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A Primer on Snowshoes

person in blue jacket snowshoeing with white dog

You’ve seen it in the movies. Frontier men bound up tightly in animal pelts, braving the harsh northern cold, doing their best to make it through the deepest snow imaginable. One of the best tools at their disposal? A good pair of snowshoes.

Chances are, you’ve enjoyed many of the outdoor activities winter has to offer (e.g. skiing, skating, sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling etc.), but snowshoeing is possibly one you haven’t explored yet. Snowshoeing can introduce you to previously inaccessible areas during winter explorations and is a great activity the whole family can enjoy.

Let’s go over some snowshoe basics and how you should go about finding the right set for your adventures this snowy season.

How Do Snowshoes Work?

Boots with red laces on snowshoes in the snow
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

The main idea behind snowshoes is that you increase the area of your walking surface. This way, your weight is spread out over the snow so you won’t sink down to the bottom.

Have five feet of snow covering your favorite trails? No problem, with the right set of snowshoes. Just make sure you have a proper pair of winter boots.

You Will Sink a Little

Snowshoe footprints in snowy forrest
Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

A common misconception is that snowshoes essentially allow you to float on top of the snow. In fact, you will sink down some (~3-6 inches) as the shoe packs the snow and it begins to hold your weight. How deep you go will depend on how dense the snow is (you’ll sink more in fluffy powder).

Because of this, snowshoes are really best utilized in fairly deep snow (10 inches or more). Just remember, this little bit you might sink is nothing compared to trying to walk through waist-deep drifts.

Pick Your Material

Many snowshoes leaning against a rail on a snowy hill
Image by kigapaed from Pixabay

The two main types of snowshoe frames are aluminum and composite. Aluminum shoes are light-weight and a great choice for staying on top of fresh powder. They can also be quite large though, with the biggest options reaching three feet in length.

Composite snowshoes are more dense and compact. They’re the better choice for wet, packed snow and icy conditions.

Get a Grip

Flip your snowshoes over and you will see some jagged metal teeth. These are called “crampons” and they are crucial for getting traction in the ice and snow.

Based on the conditions you typically snowshoe in, you may prefer different crampon configurations. For example, heel crampons are important for going downhill whereas crampons along the side of the shoe support stability.

Bindings: Fixed or Free?

Orange composite snowshoes on snow
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Fixed rotation bindings are a good option for folks who want their feet to feel secure and for traversing obstacles like rocks and downed trees.

Free rotation bindings allow your feet a full range of movement. If you have stronger ankles, these are a good option for a more natural walking motion.

Poles are a Must

Man in red jacket snowshoeing across a frozen lake
Photo by Alec Moore on Unsplash

For safety and effective backcountry touring, bring some ski or dedicated snowshoeing poles along on your snowshoe outing. They’ll help you keep steady in steep terrain and reduce leg fatigue by bringing your arms into the mix.

Your First Snowshoe Set

Black Tubbs snowshoe kit
Image by Gander RV & Outdoors

If you or a loved one is interested in giving snowshoeing a try, check out this complete kit by Tubbs that has everything you need to get started. It comes with a quality set of composite shoes with toe crampons, adjustable poles, and a carrier tote.

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Thinking about your first set of snowshoes? Let us know how we can help in the comments below!

A primer on snowshoes


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