There are several different types of snowshoes, each suited to a different aspect of the sport. Let's take a look:
Built for speed and agility on packed or semi-packed trails, running snowshoes are primarily focused on fitness and racing. A narrower frame and deck help maintain a running stride while slimmer, more minimalist bindings are made to go with a running shoe rather than a bulky winter boot.
Trail walking snowshoes are great for just getting out and enjoying the snow by yourself or as a family. Whether you're looking to walk the local recreational path network or tackle some light "exploring" in your area woods most trail-walking users will want minimal to medium traction to keep things moving with relative ease. Low profile crampons give enough traction and remain comfortable when walking on flat terrain, particularly in lower snow conditions.
This is medium to high intensity outings that typically take you off of broken trails. The goal is exploration. The search for freedom and adventure is in carving your own trails. You'll probably be out there with some lighter backpacks that have your extra gear and supplies for the day. Day hiking snowshoes offer reliability, are lightweight but robust, and provide excellent traction, floatability and snow shedding for those untrodden powder sections you’ll tackle.
Backpacking/Mountaineering snowshoes are made for carrying loads and tackling steeper terrain. Shoes have aggressive claws for uphill traction and robust reverse V of teeth on the heel to keep you from sliding when you’re descending. If you’ll be doing a lot of sidehilling—walking across a steep slope instead of up it -- look for a shoe that will grip laterally as well. Make sure whatever snowshoe you buy has a binding that will fit over the winter boots you plan to wear. The heavier you and your load are, the larger the shoe you’ll want to use.
What to consider when you are buying a SNOWSHOE:
Once you thought about the type of snowshoeing you'll be doing, think about the features you want the shoes to have.
Size: How big a shoe you need depends on the conditions where you snowshoe. Most manufacturers make recommendations based on your weight plus the weight of the gear you’ll be carrying, such as a backpack. If you snowshoe where the snow is deep and powdery, choose a larger snowshoe than if you snowshoe in icy conditions or groomed tracks.
Traction: Traction on snow-covered terrain is provided by a variety of crampons mounted on the bottom of your snowshoe--metal claws under your toe and heel on the underside of the deck. The flatter the terrain, the less traction you need. For snowshoeing on a bike path or a meadow, choose minimal traction. For hiking rolling terrain, choose medium-aggressive underfoot grip.
Bindings: A snowshoe’s binding secures your foot comfortably to the snowshoe. You can save money with a standard ratcheting strap binding, which uses two or three straps to cinch your boot to the snowshoe. Or, chose a binding with Boa lacing, which secures the snowshoe to your foot in a more distributed manner and provides enhanced comfort. Boa adjusts with a twist of a knob and snugs up the binding for a custom-feeling fit that won't have uncomfortable pressure-points.
Decking: Snowshoes either have an aluminum frame with a plastic-coated fabric deck strapped or riveted onto the rails, or they use a single piece molded composite deck, which doesn’t require rails. Composite snowshoes will often have additional traction, called braking bars, molded into the body of the snowshoe. Some composite shoes also have toothy side rails that can be especially effective side hilling. Aluminum frame snowshoes are often lighter than composite snowshoes. But, composite shoes can be more affordable.
If you’re striving to summit a peak, choose aggressive traction. Blunted teeth under the ball of your foot and your toe will make it easier to walk in low snow or flat conditions. When you’re climbing steeply, sharp, pointy teeth will give you tenacious grip. Some composite snowshoes have traction bars molded in to complement or replace claws.
For long treks on steep terrain, choose a shoe with a heel-raiser climbing bar, a metal piece that flips up to support your heel. Engaged, it takes strain off your calves by supporting your heel when you’re trekking uphill for a long time.
What Comes Next?
Hit the trail and have some fun!