How to Buy Snowshoes

Snowshoeing is a great winter activity for the simple reason that just about anyone can do it. Buying snowshoes is also pretty easy, as long as you know what to look for. What makes buying snowshoes easy is that they only come in only a few sizes for each model so picking one is much easier than skis or snowboards. Snowshoes are designed for specific activities but they are also are extremely versatile. With a little information about how snowshoes work and where you want to use them, choosing the right pair of snowshoes is easy.

Quick Tips

  1. Snowshoes are sized by weight (your weight and weight of anything you are carrying) and by the snow density youll be above.
  2. A pair of adjustable ski poles will help you keep your balance.
  3. There are snowshoes designed for women, for children, even running.

How Snowshoes Work
Snowshoes are design to allow you to travel across snow-covered ground without sinking or struggling. They provide flotation by spreading your weight over a large, flat surface area. This flotation allows you to hike, climb or even run in even the deepest, powdery snow. In general, the heavier the person or the lighter and drier the snow, the larger the snowshoe will need to be.

Frames and Decking
Most of today’s snowshoes are constructed with aluminum frames and synthetic decking. The decking is usually made of a cold-resistant rubber or plastic material. Some compact snowshoes are frameless, that is, with a hard decking material supporting your weight on its own. Rubber decking is more flexible and lightweight but composite plastic decking is usually more durable.

Snowshoes secure to your boots with bindings, which consist of a platform and straps that go over the foot and around the heel. Most snowshoe bindings are built to accept almost any footwear, from hiking and snowboard boots to plastic mountaineering boots, so there isnt any need to buy special footwear. Some snowshoes are made for running and lace up snugly, while others are made for plastic boots and secure with ratcheting straps.

There are two different types of bindings:

  • Rotating Bindings can pivot where they attach to the decking. This movement allows you to walk more naturally and makes it far easier to climb hills. The amount that bindings pivot varies among models. Some bindings can pivot 90 degrees or more, which allows the tails of the snowshoes to fall away as you step. This sheds snow and reduces fatigue. Rotation also positions your boots for kicking steps into steep slopes.
  • Fixed Bindings are connected with heavy rubber or neoprene bands and don’t provide as much pivot. These bindings bring the snowshoe tails up with each step and allows for a comfortable stride. It also makes stepping over obstacles and backing up easier.

There are benefits and drawbacks with either binding types. Fixed bindings can kick up snow on the backs of the legs and doesnt shed snow which causes more fatigue. Rotating bindings can be awkward when climbing over logs or backing up.

Although your weight provides some traction by pushing snowshoes down into the snow, most modern snowshoes feature some type of crampons or cleats. These allow you to maintain a good grip on packed, icy or steep snow.

  • Toe or Instep Crampons are located on the undersides of the bindings. They pivot with your feet and dig in as you climb.
  • Heel Crampons are placed on the bottom of the decking. They are usually in a V formation. This can fill with snow and slow you down as you descend. Not all snowshoes have heel traction. If yours doesnt, it will be necessary to dig in the toe crampons on the descent.
  • Traction Bars on the bottom of the decking provide lateral stability and reduce side slipping as you cross slopes.

Recreational-style snowshoes will usually have crampons only at the forefoot. Climbing or backcountry snowshoes will usually have more aggressive, toothed crampons at both the forefoot and the heel.

What Size Should I Get

  1. Your Weight with Gear: Your weight, including equipment, is referred to as the recommended load or carrying capacity. This is a major factor in determining the right size. In most circumstances, a heavier person or one with a heavily loaded pack will require larger snowshoes than a smaller person or one carrying gear just for the day.
    1. Snow Conditions: The recommended load is usually based on light, dry snow conditions. You need larger snowshoes to stay afloat in Utah powder than you would in the wet snow of the Pacific Northwest. It is always best to get the smallest shoes that will support your weight for the snow conditions. As long as you have adequate flotation, smaller snowshoes will be much easier to handle.
      1. Terrain: Packed trails, brush and forest call for smaller shoes, which are easier to maneuver in tight spaces. Steep or icy terrain is also easier with smaller snowshoes. An open area with deep drifts will require larger snowshoes.

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