How to Choose Snowshoes: The Ultimate Guide for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Home » How to Choose Snowshoes: The Ultimate Guide for Outdoor Enthusiasts

When the winter season arrives and blankets the outdoor landscapes with snow, hikers need not despair as the outdoors remain accessible. Snowshoes offer a means to traverse snow-covered terrain without sinking or encountering difficulty. This is achieved through the provision of flotation, which effectively distributes one’s weight evenly across a wide and flat surface area.

When selecting appropriate snowshoes, it is crucial to consider three key factors:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the intended terrain: Snowshoes are typically designed for flat, rolling, or mountainous landscapes. Therefore, the specific location where you plan to use them will influence your purchasing decision.
  2. Determine your approximate weight (including gear): Snowshoe specifications should provide information on the total load they can support. Knowing your weight, along with the weight of any additional equipment, is essential in choosing the right snowshoes.
  3. Anticipate the type of snow you will encounter: If you have the option of selecting different sizes, take into account the characteristics of the snow you expect to traverse. For instance, when navigating dry and powdery snow (also known as powder), opting for larger-sized snowshoes may be more suitable. Conversely, if you will be walking on a compacted snowshoe trail, smaller-sized snowshoes could be preferable.

Know Where You Plan to Go—Snowshoe Type by Terrain

Snowshoes can generally be categorized into three main types: flat terrain snowshoes, rolling terrain snowshoes, and mountain terrain snowshoes. Additionally, there are specialized models available for trail-running, fitness, or climbing purposes.

Flat terrain snowshoes, suitable for casual users, typically feature a lower price point, a simple binding system, modest traction features, and no heel lift for navigating steep slopes.

Rolling terrain snowshoes are designed to handle moderately sloped terrain and are not intended for use in steep or icy conditions. These snowshoes usually have a moderate price, moderately aggressive crampons for traction, a sturdy and easily adjustable binding system, and a heel lift for navigating steep slopes in most styles.

Mountain terrain snowshoes are specifically designed to tackle steep and/or icy terrain. These high-end snowshoes typically come with an aggressive crampon system for superior traction, a sophisticated binding system that can accommodate robust boots, and a heel lift for navigating steep slopes in most styles.

In addition to these three main categories, there is also a niche category known as running snowshoes. These snowshoes are tailored for individuals who seek to engage in fast-paced activities and intense aerobic workouts. Running snowshoes are characterized by their lightweight design and ability to allow the feet a full range of motion.

CategoryFlat Terrain SnowshoesRolling Terrain SnowshoesMountain Terrain Snowshoes
PriceLowerModerateHigh-end
Binding SystemSimpleSturdy and easily adjustableSophisticated
Traction FeaturesModestModerately aggressive cramponsAggressive crampon system
Heel LiftNo (for steep slopes)Yes (in many styles)Yes (in most styles)
Suitable TerrainFlat terrainFlat to moderately sloped terrainSteep and/or icy terrain
Main FeaturesAffordable, simple designVersatile, moderate traction, heel lift optionHigh-performance, aggressive traction, heel lift option
Specialized UseCasual usersGeneral terrain conditionsChallenging mountain terrain
Additional ModelsTrail-running, fitness, climbing

This evaluation table provides a comparison of the three categories of snowshoes: flat terrain, rolling terrain, and mountain terrain. It includes key features such as price, binding system, traction features, heel lift, suitable terrain, main features, specialized use, and any additional models available in each category.

Materials Used in Snowshoes

Snowshoes are commonly made with different materials, each offering unique characteristics and benefits. One popular option is aluminum-frame snowshoes, which are known for their lightweight yet sturdy construction. These snowshoes typically have a supportive decking material attached to the frame. The decking can be made of various materials such as plastic, coated nylon, urethane, PVC-coated polyester, or synthetic rubber.

Another type of snowshoe is the composite snowshoe, which features a hard decking material that also forms the outer frame. While these snowshoes are durable and perform well on hard-packed snow, they may produce more noise compared to other materials.

A relatively new innovation in snowshoe design is the use of EVA foam as a primary material. EVA foam snowshoes offer a quiet walking experience and provide insulation to keep the feet warm. The foam material also flexes with each stride, enhancing comfort. However, it should be noted that the integrated grip area on the bottom of EVA foam snowshoes may not offer as much traction as integrated crampons found on other types of snowshoes.

For dog owners, it is worth considering that foam snowshoes are less likely to cause discomfort or injury to furry trail companions if accidentally stepped on.

What size snowshoes are best?

Determining the appropriate size of snowshoes is a relatively straightforward process. The length of the snowshoe is directly linked to the weight of the user and any additional load they may be carrying. To identify the correct size within a specific snowshoe model, one can refer to the recommended weight ranges provided in the size chart. It is important to consider that deeper and fluffier snow conditions require larger snowshoes, as they offer better flotation compared to other types.

When selecting between the typical western round tail snowshoe and the V-Tail snowshoe, it is worth noting that the former performs better in deep, powdery snow, while the latter offers greater ease of walking. Additionally, women’s snowshoes are generally narrower than men’s, as women tend to have a narrower stride. It is recommended to take into account the weight of clothing and any additional gear, such as a backpack, when determining the appropriate snowshoe size. The choice of boots should also be considered based on the intended use. Warmer boots are advisable for walking or hiking, while lighter boots are suitable for more aggressive snowshoeing or running activities. The provided sizing guide serves as a general reference for individuals seeking assistance in selecting the most suitable snowshoe size.

