Spring Fever Hiking turns into Snowshoe Care

Hiking in the spring is the worst!

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The snow is half melted. Parts of the trail are bare, parts are muddy, and parts still sport a three-foot drift. How do you plan for that?

A hiking group I’m in recently hosted a spring hike. The hike leader is a lithe 100-pound lady. Spunky and retired, with more energy than many 30-year-olds. She scouted the trail a couple days before the hike and reported “The snow is hard, and where there is snow you can walk right on top…. I would suggest using hiking poles or a walking stick if you have it because of the unevenness of the terrain. Snowshoes are not needed, but wearing them is an option.”

Post-holing all the way

I considered going. I considered really hard. Then, I went for a walk amongst my own trees. Walking on the snow was like playing a game of Russian Roulette. Would the snow support me? Or would I post-hole through? Every third step, down I went.

Yes, snowshoes were an option. I can’t say snowshoeing in mud excites me any more than post-holing through snow does.

In the end, I wimped out and stayed home. Some friends were expecting me on the hike. Here is what I texted them. ”Decided to skip today’s hike. My gut says it will either be rough hiking or rough snowshoeing. Not ideal for either style. Go prove me wrong!”

Three hours later, the response “You absolutely made the right decision! Snow crust is gone so you dick up to your knees on several steps! At one mile, I turned around and went back becuz I was afraid it could get worse! Nice day though and took some great pictures!

The most positive person I know

Another friend reported, “About 20 people went on our great ‘Spring’ hike yesterday. Everyone was post-holing, falling over AND smiling/laughing all the way.”

The hike leader had a totally different report. “50 + hikers danced through the light dusting of snow. It was a lovely day. Better trail conditions could not have been ordered. Many commented that the hike was the best they’d every been on, and that the planner of this hike was ‘right on’ when advertising that it was in the category of easy and the snow was hard as a rock.”

I’m not certain if the hike leader was on the same hike as my friends, or if she is simply the most positive person I know.

Either way, the hike got me thinking about Spring Hiking. It’s sunny, feels like summer (aka, 48 degrees), and the snow is now ¾ melted (except for those drifts).

Traditional Snowshoe Care

Rawhide stretches. Snowshoes need TLC too!

I went to pack away my snowshoes for the winter, and discovered they needed some TLC. I had not re-varnished them in some time, and they were overdue. The rawhide was dry (noted by the lighter color) and the wood had obviously lost its coating. If you snowshoe on dry, unvarnished rawhide, the rawhide can absorb water from the snow and then will stretch from your weight.

I had my kids take care of re-varnishing. After all, if they are going to continue their love of winter sports, they will need to learn to take care of their own snowshoes!

The varnish/urethane rubs off over time from friction with the snow. Re-varnishing is a simple process really.

First, I take off the bindings so I can apply new varnish to the entire snowshoe. I use a pot scouring pad (Scotch type) to take off any old flaking varnish. This step also roughens up any old varnish, allowing for better adhesion. I wipe down the shoes with rubbing alcohol to remove any fingerprints and to remove bits of old varnish. If fingerprint oil is left on the snowshoes, it will prevent the varnish from properly adhering.

After prepping the snowshoes, it’s time to varnish. Yay! I personally use Helmsman Spar Urethane, but any urethane will do.

Urethane is NOT Polyurethane!

Note, urethane is NOT the same thing as polyurethane. Polyurethane is meant as a finish for items that are kept indoors. The polyurethane finish is harder, but it is also less flexible. Urethane is meant for outdoor use. It flexes and is more resilient to water and temperature change. Snowshoes need to be able to flex with your weight, and they definitely need to handle wetness and temperature changes.

I apply urethane using a foam brush. That way, I can chuck the brush when I’m done with the project. Urethane is not water soluble and cannot be rinsed out of brushes with water.

For this reason, I also recommend throwing down a drop cloth (plastic) where you plan to work to catch any drips. I use an old vinyl tablecloth.

Get every nook and cranny

Make sure you coat all of the rawhide. Any uncoated rawhide can absorb water during snowshoeing. Remember, wet rawhide stretches, and if the rawhide on your snowshoes stretches, the snowshoes will be useless.

Varnish all the rawhide! Missed spots will still absorb water and stretch.

Experts recommend that you apply several coats of urethane. If you do this, make sure you let the first coat dry for at least 24 hours and then use a steel wool pad or fine sandpaper (greater than 300 grit) to rough up the first coat. Failure to rough up the first coat will result in poor adhesion of the second coat. Prepping for the second coat is probably the most time-consuming step. Every bit of rawhide needs to be scruffed up, on all sides. Then, the flakes of sanded urethane need to be wiped off before the new coat can be applied.

My snowshoes are now re-varnished and put away. Bring on the spring hikes! Mud and trail only, please.

Mud and Trail ONLY please

Share your Journey! Liz.


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