Snowshoeing Lesson Plan

Polk County Conservation (Iowa) has an education program that includes teaching people the basics of snowshoeing.  If you have a similar task you would be well served to start with their lesson plan and modify it to fit your audience and purposes

The goal is to teach students how to snowshoe with four objectives:

  1. Students will learn how to snowshoe
  2. Students will gain knowledge on appropriate dress for this outdoor activity and equipment needed
  3. Students will learn what to do in a survival situation and what items should be in a survival kit
  4. Students will learn how to identify, treat and prevent hypothermia

Materials: Snowshoes, winter survival kit, large outdoor area for snowshoeing.  A bucket of ice water and coins for “cool hand Luke” activity, examples of winter clothing.

Season: Winter

Time: 1.5 hours

Activity -“Cool Hand Luke”  – Ask a volunteer to place their hand in a bucket of ice water, after 30 seconds add loose change to the bucket encourage the volunteer to pick up as much as possible. Point out the victim’s decreased dexterity, white skin, lack of sensitivity, and weak pulse of the exposed limb.

If you get lost don’t wander, you may become more lost and confused.

S sit down, do not panic

T think about your problem

O observe the area

P plan what to do

Survival Rules

  • •Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return
  • Never go alone
  • Take a survival kit
  • Wear proper clothing and carry proper equipment, remember weather can change
  • Plan your outing so you can return to your car or camp before dark
  • Know how to build a fire and take proper fire starting material

Survival Kit – carried in a fanny pack The most important essential, is not on the list -“Common Sense”. Having the right gear is one thing, knowing how and when to use it is quite another. Most often, it’s not a person’s equipment that saves them. It’s their experience, know-how, and good judgment.

  1. Map -Always carry a detailed map of the area you will be visiting and know how to use it!
  2. Compass -Carry a compass, at all times, in the backcountry and know how to use it!
  3. Flashlight / Headlamp -Flashlights and/or Headlamps are important even on day trips.
  4. Extra Food -Whenever you go out, even for a day trip, bring extra food in case you are delayed by emergencies, foul weather, or just get lost.
  5. Extra Clothing -In addition to the basic layers you would normally take on an outing, bring extra clothing which would get you through the worst conditions you might come up against. In addition to the extra clothes, carry an emergency shelter such as mylar Space Bag or blanket. The Space Bag only weighs about 2.5 ounces but will completely encase you and keep you warm and dry.
  6. Sunglasses -Your eyes can experience damage from ultraviolet rays and light reflecting off of snow.
  7. First-Aid Kit -Carry first-aid supplies for minor injuries. Carry plenty of adhesive band-aids and sterilized bandages, because they can’t be easily improvised in the woods. If you purchase one, you’ll most likely need to add items to it like rubber gloves.
  8. Pocket Knife -Your basic tool kit. A good example of a single piece of gear which has multiple uses.
  9. Waterproof Matches – Carry waterproof matches or strike-anywhere matches along with something to strike them on in a waterproof container.
  10. Firestarter -Fire starters are useful for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood. There are several commercial fire starters available: magnesium blocks w/striking flint; chemically-treated fire sticks, etc. In addition, numerous home-made fire starters work just fine: compressed balls of dryer lint mixed with or covered with melted paraffin; egg-carton cups filled with mixtures of wood shavings, wax, & lint; etc.
  11. Water -Carry plenty of fresh water.
  12. Whistle -For emergencies: when you’re lost, someone else is lost, or you’re hurt and need help, etc. The best choice is a plastic whistle which won’t freeze up.

Dress in layers for any outdoor activity. What ever you do, do not wear cotton. It does not insulate when wet and will make you cold. The basic layers should include:

  • Base Layer (lightweight thermal underwear and glove liners) – wick moisture away from the body Fabric choices -polypropylene, silk, capalene, lycra
  • Middle Layer (vest or jacket) – insulate while allowing moisture to escape Fabric choices -fleece and wool, insulate even when wet, fleece is warmer for its weight than wool
  • Outer Layer (shell) -protects from wind and precipitation Fabric choices -waterproof and breathable fabrics like Gortex are best, coated fabrics with venting are ok.
  • Socks -Wool socks or polypropylene/wool blend
  • Gaiters -Knee-high gaiters keep the snow out of your boots
  • Hat -A wool cap or a lightweight, windproof, microfleece which will also cover ears

