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Snowshoe Buyer's Guide
written by Jason Akl

A day spent trekking through fresh powder is an exhilarating experience that will give you a total body workout and a fresh perspective on life.
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Snowshoe Buying Guide

Look for local snowshoe trails in and around your community.

Out of the many fun winter recreational opportunities, snowshoeing has to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to spend a day in the outdoors. Hiking quietly through the woods or across a snow covered lake can put adventurers on the trail of wildlife or near breathtaking natural landscapes.

One of the most attractive qualities of snowshoeing is unquestionably that this sport is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and a great way for a family to spend time together. Snowshoes are a very versatile tool, but it helps to know the basics of construction, style and components to get the most for your money.

Types of Snowshoes

Consumers should select a snowshoe based on the specific activities and conditions that they'll most likely use their shoes for. All the different styles of snowshoes will let you travel across deep snow, but special adaptations to certain snowshoes make some designs better than others. Snowshoes normally fall into four general categories: recreational, hiking, backcountry, and running or fitness snowshoes.

  • Recreational snowshoes are your basic shoes for walking or hiking on terrain that is not very steep or rugged. Recreational shoes make up the majority of the snowshoes you will find in stores and are good for beginners and causal snowshoers. These shoes will have easy to use bindings and tame traction systems.
  • Hiking snowshoes are basic all-terrain snowshoes which are sturdier than recreational models and work well for short length hikes both on- and off-trail. They're rugged enough to handle steeper terrain, but if you are thinking of difficult conditions you should look at backcountry models.
  • Backcountry snowshoes are for the serious hiker looking for maximum traction and durability in a shoe. These snowshoes feature a technical design (climbing-style crampons and rugged bindings) that give them added grip to help hikers complete moderate to steep climbs, bushwhacking, off trail hikes in deep and fresh snow, and strenuous exercise over rough terrain. Mountaineering snowshoes can be used for other activities such as recreational or aerobic activities, but recreational and aerobic snowshoes should not be used for mountaineering activities.
  • Running snowshoes are made for cross-training, strenuous exercise or competitive racing. These types of snowshoes are very lightweight, durable and maneuverable compared to the other two snowshoe types.

Snowshoe Shapes

If you were to walk into your favorite sporting goods store looking for a pair of snowshoes, you may become dazed by the many different shapes in which snowshoes come. A good understanding of the different shapes and their uses will help you pick a pair of shoes to best fit your needs:

  • Ojibwa Snowshoes are a beginner's snowshoe characterized by a pointed tail and toe. Ojibwa's are good for use on large open areas such as fields and lakes with very deep snow as they shed snow easily.
  • Alaskan/Bear Paw Snowshoes have a tear-drop design and are a good shoe for heavier set people. These shoes are used for open trail hiking of any snow depth or carrying large heavy packs.
  • Maine/Michigan Snowshoes are basically the same as the Alaskan or Bear Paw shoes, except shorter and wider.
  • Green Mountain/Modified Bear Paw Snowshoes have an oval shape and are great for walking in dense woods that require good maneuvering.
Snowshoe Guide

Crampons, or cleats, are toothed traction devices that can be attaced to snowshoes.

Frames and decking

The outer edge of the snowshoe, to which the decking and binding are attached, is considered the frame of the snowshoe. Many of the snowshoes that you will find in stores will have aluminum frames simply due to the fact that these frames are very durable, maintenance free and relatively inexpensive.

If you are interested in traditional wood-framed snowshoes, these can be still be purchased at specialty shops and through the most well-known snowshoe manufacturers. Traditional wooden snowshoes perform as well as, if not better than, their high-tech counterparts. However, these shoes require a lot of maintenance and can be prone to breakage.

The decking is the flat surface of the snowshoe that enables you to walk on the snow without sinking into it. Traditional wooden shoes use rawhide for the decking, but synthetic materials such as Hypalon, Quadex, polypropylene and plastics are now being incorporated. These synthetics are great materials to use in snowshoes because they are strong, light and extremely good at shedding excess snow.

Bindings and Traction Devices

The bindings are the part of the snowshoe that hold or attach your boots to the actual frame and decking. Bindings normally consist of a platform with nylon straps that go over the toe of the foot and around the heel.

There are many different types of bindings to go with the wide variety of snowshoes available. Light, snug-fitting models are made for running; sturdy, cumbersome ratchet-strap types are sold for use with heavy boots in adverse conditions. In most situations, bindings are matched appropriately with the type of snowshoe you intend to buy, taking a little confusion out of the process.

Most snowshoes feature crampons that help provide necessary traction with steep or slippery conditions. Crampons, or cleats, are basically toothed traction devices situated on the undersides of snowshoes. These devices can be located at the toe, heel or under the ball of the foot depending on how much traction is needed.

Determining Snowshoe Size

In order to find the right size snowshoe for your needs, you'll need to determine the approximate weight that will be placed on your snowshoes. In general, the heavier the person or load, the bigger the snowshoe will need to be to disperse the weight in order to keep the person on top of the snow.

Shoe size is also partially determined by terrain and snow conditions. For example, larger shoes are required to keep a person afloat in light powder snow than are necessary in wet, packed or icy snow. Likewise, if you plan on being in tight conditions with steep slopes, then smaller snowshoes are necessary to keep your feet from tangling up. As a rule of thumb, try and find the smallest size snowshoe that will support your weight for the type of snow and terrain you plan to traverse. The smaller the snowshoes, the easier they are to walk around and maneuver the conditions in.

Snowshoe Sizing Chart

Weight or Load Snowshoe Frame Size
80 to 140 pounds 8" x 21"
125 to 180 pounds 8" x 25"
160 to 220 pounds 9" x 30"
Above 220 pounds           10" x 36"

One of the most rewarding and engaging pastimes in which a person can participate is also one of the most simple. Getting out for a day and trekking through fresh powder can be an exhilarating experience, offering a fresh perspective on life, as well as provide a total body workout. So pick up a pair
of snowshoes and continue this long-standing, tradition.

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