As the popularity of winter hikes increases, more and more products and accessories are available for sale to help make our experience more enjoyable. From walking poles to cleats to snowshoes to backpacks with first aid kits or water bottles, the variety of equipment is huge.
But for now let’s limit the talk to cleats (also called crampons) and snowshoes.
By definition cleats come in a variety of styles for use on city sidewalks to mountain hiking. For walking on a nature trail, ask the retailer to show you the middle range especially made for hiking. The cleats or studs are slightly more accentuated than the city sidewalk version.
Cleats are great to keep in your car, handy to have on hand (and foot). However they can rust easily, so remember to dry them well after use.
The Massawippi Trail is well travelled. Most of the time the trail is hard packed with snow in the winter. As people are walking even after a fresh snowfall, you will find the snow to be trodden unless you are an early bird. This is the perfect venue for cleats which will give you good traction (except on sheer ice where nothing really helps, except possibly a prayer). We know they are popular because our wooden stairs down to Ethan’s beach got a bit chewed up last winter. This year those steps have thick rubber mats to protect the wood and the brave or curious who go down to see the lake in winter. Beautiful.
Often people choose to walk on the trails with snowshoes which has a long tradition in Quebec and provides a different exercise experience.
Snowshoes are designed to help distribute your weight when walking on thick, deep snow. They are designed for flat terrain. It is true that they help your grip but what about the stairs? There are so many stairs on the trails, from wooden ones to combined stone and wood. Also steep downward pitches are not easy to walk across. How do you navigate those with snowshoes?
Whatever footwear you choose to use in winter, please remember to stay on the trails. This is a conservation area, winter or summer there are precious plants and wildlife all around. Resist the temptation to walk into the deep snow, off trail. It is a very big terrain, close to 1,000 acres. By staying on the trails you won’t get lost and stranded.
Some people advise that you should carry both types of gear when hiking. For the Massawippi Trails, snowshoes are the best if there has just been a big snowfall but otherwise probably cleats or simple boots with good treads are fine. Check the weather and make your decision accordingly.
In the words of a local writer when asked about snowshoes or cleats, he replied
“Snowshoeing is for people who like to walk but with an added layer of difficulty.”
For more humorous stories look for Ross Murray’s book A Jerk in Progress…a story with a happy ending, “We could have died out there!”