Hypothermia occurs when the inner body temperature drops to a subnormal level, body heat is being lost faster than it can be produced and organs lose the ability to function.  It is #1 killer of outdoor travelers and most cases of hypothermia occur between 30-50 degrees F;  greatest hazards are windy and wet weather.
Symptoms include:

  • uncontrollable shivering
  • memory lapses
  • slurred speech
  • stumbling
  • drowsiness


  • remove wet clothing
  • give hot liquids, no alcohol
  • warm victim by building a fire or with hot water bottles


  • wear wool or polypropylene, both insulate when wet and wicks moisture away from the body
  • dress in layers
  • eat high protein/energy foods
  • drink plenty of liquids
  • stay dry
  • wear a hat


  • Frostbite is a localized freezing of tissue.
  • In the early stages, skin around the effected area will look flushed and will feel like it is burning, itching, tingling, and will be numb.
  • The area will turn whitish to yellowish and appear waxy as ice crystals form under the skin.
  • Do not rub frostbitten area or warm by fire.
  • Best way to warm is to place on warm skin.
  • Once frostbitten, the area will be more susceptible to refreezing.

Snowshoeing Information Tips
Always check your gear, before you go

  • Survival gear & knowledge intact?
  • Familiarity with the terrain.
  • Don’t leave home without the 14 essential-gear items!
  • Make sure someone at home knows where you are (in case of your emergency).
  • Duct tape for emergency patchwork on snow shoes & snow poles

Take breaks, as necessary, to make adjustments to your clothing–try to stay dry–avoid chills. Take frequent breaks to drink water and eat something. Snowshoeing is strenuous and burns off calories and uses up body fluids in the form of perspiration. Remember: In the winter, because of the cold, you may not always get the obvious signs of perspiring, but you are, nonetheless, and those fluids must be replaced.


  • Uphill – If the snow is light and soft, go straight up, by kick stepping. Push the toe of the shoe vertically into the snow pack, pressing down in order to pack down the snow enough to support your weight. Shift weight to that foot and then repeat the process with the other foot. Another technique is called “herringbone”. Instead of pushing the shoe directly into the snow, step sideways at about a 45% angle. This way, a little more of the shoe comes into contact with the snow.
  • Downhill – When moving uphill, put your weight forward, when traveling downhill, put your weight on the back part of the shoe with particular attention to the heel crampon getting traction. Another way is to travel downhill is straight down. This works okay in soft snow where you can dig your heels in and achieve firm footing.
  • Reverse Direction – If the snow is firm enough, plant the poles out on either side, far enough out to jump, twist, plant with the snowshoes. Another method is to take baby steps. Carefully move one shoe a little, then the other. Continue until both shoes are pointed in the new direction.
  • Get up after a “fall-down” – Plant your poles, center your body weight and push your self up.


  • Boots – Waterproof hiking boots work fine
  • Showshoes – snowshoes have been around for a long time, much longer than skis. The earlier versions were made of wood with rawhide-lace work inside the wooden frame. They were long, bulky, and heavy. They were not for recreation but for traveling and hauling loads over snow. Most good snowshoes range from $200-$300.
  • Snow poles – poles help you stay balanced while traveling forward as well as when you do tricky maneuvers. Poles help propel you forward, kinds like 4-wheel drive.


  • Binding – connects the boot to the snowshoe. Look for durable materials that are easy to put-on and take off with gloved fingers.
  • Frame – structural foundation of the “shoe” defines and shape and size. Most current snowshoes are made of high-quality, light, durable aircraft aluminum.
  • Decking – the decking is the material with in frame which enables the “shoe” to “float on the snow. Most decking is currently made of a highly durable material like Hypalon.
  • Flotation – also called buoyancy, this is the shoe’s ability to keep you on top of the snow. The larger the surface area the better the flotation. The decking material also effects flotation. Webbed or laced decking on traditional snowshoes is not as effective as some of the modern, solid-decked shoes.
  • Traction -snowshoes usually have some type of traction device or cleat that keeps the shoe from sliding in the snow and keeps you from sliding sown hill.

Snowshoe size is affected by your

  1. weight (person plus the weight of pack). The more you weigh, the bigger the shoe must be in order to keep you afloat.
  2. type of snow you’re traveling on. Light, dry snow requires a bigger shoe to keep you from sinking.
  3. what and where your recreation is.  If you recreate in steep, mountainous terrain, you need smaller shoes with excellent traction. If you are traveling, mainly, in flat open country, you’ll typically need a larger shoe with a nice tail to provide good flotation and tracking.

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