Snowshoeing is a great activity for everyone who wants to explore the beautiful winter landscape and get off the beaten path while doing so. We get asked often at our various snowshoeing activities what to look for and how much should someone spend. There isn’t a simple answer as it depends on several factors and personal preferences but there are some key considerations in any purchase. We’ll walk through all you need below to give you the knowledge necessary to ensure you end up with something you enjoy.
This article will cover the following topics:
Before you start shopping for snowshoes it's a good idea to take some time to think through what exactly you are looking for as it will help you narrow down your search and ensure you are getting something that allows you to do what and go where you want. The following questions are a great place to start:
We often get asked what is the difference between an inexpensive pair of snowshoes and a more expensive pair. Snowshoes can vary across manufacturers and price points but generally more expensive models will give you:
It's important to note that higher prices do not alway equate to greater durability. High-end models must strike a delicate balance between durability and weight and thus are often less durable than their lower priced cousins.
With so many snowshoe types and features how does one actually figure out which one to get? Here's our advice on how to go about it. Remember these steps as you read through the anatomy section below so you can highlight the features meaningful to you.
Snowshoes are conceptually simple contraptions. Basically, they are large platforms you strap to your feet to spread out your weight over a greater area so you don’t sink as far into the snow. Advances in materials and technology have provided even greater benefits than those bulky snowshoes of years past.
Frame - The frame forms the perimeter of the snowshoe. Years ago this was the portion made of wood. Today they are typically aluminum tubing, aluminum bar, or molded into the composite/plastic deck. The length of the frame from front to back is the “size” of the snowshoe.
Deck - The deck is the material that makes up the “platform” of the snowshoe and gives the snowshoe its “float”. It is commonly a synthetic nylon or rubber stretched between the frame to keep the weight of the shoe as light as possible. Some models have a deck made of a solid composite/plastic material making for a very durable snowshoe but they typically weigh more.
Tail - The tail is portion of the snowshoe is the area of the deck and frame behind the heel. It is designed to give you more loft or float on the snow. When you move to longer snowshoes the tail is where most of the length is added.
Toe Crampon - The toe crampon is the “claw” under the ball of your foot that provides the most traction as you walk forward. There are different styles of toe crampons and which style is right for you depends on the terrain you will be exploring. Flat and rolling terrain snowshoes typically have downward pointed teeth. Steep or mountainous terrain snowshoes have downward pointed teeth as well but also have spikes that point more forward allowing you to kick into steep or icy slopes to gain better traction.
Heel Crampon/Braking Bar - Heel crampons or braking bars are on the bottom of the snowshoe near where your heel lands are to provide traction when going downhill.
Side Rails (AKA Traction Bars) - Side rails are metal bars or “teeth” mounted on the underside of the snowshoe decking or frame rails to provide lateral traction. This is needed when walking across a hill or slope to prevent your feet from slipping sideways when you weight your step. Some manufactures integrate the snowshoe frame and the side rails into one piece which provides superior traction but may add additional weight.
Binding -The binding is the mechanism that attaches your foot to the snowshoe. These are typically rubber straps, nylon webbing, or a synthetic partial boot that surrounds your snow boots. Bindings can either make or break your snowshoeing experience and are typically the difference between an inexpensive and expensive snowshoe so spending some additional time here is warranted.
Binding Behavior - The way in which the tail of the snowshoe responds when you lift your foot off the ground. There are two basic styles:
Rotating/Pivot - Tail will hang limp and when you walk the tail of the snowshoe will slide on the ground as you move forward. This is good for shedding heavy snow on the top of the snowshoe but can make it more difficult to step over things (e.g. downed tree) or to walk backwards.
Fixed - Tail will raise off the ground when you lift you foot (notice how the tail doesn't drop as much). This fixes the issues mentioned above but does tend to flick snow up on your behind as you walk. We prefer the fixed bindings as we are always walking over things and backing up to pick up a dropped glove, adjust someone’s binding, or shuffle backwards to sit on a park bench overlooking a great view.
Heel Lift - A “U” shaped bar that you flip up if you are going to be walking uphill for an extended period of time. This will make your calves happier. Typically only found on more expensive models. We have found this feature to be one we seldomly use here in the midwest but would be nice for long extended uphills.
When it comes to choosing snowshoes, size does matter. The snowshoe size you get is based on how much you weigh, what type of snow you’ll be walking through, the terrain, and your gender. Larger snowshoes provide more float but at the expense of added weight and being more cumbersome. Therefore, you should get the smallest snowshoes that will do the job to balance the best of both worlds.
Sizing By Weight
Sizing By Snow Conditions
Size charts are based on dry unpacked snow. If you will be walking through powder most of the time you may need a larger snowshoe. If you’re primarily walking on groomed or packed trails, you may be able to get away with a smaller snowshoe. You can use an undersized snowshoe in deep powder. It will just be more work. You can use an oversized snowshoe on a packed trail. It’s just overkill and more weight with every step.
Sizing by Terrain
You may want to alter the size of snowshoe you have based on terrain features. For example, if you are trekking through the woods and walking over logs and through thick brush, you would be happier with a shorter version. If you’re in an open prairie, then extra float is key.
Sizing by Gender
Believe it or not, women’s bodies are different than men’s. For example, they have different strides and hips. For years women have complained about hip pain after snowshoeing as a result of using snowshoes designed for a man. Manufacturers are finally starting to take notice and are putting a lot of R&D into analyzing a woman’s stride and designing snowshoes specifically for women. Typically they are narrower and the tail may be shaped slightly different. If you’re a woman buying snowshoes for just yourself, we’d highly recommending giving them a try. We have a pair so next time you’re with us, just ask to use them.
Sizing for Variability
If you think you may share snowshoes, walk lots of different terrain, different snow conditions, or sometimes wear a backpack, what is one to do? MSR has a unique solution to this. They allow you to add six inch tail extensions to your snowshoes so they can quickly morph from one size to another. For example, you could buy a 25” snowshoe and then add the tails making it now float like a 31” snowshoe. Pretty cool. You’ll want to weigh this option against other things like bindings, weight, … We have two models of MSRs with this feature so if you want to try out using tails, let us know. We’ll set you up!
Most snowshoes will accommodate a wide variety of footwear from hiking boots to more traditional winter boots. Large ice fishing type boots like some of the Sorels can be too large for many snowshoes but some manufacturers offer longer straps for their bindings to accommodate these larger boots. Ideally, you want stiffer, comfortable, and warm and waterproof boots with a “bump” on the heel to help retain the heel strap of the snowshoe.Poles or No Poles
There’s a big debate on whether you should use poles or not when snowshoeing. The benefits of using poles is they make your travels easier by reducing the stress on other areas of the body and give you added balance. The downsides are they are extra weight with every step, extra expense, and if you don’t want to use them, you need a backpack to strap them to. Darren loves to use poles. Oie hates it. Shoot us an email before attending one of our events and we’ll bring a set for you to try out. If you decide to purchase your own, we would recommend getting summer trekking poles and replacing the summer baskets with winter ones. That way you can use them in the summer as well. Also get ones where you can adjust the length with gloved hands. We prefer models with a thumb-lock rather than the twist-lock variety. Finally, you’ll need to make the wrist loop bigger in the winter to fit over your gloved hands and wrists.
Buying snowshoes can seem like it’s complicated based on all that is mentioned above but it doesn’t have to be. Remember to start with getting the correct length, a binding that works for you (even with gloved hands), and then add the features you want until you reach your price point. If you still have questions, we'd love to help so send us a message or ring us on 651-233-6059.