Whether you are purchasing snowshoes to get you out into the backcountry to snowboard or you want to cruise around the local golf course, you should know what you are paying for.
There are a lot of different shoes on the market and prices range from $40 for a cheap setup to several hundred dollars. While most people don’t need to spend $400 or more on a setup, it’s well worth your money to invest a bit in getting a good pair that will be lightweight, durable, and up to the terrain you want to tackle.
Snowshoes provide two basic functions, floatation and traction. If you are going to be snowshoeing through lots of powder or untracked areas, floatation will be your primary concern. If you are going to be on packed trails, or on icy or technical terrain, traction will be the most important thing.
Most snowshoes are made with aluminum frames (though there are also composite and wooden shoes available.) Aluminum shoes are lightweight and durable.
One of the really great things about purchasing snowshoes is it’s a pretty easy process. There are a lot of different shoes on the market but they can be broken down pretty easily.
Types of snowshoes
Flat terrain snowshoes– These are great for beginners. They are relatively inexpensive and will be ideal for cruising the golf course or areas without a lot of technical terrain to get through. These are the gateway for snowshoeing. For little more than $100 you can get a solid pair that are still lightweight, have quality bindings, and offer a fair amount of traction.
Rolling terrain– These shoes have more aggressive traction and usually better quality bindings- more durable, more adjustable, and easier to use. They are suitable for flat to steep terrain. If you are not sure where your snowshoe adventures will take you, and you want to invest in a good pair without spending a fortune, this is the category of shoes you should consider. You can usually find this type of snowshoe for around $200 and these should last you quite a while and take you to a wide variety of places.
Backcountry or mountain snowshoes…these are a little more serious. These snowshoes will feature more aggressive crampons, the most durable bindings, and will be as lightweight as possible given these extra features. These snowshoes are designed for multiday treks and backcountry missions to find secret powder stashes. They also come with a bigger price tag.
Running shoes– are usually smaller, narrower (especially in the tail) and have less traction. These shoes are designed to pass easily by each other and minimize the risk of tripping. They provide less floatation than other types of shoes, and are not made for aggressive terrain.
Once you narrow down if you are looking for men’s, women’s, or children’s snowshoes, sizing is very easy too. Your weight is the primary consideration in choosing the size you get. You want to have enough floatation for you and whatever gear you will be carrying, but you don’t want to go bigger than necessary because larger shoes are harder to maneuver around. Particularly if you are going to be in narrow, icy, or otherwise sketchy areas, smaller shoes are definitely going to be easier to negotiate.
Men’s shoes usually come in roughly 9” x 30” and 10” x 36”.
Women’s shoes typically come in 8” x 21” and 8” x 25. The bindings on women’s snowshoes are scaled down to accommodate smaller boots.
Kids’ shoes come in a variety of sizes, qualities, and functionalities. They range from cheapo snowshoes to play around in the yard, all the way up to shoes that share the same features and quality of the adult models.
Rotating bindings allow the tail of the shoes to fall each time you pick up your foot. This sheds snow, and consequently weight, so you can go further before you get tired.
Fixed bindings do not pivot that much, the tail comes up with each step. These are easier for stepping over obstacles and backing up. They do not shed snow as well, and a lot of snow tends to kick up on your back.
The size of your shoes will be the biggest determining factor in how much floatation you get. There are several other features that will determine how much traction you get.
Crampons are the most prominent traction feature. These are teeth on the bottom of the shoe that will grip into ice and packed snow. The teeth on the crampons on flat terrain snowshoes will be much smaller than those found on mountain snowshoes. There are crampons under the ball of the foot and also under the heel. Often the heel crampons are in a “V” configuration to allow snow to collect and slow you down on the way down the hill or mountain.
Climbing wires will set your heel at an elevated angle to make walking up steeper ascents feel more natural. Using the climbing wires puts less strain on your legs.
Choosing snowshoes is a pretty simple process
- Decide where you want to snowshoe- on flatland, up mountains, or something in between. Once you determine this you are well on your way.
- Figure out your weight plus the weight of the gear you are likely to take with you. If you are on the border of sizes, generally you will do well to size down for the additional mobility a smaller shoe will get you, unless you are likely to be in a lot of wide open, powdery areas.
You can snowshoe in any snow boots, and some snowboard boots or hard boots might even work depending on the bindings. The only other equipment that you will find very helpful is a set of trekking poles with baskets. A decent set of poles will collapse, be lightweight, and be nice and sturdy.
If you are new to snowshoeing, resist the urge to buy cheap snowshoes from discount places. They lack the durability and features of quality snowshoes. The bindings are often cumbersome and prone to breaking, and not worth the risk. Snowshoes are not a big-ticket item, and as is usually the case, you are better off spending a bit more and getting something that will last and will be easy to use.