Typically, walking through deep snow isn’t much fun. With regular snow boots, you sink and struggle on every step, and you may start to wonder why you didn’t just opt for a cozy afternoon indoors.
What if there was a better way? What if you could almost “float” on top of the snow as you explore breathtaking winter scenery?
That’s exactly what you can do with a pair of snowshoes.
A snowshoe is a specialty piece of footwear that distributes your weight evenly, helping you stay above the snow. Snowshoes are ideal for a wide range of winter activities, including trail walking, hiking, backcountry exploring, and even running.
1. Snowshoe Materials
There are two main types of snowshoe frames: aluminum and composite.
“Composite tends to be more compact and better for packed snow or icy conditions,” said Dan Fischer, a buyer on the DICK’S Sporting Goods lodge team. “Aluminum-framed shoes tend to float better in deep powder, but tails can be attached to composite shoes to assist in floating.”
2. Finding Your Fit
The most important factor when choosing snowshoe size is weight. Check the specs. On the DICK’S Sporting Goods website, the suggested “load” is typically listed with each snowshoe. Use that figure to guide your selection. Remember to account for the weight of your gear as well.
Generally, the heavier you are, the larger the snowshoes should be. Aluminum snowshoes can be as long as 36 inches. Composite snowshoes are more compact—the 8 by 22-inch size is typically standard—but you can add the aforementioned tails to extend the length and get more flotation.
It’s also important to consider the type of snow and terrain you’ll be traversing. Choose larger snowshoes for light, powdery snow—they will help keep you afloat. You can go with smaller, more compact shoes for hard, packed-down snow. For steep, icy surfaces, use smaller snowshoes.
Finally, snowshoe sizes do vary by gender. Men’s snowshoes are built larger to hold bigger boots and heavier weight. Women’s snowshoes are generally smaller and narrower, which keeps women from stepping on the insides of the frames. You’ll find kids’ snowshoes designed for casual play as well as larger sizes with some of the same features you’d find on adult snowshoes.
3. Bindings Basics
There are two main types of snowshoe bindings: free-rotation bindings and fixed bindings.
- Fixed-rotation bindings provide a secure fit that is ideal for clearing obstructions and walking backward.
- Free-rotation bindings pivot and move with the natural motion of your feet. They also prevent snow pile-up.
4. Traction In The Snow
Snowshoes feature crampons, or cleats, to provide superior traction. These cleats may be located on various parts of the snowshoes:
- Toe Crampons: Located on the undersides of the bindings, these cleats pivot with your feet as you move.
- Heel Crampons: You will find the cleats underneath of the decking. They are used help keep you steady as you traverse downhill.
- Side Rails/Traction Bars: Also located on the undersides of the decking, these provide lateral stability.
5. Need A Lift?
One of the coolest features snowshoes offer is heel lifts, also known as climbing bars. When climbing steep terrain, you can flip up wire bars under your heels to help reduce calf and Achilles strain.
6. What Type Of Footwear Should You Wear With Snowshoes?
Good news: snowshoes are designed to work with virtually all types of boots and shoes. Some are even specifically designed for running shoes.
7. Snowshoe Accessories
There are a few accessories you’ll want to have before you head out. Snowshoe poles can give you the added stability you need to traverse difficult terrain, while also providing an upper-body workout.
Snow gaiters are also important—they can help keep snow out of your boots.
Now that you’ve found the snowshoe for your next winter adventure, learn how to properly put your snowshoes on.