I was at a friend’s cottage a few weeks ago, and had the run of the place, alone for a couple of days of “R and R.” I had brought my traditional snowshoes (and bindings) along, hoping to head out and take advantage of the scenery. Hopefully, I could do some wildlife tracking and take some photos, as there were rumors of a lynx prowling about the area.
I dressed, gathered my things and was all set to go when what could have been tragedy struck. The binding on one of my traditional style snowshoes snapped. I’d been using the same bindings (leather strap and buckle “A”-style bindings) on this particular pair of snowshoes (a huge pair of Hurons) for as long as I can remember without incident.
Looking back, the scene was actually quite humorous – as I pulled to tighten the leather binding, the leather strap gave way and I tumbled backward into the snow. I had one shoe on, one shoe off, leather strap in hand, and wound up in three feet of snow with my feet in the air.
Fortunately, I had more than one pair of snowshoes with me and was able to change the bindings. After dusting myself off, I was still able to head out into the snow. I didn’t get any Lynx shots, just tracks, but it was still a great outing. However, for many snowshoers, this would have been the end of the road until they could get themselves new bindings.
Importance of Snowshoe Bindings
Snowshoe bindings, traditional and modern, are a critical but often forgotten about snowshoe accessory. Even though I’ve got four different styles of bindings to go with the four pairs of traditional snowshoes that I own, I never really paid much attention to them.
As long as they kept the snowshoes on my feet, all was well. I never considered their functionality or gave them much more than the basic maintenance that the different styles required.
But having a binding snap got me thinking about bindings in a whole new light. Without bindings, snowshoes are nothing more than funny shaped tennis racquets with a big hole in the middle. They’re about as useful in the snow, as speech therapy is to a mime.
Different Traditional Binding Styles
There are as many different binding styles out there for traditional snowshoes as there are snowshoes themselves (probably more). In this article, we’ll focus on common bindings.
A- Style Binding- Leather
My introduction to snowshoes came as a teenager in the mid-80s. I was instantly hooked and asked for a pair of my own for Christmas. I still have that first pair, a gorgeous pair of Hurons (and until recently the bindings as well).
“A”-style bindings have a criss-cross pattern across the foot. The pair I have consisted of a thick leather toe piece that was buckled over both sides of the boot onto the snowshoes. There was also a strap that wound around the back of the foot and buckled in place, which was the offending piece that snapped recently. Prior to the snapping, I’ve had these leather bindings for years.
The drawback that I’ve found with using a leather strap with buckles is that when wet, the leather tends to stretch, allowing the wearer’s foot to come loose from the snowshoe. It can be such a pain to have to stop every 15 minutes to retighten the strap.
Iverson: Leather A and AA Bindings
A Style Binding- Nylon or Neoprene
I also have an “A” style binding that uses a nylon strap. A plastic clip and drawstring lace together to tighten the leather toe piece. “A” style bindings typically adjust easily and are easy to put on and off with a variety of boots. I’ve had these bindings for a couple of years now.
The criss-cross pattern of the “A” tends to hold the boot securely. My only complaint is that the plastic clip that tightens the toe piece has come off on occasion when I’m loosening it to remove my snowshoes. However, maybe this is simply me not paying close enough attention to what I’m doing.
An “A” binding may not also allow as much up and down movement when compared to other bindings, such as the “H” style described below.
Of the two “A” styles, my personal preference lies with the nylon A-style compared to the leather version. Doing up the buckles on the leather pair in –30 degrees Celsius is never a treat. On the other hand, the plastic clip on the newer version is simpler and quicker to do up. The nylon strap is also an improvement, as it doesn’t stretch and come loose.
Iverson: Neoprene A and AA Bindings
Country Ways: Super A Binding
H-Style Binding- Leather
The “H” style binding has a strap crossing the boot, along with a toe and heel strap. The one I have the most experience with consists of a leather toe strap and a leather strap that wraps around the boot.
Of the four bindings that I’ve used, this is the one that has generally given me the most grief – the leather heel strap frequently comes loose in warmer weather.
In general, though, it has performed adequately. However, when I compare it to the A- style and lamp wick bindings mentioned here, it is the most troublesome for me.
GV Snowshoes: Traditional Leather Bindings
Iverson: Leather H-Bindings
H-Style Binding- Nylon or Neoprene
Similar to the “A” style, the “H” strap can also be made with nylon or neoprene. These materials may present a stronger option that, opposed to leather, won’t stretch with changing conditions.
An “H” style neoprene binding provides a very stable connection and typically more movement of the boot. It also caters to a variety of different boot sizes. However, it can be difficult to adjust and requires more work to put on than most “A” style bindings.
Country Ways: Modified H Binding
Iverson Neoprene H-Binding
Rachet bindings are newly made for traditional snowshoes. These bindings are more commonly used on ski boots and in some modern snowshoe styles. Rachet bindings provide stability for the boot and are easy to slip on and adjust to different boot sizes. However, they are a heavier binding and may require some finesse when attaching to some traditional snowshoe styles.
Lamp Wick Binding
The traditional Native binding was simply a softened piece of leather. It was wound around in a sort of figure eight to secure the wearer’s moccasins to his/her snowshoes. Eventually, lamp wick was used in this manner.
I’ve got an old pair of Huron style snowshoes that came with lamp wick for bindings. It took a while to master the technique of tying them. But once I got the hang of it, they worked out quite well. Once tied, you can simply slip your foot in and out, which is a huge plus if you should happen to lose your balance in deep snow (no buckles or straps to fiddle with).
Explaining how they are tied just isn’t the same as seeing it. Garrett and Alexandra Conover’s The Winter Wilderness Companion does an excellent job illustrating how this is done. As I mentioned in a previous article, I highly recommend picking up a copy.
This style of binding tends to work best with a moccasin or high boot. With a low-cut boot, it can slip up over the boot if not tied perfectly, causing your snowshoe to come loose. For traditionalists, this is the way to go. It is also rather inexpensive.
Rubber bindings do not include straps and are mounted to the snowshoe. The flexible material fits a wide range of boot styles and sizes. These bindings are easy to slip in and out of but may not provide the support and range of movement compared to “A” or “H” bindings.
Country Ways: Flexy Rubber Bindings
Faber: Rubber Binding
Remember To Maintain Your Traditional Snowshoe Bindings
Just a quick word on binding maintenance – if your bindings are leather, they will require treating them with a water-repellant leather preservative.
It’s also a good idea to keep any metal buckles lubricated. I like a silicon-based lubricant for this.
As with snowshoes, bindings are a personal preference. For me, a modified “A”-style binding works well. But the best advice that I can give you is to try out a number of styles and see what works.