The Right Snowshoes for You
Snow conditions, weight, and terrain all matter when selecting the best (for you) snowshoe style.
Snowshoes provide stability and flotation on snow, allowing foot access to the outdoors that is otherwise difficult or impossible in regular winter footwear. So, choosing the perfect pair of snowshoes depends on how you plan to use them. This guide will help you navigate the many snowshoe options by looking at the factors you need to consider for snowshoe adventures in your future.
The smaller the snowshoes, the easier they are to negotiate up steep slopes, around obstacles, on narrow trails, and over tricky or icy terrain. However, small is only sometimes the best. Snow conditions play an important role in selecting the right snowshoes. Where are you headed?
- Powder Longer, or bigger, snowshoes are needed to stay afloat in powder. Technical and recreational options are available for powder.
- Wet Snow and Compact Trails Small snowshoes are easier to negotiate on packed surfaces, brushy terrain, narrow trails, and heavy, wet snow. Typically, recreational snowshoes can handle these conditions.
- Steep Small, lightweight snowshoes with technical features are necessary for negotiating steep and icy conditions.
The heavier the weight over a snowshoe, the larger the surface area required to get the right flotation. Every snowshoe should list a recommended load limit, which is good to keep in mind when determining your snowshoe purchase. Many snowshoe models are available in more than one size, so consider not only body weight but maximum load weight, including pack weight. Others come only in one size, which means you need to confirm that your projected maximum comes under the maximum load limit of that snowshoe model.
Are you planning to trek across flats, rolling ridges and hills, or mountain slopes? Knowing where you plan to go is a crucial step to choosing the size and style of snowshoes for your type of adventures.
RECREATIONAL SNOWSHOES (for hiking flat and rolling terrain) The more economical option, recreational snowshoes are often the choice for a first pair of snowshoes and hiking over snow on easy or moderate terrain. First, let’s look at their features.
- Bindings A binding system involves the platform and straps that attach your boots to the snowshoe. Recreational snowshoes are commonly designed with a simple, easy-to-use binding system constructed with polyurethane, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), or nylon straps. The bindings accommodate a wide range of footwear, even large boot sizes. In addition, recreational snowshoes are often constructed with a soft pivot in the binding for little or no heel lift, which is a deterrent on steep slopes but a preference for trail walkers and runners who prefer a more natural, comfortable walking or running stride.
- Frame The frame forms the outer footprint of the snowshoe. Constructed of aluminum, TPU, EVA foam, ash, or recyclable materials, the frame of a recreational snowshoe is often rounded, or tubular, which is a bonus in deep snow. In addition, a rounded frame constructed with a V-tail improves maneuverability and reduces snow build-up. Attached to the frame is decking, the material that spans the frame to create the surface area needed to spread weight and keep you afloat. Newer models feature solid sheets of materials like plastic, vinyl and coated vinyl, nylon, and Hypalon, and both new and older models can feature rawhide webbing. Also, there are frameless snowshoe options. These lightweight, compactable snowshoes are equipped with traction bars along the length to provide stability and traction.
- Traction The traction features on recreational snowshoes are modest, providing average traction. Some models are equipped with crampons, but not typically.
TECHNICAL SNOWSHOES (for navigating steep and unpredictable terrain) In the outdoors, where the sky’s the limit, technical snowshoes cover a range of technical features that an adventurer may need to access remote or higher elevations. Of course, advanced features and durable materials drive the price, but technical snowshoes are worth the investment for breaking trail in deep snow on steep terrain. Let’s review the features.
- Bindings Binding systems for technical snowshoes tend to be more advanced, constructed for a precise fit for a range of boot sizes, and ease-of-use with gloves. Materials for technical snowshoe bindings are commonly polyurethane, nylon, or TPU. In addition, many technical binding systems have a hard pivot at the ball of the foot, which allows the kicking of steps on steep slopes, helps to shed powder, and reduces leg fatigue.
- Frame The frames of technical snowshoes are similar to recreational snowshoes (see above). For staying on top of deep, fresh powder, a larger frame will increase the surface area and accommodate a heavier load. For steep but not powdery terrain, especially traverses and icy conditions, a lightweight frame that provides a lot of grip is ideal.
- Heel Lifts, or Climbing Bars These wire bails under the heel can be flipped up to save energy and relieve calf strain on steep uphill climbs.
- Traction Side rails, also known as traction bars, enhance lateral stability and reduce side-slipping while traversing slopes. Snowshoes with instep crampons integrated to the bindings at the toe pivot provide traction on a climb.
*A niche snowshoe, described as the running snowshoe, is a specialized, lightweight option that provides a full range of foot motion for outdoor people who want to move fast and stay nimble.
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