adjustments to maintain balance, even the body’s micro muscles are strengthened.
- Your muscles must work much harder to compensate for the lack of visual cues. Visual cues normally used for depth perception are lacking when the trail ahead and to the sides are all white.
The Geez needs all the help he can get with balance. Being layed up in a hospital with a broken hip because I didn’t take care of the basics of balance is not what I want to do!
Snowshoeing Provides a Cardiovascular Workout
Most health professionals agree that you should get at least 20 minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 days a week. Intermittent high-intensity aerobic exercise is recommended to increase overall cardiovascular fitness and build endurance. Hiking provides that intermittent intensity by varying your hiking speed or the steepness of the terrain.
Snowshoeing also provides the perfect opportunity to vary the intensity of your workout and maximize the cardio benefit.
Hike on unpacked snow to increase your cardio workout and move to the packed powder at a slower pace to catch your breath. If the trail includes inclines, ascend each incline at a fast pace to bump up your heart rate. Then rest and regroup on the return descent.
Varying speed and the terrain is the easiest way to supercharge your workout.
Snowshoeing Contributes to Emotional Well-Being
Winter wonderland is a common expression for the beauty and serenity of the great outdoors in the wintertime. Freshly fallen snow on a picturesque hillside or pristine wilderness evokes visions of solitude and oneness with nature. The stillness and quiet solitude of nature packed in a white blanket of fresh snow quiets the heart and frees the mind of every day worries.
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Snow creates winter’s hidden landscape. A blanket of white turns even the ugly into a beautiful creation, a picturesque painting waiting to be discovered. An old fence with rusty barbed wire becomes a visual masterpiece to behold. Snowshoeing becomes the instrument allowing us to capture this beauty.
Snowshoeing can change your entire relationship with winter. It allows a healthy escape from the confines of being housebound and frees your senses. It helps in alleviating common depression by providing an alternative to the drab days of winter and the shortened daylight hours.
Exercise is proven to contribute to emotional well-being.
Snowshoeing provides the avenue for getting out into nature’s winter wonderland and experiencing the joys of the season. Even an urban hike on snowshoes becomes a means to an end.
Snow deadens noise and allows you to hear nature and all that encompasses it. The sound of a bird singing in the distance, the wind whistling in the branches, water dripping from a rooftop, each a pleasure to the ears.
Gear You Need for Winter Hiking
The best-kept secret of snowshoeing is this: If you can walk, you can snowshoe.
This old geezer loves the fact that he can still walk! When and if it gets so bad that I have to use a cane, guess what? Hiking poles to the rescue! In case you haven’t figured out by now, the Geez enjoys winter hiking, especially snowshoeing.
As is the case with any sports activity, having the proper equipment is paramount.
Old geezers get cold in the winter. Down insulation and waterproof clothing are great equalizers. For those who like exploring all that winter has to offer, I suggest investing for your personal comfort.
A high-quality waterproof down jacket and mittens are a must for me. A warm hat helps keep your head and ears warm. If I get cold or my fingers freeze I can’t enjoy nature’s beauty and I am apt to turn around and go home.
Unlike other winter sports, the cost to get started is nominal.
Snowshoes and poles are a one-time purchase and can be used season after season for winter hiking.
I snowshoe in everyday clothing. Blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt are my normal attire, but I do have a pair of waterproof boots and gaiters for the snow. Another item I always take with me to stay dry on the trail is the DAKOUT ground cloth. Read my review here about this handy hiking accessory.
Stay warm, stay dry, and try winter hiking and snowshoeing to stay fit and healthy.