Snowshoeing is an amazing experience, whether alone, or with your family. It’s great aerobic exercise for every age, fitness level, and adrenaline need. It is a relatively inexpensive sport, easy to learn, challenging to master. The basic principle is pretty simple. If there’s snow, you can go.
Snowshoeing has been around for about five millennia. The “western” snowshoe, which replaced wooden frames with aluminum, and rawhide lacing with nylon decking, has been around since 1972. There are die-hard traditionalists who stick to their “bear paws” and “tear drops”, but modern snowshoes are lighter, faster, safer, and easier to manage.
Anatomy of a Snowshoe
Snowshoes are composed of four basic parts.
- Frame: made from aluminum tubing or molded polypropylene, provides rigid stability
- Deck: made from nylon or hypalon rubber, provides flotation
- Bindings: fixed or full rotation, secure boot to snowshoe
- Crampon: made from forged steel, provides traction
Some snowshoes also have added features, like heel lifts, which flip up to provide foot support and alleviate calf strain when going uphill.
How To Choose Snowshoes:
There are several factors to consider when choosing the right snowshoes:
Your age and gender can have a bearing on the style that works best for you.
Adult snowshoes come in a variety of widths and lengths to accommodate the wearer. Women’s snowshoes are narrower than men’s snowshoes, and may be more tapered in the back than men’s, but most adult snowshoes can be considered unisex.
Kids snowshoes are smaller versions of their parent’s snowshoes, without the range of size options. They are ideal for smaller kids, usually between the ages of 6-10, and/or with shoe sizes between a kids’ 11 & an adult’s 6.
The weight of it all. The principle of snowshoeing is that you and your gear have to float on the snow. If your deck does not displace enough mass, you will sink. Part of this is dependent on snow conditions, the more powdery the snow, the more flotation is required. There are rules of thumb regarding weight that will guide you through finding the right sized snowshoes for the type of snowpack you plan to indulge in.
Where you plan to go matters. A walk in the park is not climbing a mountain, and neither of them is racing. There are snowshoes for each endeavor.
- Recreational snowshoes are typically shorter and narrower for stability and general use on gentle terrain
- Mountaineering snowshoes have the largest footprint, and are made for longer, steeper, off trail travel
- Racing snowshoes are ultra-light, short, and narrow. They are made for running in snow.
The ties that bind can make your snow day a joy or a pain. You’ll want to make sure your bindings are easy to step into, and tighten or loosen easily even on days where you need to wear bulky gloves.
How to Dress For Snowshoeing
Which shoes go best with the outfit?
Stiff, waterproof hiking boots are the perfect compliment to your snowshoe ensemble. Rubber or composite boots work best, but well oiled leather boots work too.
What do you wear to go snowshoeing?
We say, “Dress like an onion!” Wear layers, ideally synthetic fabrics that allow moisture to wick away from your skin, which will keep your body’s core temperature better regulated.
You’re bound to work up a sweat while you’re making your way up the trail. You may find yourself stripped down to your T-shirt in short order, but once you stop for snacks, or when the wind kicks up, or the sun ducks behind a cloud, you will be very grateful for the fleece pullover, windproof jacket, hat, and gloves you have neatly stashed in your pack.
How do you accessorize?
The well dressed snowshoe-r will be toting an adequately sized backpack to accommodate food, water, clothing, and a first aid kit (our downloadable checklist will help you make sure your first aid kit is properly stocked too).
Wool socks will provide cushion and warmth. Gaiters will keep snow out of your pants and boots. Trekking poles are also helpful (we might even say a must in more rugged backcountry terrain). Snow can be blinding so make sure to bring your sunglasses.
Whether you decide to share your trek with friends and family, or choose the road less traveled, snowshoeing offers unique opportunities to commune with nature, to challenge your abilities, and to have good clean fun all winter.