Whether you need snowshoes for practical reasons, or just you want to keep up your fitness regime throughout the winter, snowshoes are essential.
Spreading your weight over a wider surface enables you to walk over snow that you would otherwise sink into – but which snowshoes are right for your needs?
Although people have been using snowshoes for thousands of years to safely traverse wintry conditions, more and more people are discovering that snowshoeing is a great – and a sociable – way of having fun and keeping fit.
Snowshoeing doesn’t cost a fortune – all you need are your snowshoes, suitable clothing and footwear to keep out the cold.
Snowshoeing is easier to learn than snowboarding or skiing. Basically, you need to remember to widen your stance so you don’t stand on the snowshoe frames, how to manage slopes and hills, and how to use poles.
Snowshoeing doesn’t cost a fortune – all you need are your snowshoes, suitable clothing and footwear to keep out the cold, and perhaps a pair of poles to help you get through the more difficult areas. That way, you don’t need to pay for ski lifts!
You will also get fit from the low impact, aerobic workout that snowshoeing will give you, which of course, will depend upon the difficulty of the trails you choose. The more you snowshoe, the fitter you get and the more challenging trails you can undertake.
Snowshoeing is perfect for all ages and abilities and offers great versatility. For example, you can snowshoe in areas that you would not be able to ski in because of obstacles such as trees, or perhaps low snow coverage.
Choosing the Right Snowshoes
This is important, because the last thing you want is to buy a pair of snowshoes that are not suitable for the type of snowshoeing that you want to do. When you start looking for snowshoes, you will discover that there are many styles to choose from, so where do you begin?
The first thing to remember is that although there are lots out there, manufacturers of snowshoes tend to split them into three groups so you will be able to choose a type that will suit your requirements and give you the best value and performance.
Boots should be waterproof and appropriate to the type of snowshoeing that you are planning on doing.
Flat terrain: These snowshoes are designed for walking easily on flat to rolling ground and are ideal for people new to the sport or for families with younger members. This category of snowshoe offers entry-level shoes that are great value.
Rolling terrain: This type of snowshoe is great if you want to hike off the beaten track. They are suitable for rolling to steep conditions and for all terrains – except for very icy or very steep ground.
Mountain terrain: These snowshoes have been designed for the more experienced, and are suitable for steep and icy terrain. These are particularly popular amongst those who like to create their own trails in more extreme territory.
In addition to your snowshoes, you will also need to choose appropriate footwear and clothing. Boots should be waterproof and appropriate to the type of snowshoeing that you are planning on doing.
Gaitors are useful for keeping the snow out of your boots, and choose socks and other clothing that have moisture wicking linings in order to keep you warm and dry. Wool and synthetic fabrics are best. Layering your clothing allows you to adjust it depending upon the weather and your activity.
Snowshoes Buying Specifications
What is the recommended load?
The recommended load for your snowshoes very much depends upon what kind of snowshoeing you will be doing and what you will be carrying. Generally speaking, the heavier the load (you plus your backpack,) the larger the snowshoe.
Snow conditions also impact upon the recommended load – and when you see manufacturers’ recommended loads, they are usually based upon dry, light snow, which demands a larger snowshoe.
Open terrain with snow drifts are easier to manage with a larger snowshoe.
This naturally means that if you are going to be snowshoeing in the Pacific Northwest, for example, where the snow is wetter than that in Utah, then you will need a smaller snowshoe.
It’s certainly worth noting that you should buy the smallest snowshoe that your weight with gear and snow conditions will allow. This is because the larger the snowshoe, the more cumbersome it can be to maneuver. Icy and steep terrain is also easier with smaller shoes.
Open terrain with snow drifts are easier to manage with a larger snowshoe.
Not only do you need to consider the size of your snowshoes in order to calculate which is the best to suit your activity, conditions and recommended load, you also need to have a look at the different shapes of snowshoes that are on the market.
The bear’s paw snowshoe is, as the name suggests, a wide oval shape. This is a great choice for densely wooded areas and mountains with dense snow, but is slower than other snowshoes and it doesn’t work well in powdery snow.
Tear-drop shaped snowshoes come in a variety of sizes – up to four and five feet in length, and their size dictates the recommended load and what they are best suited for. For example, the longest – the Alaskan snowshoe – is used mainly in mountainous areas with deep, powdery snow.
Do these snowshoes have binding?
Naturally, you are going to have to attach your snowshoes to your boots, and for this, you need bindings. There are some things you should check out before you part with your money.
The last thing you want is a binding that is difficult to manipulate – or that comes undone by itself. Make sure that you try a number of different bindings when you are in-store so you can get a proper feel for them, then go ahead to buy online for discounts.
You also need to check out the binding attachment system, which will impact upon how flexible the snowshoe is.
Modern bindings should be manipulated easily – even with a gloved hand, so don’t forget to take your gloves with you. There are many bindings on the market – insulated, shaped and padded – but play around with them until you find the right one.
The three most common types of binding are gel bindings, which bind to the feet and have a snug fit; single pull adjustable bindings, which only need one pull to release; and clam-shell bindings – which are easy to pull off and put on again.