For youth models, 20-inch snowshoes accommodate a maximum weight of 80 pounds, while 21-inch snowshoes can support up to 125 pounds. Moving up in size, 22-inch snowshoes are designed for individuals weighing up to 150 pounds, 25-inch snowshoes for those up to 175 pounds, and 30-inch snowshoes for individuals weighing up to 220 pounds. Finally, 35 or 36-inch snowshoes are rated for weights exceeding 220 pounds. However, when traversing a snow-packed trail, the comfort of walking becomes more crucial than the size of the snowshoe itself.

Weight Range (lbs/kg)Packed SnowSoft SnowSoft and Deep Snow
90-125 lbs. / 41-57 kg22 in / 56 cm22 in / 56 cm25 in / 64 cm or 22 in / 56 cm + Tails
125-175 lbs. / 57-79 kg22 in / 56 cm25 in / 64 cm or 22 in / 56 cm25 in / 64 cm or 22 in / 56 cm + Tails
175-225 lbs. / 79-102 kg22 in / 56 cm25 in / 64 cm or 22 in / 56 cm + Tails30 in / 76 cm + Tails or 22 in / 56 cm + Tails or 25 in / 64 cm + Tails
225 lbs.+ / 102 kg+22 in / 56 cm or 25 in / 64 cm22 in / 56 cm + Tails or 25 in / 64 cm + Tails or 30 in / 76 cm + Tails30 in / 76 cm + Tails or 25 in / 64 cm + Tails

Is it hard to walk in snowshoes?

Walking in snowshoes may initially seem challenging, but with practice, it becomes less daunting. It is important to keep in mind that taking small steps and maintaining parallel foot placement is crucial for stability and ease of movement.

To gain familiarity with snowshoes, it is advisable to begin practicing on level ground. This allows for an understanding of how the equipment functions. Once a level of comfort is achieved, one can progress to walking on inclines and declines. Negotiating hilly terrain presents a challenge as it necessitates maintaining balance using one’s upper body. However, perseverance and practice are key to improving these skills.

Regular breaks are recommended, particularly for those who are unaccustomed to walking in snowshoes. It is worth noting that the difficulty level of this activity is contingent upon the condition of the snow. While it may be physically demanding at times, the rewards of such an endeavor are undoubtedly worthwhile.

How much do good snowshoes cost?

SnowshoePriceCategoryLength(s)Weight (per pair)DeckingCramponHeel LiftBinding SystemBest Use
MSR Evo Trail$170Trail22 in.3 lb. 10 oz.PlasticSteelNoStrap-based designEasy to moderate terrain
MSR Lightning Ascent$390Backcountry22, 25, 30 in.4 lb. 5 oz.NylonSteelYesWrapp Stretch binding with one large piece of rigid meshPacked trails to powder and challenging mountain terrain
Tubbs Flex STP$110Trail24, 28 in.3 lb. 9.6 oz.CompositeSteelNoBasic binding system with composite Torsion DeckAll-out performance on flat terrain
Tubbs Mountaineer$280Backcountry25, 30, 36 in.5 lb. 4.8 oz.NylonSteelYesRotating toe cord, composite Torsion Deck, and impact absorption technologyBreaking new trails and deep powder
Crescent Moon Eva$170Trail24 in.3 lb. 8 oz.FoamSteel spikesNoVelcro binding system and improved durability of the foam constructionRelatively flat terrain and casual snowshoeing adventures
TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Racing$200Running21 in.1 lb. 7 oz.PlasticSteel spikesNoTrimmed-down build and ultralight design for moving fastPacked snow and narrow tails for racers and runners
TSL Symbioz Elite$290Trail/backcountry20.5, 23.5, 27 in.4 lb. 5 oz.CompositeSteel spikesYesAlpine touring frame binding system for rock-solid support and fantastic technical abilitiesSteep terrain in a range of snow conditions
Crescent Moon Sawtooth 27$200Trail27 in.4 lb. 6.4 oz.NylonSteelNoIntuitive binding system and great price for on- and off-trail performanceVersatility for trail hiking
Tubbs Flex VRT$280Backcountry25, 29 in.4 lb. 5.9 oz.CompositeSteelYesBoa closure system for nimble and agile feel on extended climbsPerformance use in deeper snow
Atlas Helium Trail$150Trail23, 26, 30 in.3 lb. 7 oz.CompositeSteelYesWrapp Stretch binding system for a secure and comfortable fit around the footRecreational snowshoeing on packed and groomed trails
Tubbs Panoramic$270Trail/backcountry25, 30, 36 in.4 lb. 8 oz.NylonSteelYesBoa system for quick and easy fit adjustment and comfort on varied terrainA wide variety of conditions from flat to challenging terrain
Atlas Range-Trail$230Trail/backcountry26, 30 in.3 lb. 13 oz.NylonSteelYesDurable aluminum frame and flexible nylon decking for light and responsive feel underfootAll-around grip for moderate hiking to backcountry use
Tubbs Xplore$150Trail25, 30 in.3 lb. 8 oz.NylonSteelNoIntuitive and secure binding system for new or occasional snowshoersCasual winter walks on flat terrain
MSR Revo Explore$270Trail22, 25 in.4 lb. 3 oz.PlasticSteelYesRugged side rails provide more grip than average models in this price rangeRolling and challenging terrain
Yukon Charlie’s Advanced Snowshoes Kit$144Trail21, 25, 30, 36 in.4 lb. 3.2 oz.HDPESteelNo Single-pull binding system with lightweight and reliable aluminum frame All-around value and convenience for beginners to hit the trail

Choosing the right snowshoes is crucial for a successful winter adventure. Consider factors like terrain, weight, and snow conditions. Understand the different types available and choose the appropriate size based on load. Pay attention to materials, bindings, traction features, and footwear. By following this ultimate guide, outdoor enthusiasts can confidently select the perfect snowshoes for their needs and enjoy the beauty of winter landscapes.

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