If you ask experienced snowshoers when you can start snowshoeing, you’ll likely get an answer such as “as long as there is snow, you can snowshoe.” Well, that’s not wrong, but I’d say there’s more to it than just that. Strapping on your snowshoes without minding the snow condition is a good recipe to make your snowshoes short-lived. With that in mind, let’s dive into the little details, shall we?
Generally speaking, I wouldn’t think of putting my snowshoes on if the snow is less than 4-inch deep. Maybe it’s okay for testing purposes, but for a real outing, that’s out of the question. The reason is such depth is simply not enough to cushion your snowshoes from the impact you make with each step. What makes it even riskier is all modern snowshoes have crampons underneath the composite decks. With only 4-inch deep or less snow, you can actually damage the crampons. This is especially the case if the traction system is made of lightweight aluminum instead of solid steel, like what you’ll find in the inexpensive Chinook Trekker Snowshoes.
I’d say the least of snow necessary to start snowshoeing is 7-inch. Even with that depth, you may still impose your snowshoes to damage, especially if the terrain is rough or rocky. The ideal condition is 10-inch of snow or more. Such is good enough to allow your snowshoes to grip safely onto the ground. In fact, if the snow is soft and powdery, such depth will make you prone to post-holing without snowshoes. In case you have no idea, post-holing is the condition when your feet sink into the soft powder, requiring you to really push your