It can be initially confusing to select a shoe to wear snowshoeing since there are so many options available on the market. However, you can find a boot that will work well if you remember these tips for selecting your snowshoe footwear.
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Keep It Light
Try to get by with the lightest shoe or boot possible. Do not negate the advantage you get with a new pair of high-tech and lightweight snowshoes by wearing heavy boots with them. Snowshoeing is a highly aerobic activity that produces heat, and the extra insulation you get from some of the winter boots out there may not be needed, depending on your body’s temperature.
Instead, think about what would be best to wear if you covered your chosen distance without snowshoes. Except for extreme conditions, footwear that flexes at the ball of the foot is best. Many people snowshoe in lightweight hiking boots or even running shoes.
If your feet tend to get cold, solid nylon uppers on the shoe are warmer than mesh. You can also look for Thinsulate, which adds some warmth to the shoe, or layer your footwear. Each person has different needs regarding warmth. So, try to purchase the lightest weight footwear that will suit your specific need but not weigh you down.
An example lightweight all-season boot:
Keen Durand Hiking Boot Video
Make It Waterproof
When looking for new snowshoeing footwear, make sure they are waterproof. Wet feet are the last thing you want on an outing and can lead to disaster.
To avoid wet feet, look for waterproof boots containing membranes that keep water out and let sweat escape. Typically, nylon and synthetic uppers dry faster than leather.
An example waterproof boot for those freezing snowshoe days:
Pay Attention To Design
Ensure your shoes have some visible notch or protrusion on the back of the heel where the heel strap of the snowshoe binding can rest so that it does not repeatedly slip off when snowshoeing. Boots with rounded heel areas are poor choices for snowshoeing.
Additionally, check the lacing on the shoe or boot to ensure it stays tight and keeps your foot secure for the duration of your outing. There is nothing more frustrating than having your laces come untied while snowshoeing.
The cut of the shoe (high, mid, low) and level of ankle support is a matter of preference. Ideally, your snowshoe binding will provide foot stability and security. For this reason, always make sure to test the binding on your snowshoe before purchasing. If you choose to snowshoe in mid or low-cut hiking boots, make sure to wear gaiters over your boot, so you don’t get snow in your shoes while snowshoeing.
The traction underneath the shoe is also a matter of preference. While on your outings, the snowshoe, not your boot or shoe, provides traction. For this reason, in addition to winter boots, you can use light hiking boots, Canadian leather moccasins, or old running shoes for your snowshoe boots (you no longer need the thick comfortable midsole as the snow is soft). You can even use tennis shoes, as long as you cover or spray them with water-repellent fabric.
Layer Your Footwear
Consider using a half-to-full size larger boot or shoe to accommodate another layer of insulating socks. Tight shoes will restrict circulation and lead to cold feet.
Instead, try to use the layering concept for your feet. You want a system that is lightweight and adaptable to a wide range of conditions and use.
You will not need all layers for all conditions. Everyone is different, with different metabolic rates, blood flow patterns, and resistance to cold. You have to pick something that suits you best.
For example, I currently use the following layers, listed inside to out:
- pair of thin polypropylene liner socks (like these)
- water-resistant socks, like those made of neoprene (like these) or merino wool – avoid cotton socks since they will soak in moisture when wet
- running shoe or light hiking boot
- stretchy neoprene cycling over bootie
- gaiter or supergaiter (like this one)
I can use the layers that I need for the intensity, duration, and weather conditions of that day, and it all weighs less and is just as warm as big thick pair of boots on cold days.
As long as your shoe or boot is waterproof, provides the level of warmth you need, and ideally is light, you may not need to purchase a new pair of boots for snowshoeing.
In fact, an old comfortable pair of shoes/boots you already own may work best. Old shoes you already own can require no additional expense. As mentioned, the worn tread should not be an issue since your snowshoe is providing traction. Old stretched-out shoes accommodate another pair of socks well, and they are broken in, so they will flex well in the cold. The uppers already conform to your feet, and there are probably few tight spots.
What recommendations do you have for choosing your footwear for snowshoeing? What’s your favorite boot or shoe to use? Please let us know in the comments below.
This article was originally published on Dec 12, 2004, and was last updated by Susan Kurzeka on Sept 23, 2021, to include new information.