How to Make Improvised Snowshoes

In January of 2015, two Canadian hikers set off on a hike in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondacks. There was snow around, but it seemed like the trail was clear enough so they opted to stick with their boots and leave the snowshoes behind as they made their way toward the top of Mount Marcy. By the time they reached the summit, the weather had turned and reduced visibility to almost nothing. Heading back down, they quickly lost the trail and ended up struggling through deep snow, exhausting their legs until they were forced to make shelter under a tree and ride out the night. The next day, they struggled on and were eventually found by rangers.

While this story ended okay (if uncomfortably) for the hikers, it could have turned out tragically. It’s easy for hikers looking to bag a few late season days in the wilds to forego snowshoes when the path near the trailhead is clear. But weather and trail conditions can change quickly. If you’re unprepared and you encounter snow on the trail without proper equipment, like snowshoes, it’s best to turn back and try again another day when you’ve got the right gear. But, if you find yourself stranded in the wild and battling deep snow, an improvised set of snowshoes might be the thing that helps get you out alive.

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Illustration by Ted Slampyak

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