by Garneau

How To Choose your Snowshoes

Snowshoes make winter walking fun and give a great excuse to get outside and enjoy.

As a sport and winter activity, snowshoeing is extremely accessible. Anyone who can walk can also snowshoe. Snowshoes are small, portable "decks" that strap to your feet via a pivoting binding so that you can easily walk without sinking into deep snow. The greater surface aread the snowshoe provides gives you float on the snow. Underfoot traction via crampons keeps you from slipping on hardpacked snow, ice and/or certain obstacles like a fallen branch.

Watch the video: How to choose your snowshoes

There are many ways to snowshoe: for exercise, to reach a summit, or to win a race. Snowshoes are all also a great for some fun winter exploration, whether you’re tracking wildlife, searching for the perfect holiday tree, or just out for some fresh air. Even your local field or nature preserve looks and "walks" entirely differently under a blanket of snow; it's a total shift in perspectives and can really lead to great discoveries for the entire family.

There are several different types of snowshoes, each suited to a different aspect of the sport. Let's take a look:

Running/racing snowshoes

Running Snowshoes Features
Runing Snowshoes

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.

Day Hiking

Day Hiking Snowshoes Features
Day Hiking Snowshoes

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

Backpacking/Mountaineering Snowshoes Features
Backpacking/Mountaineering Snowshoes

Those 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.

Snowshoes traction in the snow
Snowshoes traction in the snow

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 large-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.

Snowshoes Bindings
Snowshoes Bindings

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.

Other features: 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.