You also need to check out the binding attachment system, which will impact upon how flexible the snowshoe is. There are two systems, the first of which is known as fixed rotation. With this, your foot will remain with the shoe and move with you. The downside to this is that you could get snow piled up against your leg.
The second is the free rotation system, where your foot moves freely. You won’t get snow pile-up and it is good for crampon grab, but can be awkward for negotiating obstacles and walking backwards and could trip you up.
It is also possible to buy bindings separately from the snowshoes if you want to go for a more traditional style used by Native Americans and pioneers.
What activities are the snowshoes suitable for?
Many people buy snowshoes simply because they want to go about their daily routines as easily as possible throughout the winter months. There’s absolutely no fun to be had walking to the bus stop in thick snow that fills your boots.
For others, snowshoes enable them to carry on the fitness regime they started in the summer. Winter is traditionally the time when we tend to hole up and pile on a few extra pounds. Having snowshoes means we can get out there and make sure that doesn’t happen.
If you are a keen runner and enjoy competition, why not enter some of the races that are held throughout the northern states in winter.
If you enjoy jogging, then don’t let winter get in the way and stop you. You can purchase snowshoes that are suitable for running in the snow so you can continue with the serotonin hit and enjoy everything the season has to offer.
For those with an adventurous streak (and the fitness to go with it,) choose snowshoes that will you to venture into more rugged domains, such as mountainous areas with challenging slopes of ice.
If you are a keen runner and enjoy competition, why not enter some of the races that are held throughout the northern states in winter. This activity is increasingly popular, and there are snowshoes designed for speed.
Something else that is gaining in popularity are snowshoe walking holidays. These are available for all degrees of ability, from gentle walking to admire magnificent scenery, to more challenging mountainous trips.
Winter doesn’t have to be a tedious time to be endured until spring arrives. When you have snowshoes, you can enjoy sights and activities that you have never experienced before. If you are new to snowshoes, start small this winter and then see what you will want to achieve next winter!
Are there any accessories included?
If you buy anything these days it is likely to have accessories – which is a good thing because it means that you can add to what you’ve got rather then it becoming redundant and you have to start over with new equipment.
One accessory that you will find for snowshoes are something that we have already talked about – bindings, so we’re not going to repeat ourselves with that one – but remember you can upgrade.
Snowshoe bags are a great way to keep your snowshoes safe – and prevent them from being separated.
Another accessory is tails. These attach to the back of your snowshoe to extend its length and provide extra flotation on the snow. This is particularly useful if you are carrying a heavier than usual pack or having to deal with dry powder snow.
If you are going to be spending longer than usual in freezing conditions, keeping warm has to be a priority. Extremities are always at more risk than other body parts so make sure your feet stay toasty with foot warmers that have heating elements in them.
Other foot warmers include inner soles that are pre-loaded with heating elements that give long-lasting heat once they have been activated and placed in your boots. Don’t let freezing feet detract from your snowshoeing pleasure.
Snowshoe bags are a great way to keep your snowshoes safe – and prevent them from being separated. Who wants to find just one snowshoe when there’s a wintry wonderland waiting? Manufactured from extra-tough fabric, these bags are available in a number of different sizes.
Another accessory that isn’t for your feet, but which will certainly help you when it comes to snowshoeing, are poles. Use to help with your balance and to help prevent fatigue. Some poles can be folded for easy storage.
Are the snowshoes sufficiently padded?
Snowshoes per se are not padded at all. Contemporary snowshoes are constructed with synthetic decking and aluminum frames – although some compact models don’t have a frame at all. Instead, they have a hard decking so it can support your weight. Composite plastic decking tends to be extremely durable, but rubber decking is lighter and more flexible.
The padding, therefore, comes from your boots, and the footwear you choose for your snowshoes depends, in part, as to what you are going to be using your snowshoes for. If you only use them to nip to the local store, then you could decide a pair of thick socks inside your wellington boots is all the padding you need.
Except for extreme landscapes, choose boots that will flex at the ball of your foot, such as lightweight hiking boots.
If you want to do more serious snowshoeing, then your boots need more tough. Modern snowshoes are lightweight so don’t cancel out this advantage by choosing heavy boots. Except for extreme landscapes, choose boots that will flex at the ball of your foot, such as lightweight hiking boots.
Tight boots will restrict your circulation and give you cold feet, so think about choosing boots that are at least a half size too big so there is room for insulating socks with a moisture wicking lining for padding and comfort.
Some snowshoe enthusiasts have got their boot padding down to a fine art, and use layering for the best result. Try a pair of thin polypropylene socks, then a neoprene pair, and then your boots followed by a neoprene cycling bootee – and then gaitors to keep the snow out.
Everyone’s metabolism is different, and some people feel the cold much more than others, so this layering will enable you to adapt to whatever your conditions are and how energetic you are being.
You won’t need to worry about soles with traction on them because your snowshoes will provide that for you, and remember that synthetic materials dry much more quickly than leather.
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