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Tips For Buying Snowshoes

Updated on March 7, 2011

Snowshoeing: Great Winter Exercise, Recreation

Snowshoeing is the perfect winter activity for avid hikers! Strap on a pair of snowshoes, and no matter the snow or ice, you can own the trail. Snow shoes are designed to distribute your weight evenly over a larger surface area, thereby keeping you from sinking deep into the snow as you head on your cross country adventure.

Really, all you need for a fun snowshoe outing is a pair of snowshoes and a waterproof pair of books. Snowshoeing itself couldn't be easier— it's pretty much the same as walking, only your stance is a little wider and you sometimes kick loose snow up onto your back.

The Physics of Snowshoeing

A snowshoe distributes your weight over a broader surface area, which keeps you from sinking down through the snow as you walk. Strong steel "teeth" grip the snow or ice, helping you gain purchase on slick, icy surfaces, and also to keep your balance on the snow. 

You strap your feet into a central foot rest. The toe of your boot fits snugly in a toe box, and usually just a single strap wraps around the back of your heel, like a woman's slingback sandal. The center foot plate to which you are strapped pivots separately from the show yourself, which allows you to maintain a normal walking gait as you hike through the snow. 

The main differentiating features between different snow shoe brand sis if they have a steel or aplastic pivot point (MSR tends to be an all-steel construciton which, while incredibly durable, is also pricier than many other brands.)

Longer snowshoes distribute your weight across a larger surface, making it easier to stay high on soft powder. The larger surface, however, cam make for clumsier walking and cal also make you kick up more snow onto your back, so a longer snowshoe is not necessarily the best all-around, all-terrain snow shoes. Sharper and longer teeth can help when walking across icy surfaces or else when climbing a steep face.

Fitting Snowshoes

You can buy snowshoes specially designed for men or women, and some women's snowshoes come in smaller than traditional snowshoe size.

Typically, adult snowshoes come in three standard sizes: 25", 30" and 36". Youth snowshoes come in 15" and 18" long, and some brands make a 21" women's snowshoe. Each snowshoe length corresponds to a weight range, but remember that the longer snowshoes distribute your weight over a greater area, so keep you higher on the snow. So if your weight is in the range for two different snow shoe lengths, remember that the longer is better for powder conditions while the shorter length snowshoe is probably your best bet for all-around snowshoeing. They may let you sink a little bit more on the big powder days, but they also will be able to grip and hold the snow or ice in more typical conditions.

  • 21": 75 lbs. - 140 lbs.
  • 25": 120 lbs. - 180 lbs.
  • 30": 160 lbs. - 220 lbs.
  • 36": Over 200 lbs.

How To Snowshoe

Snowshoeing is barely different from hiking or walking. You wear more layers, it is true, but you WILL work up a sweat if you keep at a decent pace or incorporate hills into your outing. Trekking poles can help you keep your balance when snowshoeing.

Dress warmly when you snowshoe: it is always easier to shed layers than to add them. I like to snowshoe in a good pair of waterproof or water-resistant snow pants and a waterproof shell. What layers I put on underneath depend on the weather. Some days I wear a full complement of long underwear — the same layers I'd wear skiing. On warmer days, I will travel more lightly. Most days I snowshoe I choose to wear goggles, since they help cut the dangerous snow glare, don't fog and keep snow falling from trees from going into my eyes. I wear ski mittens and waterproof boots.

Then it's just a matter of choosing where you want to go. Maybe you will follow your favorite summer hiking trail, or maybe you will carve your own way into the backcountry. Snowshoeing allows youto reach snowy woods that otherwise would be completely inaccessible.

Snowshoes can take you to remote backcountry locales unreachable by car, and far from the noise of civilization.
Snowshoes can take you to remote backcountry locales unreachable by car, and far from the noise of civilization.
Cross country ski trails make good snow shoeing routes, but etiquette says it is poor form to snowshoe on the ski tracks themselves as the snowshoe's teeth will chop up the ski track.
Cross country ski trails make good snow shoeing routes, but etiquette says it is poor form to snowshoe on the ski tracks themselves as the snowshoe's teeth will chop up the ski track.


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    • Ren Chin profile image

      Ren Chin 6 years ago

      I like atlas snowshoes, though I hear great things about the options that MSR Evo snowshoes offer with their add-on tails - the add-on flotation tails provide flexibility for the snowshoer to extend or shorten their snowshoes based on weight, conditions and activity. great hub!

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Great suggestion! I will add that to this hub.

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 5 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Great hub! I can't wait till we finally get some real snow so I can get out snowshoeing again. I've been carrying my Tubbs Alp Pros in my trunk since October with high hopes.

    • Adventure Colorad profile image

      Adventure Colorad 5 years ago from Denver,CO

      Great write up on Snow Shoes! It can be really peaceful to be in the backcountry in the winter.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks guys! I also am eager to get out there, but in Tahoe, the mountains nearest to me, there's more hiking happening this January than snow shoeing!

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