In many locations throughout the northern hemisphere, mid-to-late April signifies the end of winter. Thus, it’s time to hang up our snowshoes for the season. Before simply putting your snowshoeing in storage, consider a few other preservation techniques that will promote the life of your’ shoes. Most modern snowshoes only require simple maintenance (cleaning, repair, storage), whereas a pair of traditional wooden snowshoes will require much more.
My 18-year-old aluminum-frame Tubbs recreational snowshoes, for example, are quite beat up from snowshoeing over and around boulders on rocky terrain. But they are still in okay shape because I take good care of them. Likewise, my 5-year-old Northern Lites Backcountry aluminum-frame shoes are in magnificent shape because of simple maintenance practices.
My traditional snowshoes, however, do need to be treated occasionally to keep them preserved. Most quality snowshoes should last a long time if cared for properly. So, I have some tips to help protect your snowshoes no matter what style you use, modern, or traditional.
Cleaning Your Snowshoes
Before storing my modern aluminum and plastic snowshoes for the season, I clean them. I have three pairs to clean: the Tubbs and Northern Lites’ shoes mentioned above, and I use plastic MSR Denali snowshoes in my snowshoeing classes.
To clean all three styles of modern snowshoes I own, I put some mild dish soap in water. Then, with a rung-out slightly soapy dishcloth, I wipe off the deck, frame, bindings, and cleats. After using the slightly soapy dishcloth, I wipe each snowshoe down with a damp cloth and then dry them with a clean, dry rag. It is important to get dirt and grime off the snowshoes, but even more so, to get off any salt, grease, or chemical residues that could damage the plastic or aluminum.
With my traditional snowshoes, I clean them as well. My pair of Country Ways Ojibwa snowshoes have a wood frame, and neoprene webbed decking and my Green Mountain modified Bearpaw snowshoes have a rawhide decking. At the end of each season, the decking for both pairs of ‘shoes is often dirty, and I have found some signs of corrosion beginning in spots on the leather. So, I clean both pairs with the washcloth, wipe them down, and then let them air dry.
Preserving Your Snowshoes
After you clean them, the next step is preserving your snowshoes, which is only a required step for wooden snowshoes.
When it comes to preserving modern snowshoes before storing them, there is usually nothing that needs to be done to the plastic or aluminum-frame’ shoes.
However, with the wood-frame snowshoes, they need preservation. Especially snowshoes with rawhide webbing require preservation since leather can easily dry out, rot, and crack. Since traditional’ shoes vary in construction, it’s always wise to consult the manufacturer’s recommendations. They will give specific advice relative to their product.
However, here is the method I use to treat my traditional snowshoes. At the end of each season after cleaning, I will dampen a dry cloth with Formby’s Lemon Oil Treatment. This ointment is primarily used for furniture, but the container states, “use regularly on all wood surfaces to help protect wood from drying and cracking.” So, I treat just the wood frame and crossbars with the solution. This application provides luster to the wood and seems to help maintain its strength. I try to keep the oil on the wood only and keep it off the leather or neoprene lacing.
Preserving Rawhide & Neoprene Webbing
To treat rawhide webbing, I use a leather waterproofing product (such as Nikwax). It can be the same product you use on leather hiking boots. I apply the leather waterproofing product with a rag to the rawhide.
I do not coat neoprene or another synthetic webbing, however, since it would not be good for the fabric. The ends of the synthetic webbing may become frayed if you use the leather waterproofing product. Instead, a solution to preserving the neoprene-type ends is to run a match flame or lighter past it, just long enough for it to crust over…such as you would do to the end of a freshly cut rope.
The above treatment of wood, leather, and synthetic webbing is my own approach and not one I found in the snowshoeing literature. So far (knock-on-wood) it has proven to be beneficial to both the frame and decking on my traditional snowshoes.
If your bindings are the “A” or “H” type made of leather, you should consider treating the bindings with leather preservatives too. I replaced the leather bindings on both pairs of my traditional snowshoes with a neoprene binding. So far, I have had no maintenance problems with them, other than some loose strings coming off now and then. I trim those with scissors as needed.
My son-in-law inherited from his grandfather a pair of old Snowcraft Bearpaw snowshoes, a product that was bought out by Maine’s Garland Manufacturing in 1950. His snowshoes are most likely over 50 years old…quite a bit older than my son-in-law; not quite as old as me, however. He uses them for hiking and hunting. Outside of a broken binding strap in need of repair, the wood frame and leather have held up well over all those years. The reason is that my son-in-law takes good care of his shoes by treating both the wood and rawhide regularly.
Read More: Snowshoe Makers & Manufacturers That Were
Refinishing Your Snowshoes
Refinishing may only be needed in certain cases, depending on the condition and age of your’ shoes.
Similar to preserving, modern aluminum and plastic snowshoes will not need refinishing prior to storage.
With traditional snowshoes, the finish on a wood snowshoe frame can sometimes begin to wear off or peel. In this case, you may want to refinish your snowshoes. A treatment to consider using is a quality oil-based exterior varnish or a marine varnish since they are good protectors from moisture. Polyurethane or shellac coatings are also agents to consider. Furthermore, tung oil can be an option as well. Be sure to use products that have UV inhibitors in them as well to guard against sunlight.
Be sure to remove the bindings before taking on this monumental task of refinishing. Then, do a little sanding on the peeled segments of the wood. Coat the wood frame and rawhide webbing completely with a paintbrush or cloth. Sometimes, two or three coats may be better than one, giving ample drying time between coats. But be sure not to coat neoprene webbing.
Remember as well that when applying any oil-based treatment, always wear rubber gloves that are chemical resistant. And when refinishing, do it in a well-ventilated area with temperatures somewhere between 65 and 85 F (18-29 C). In late April, temperatures in my garage and on the back deck often fall in the lower end of that range.
If you don’t want to refinish yourself, another option is to send your traditional snowshoes to the manufacturer and pay to have them do a professional renovation. If the company no longer exists, try contacting any company that makes traditional snowshoes and ask them what it would cost to refinish your existing shoes. Or, have a local furniture refinisher take on the task of refinishing your snowshoes. Either way, it may be a little pricey but well worth it in order to keep a quality pair of traditional snowshoes for many years to come.
Read More: Traditional Snowshoe Care & Maintenance
Repairing Your Snowshoes
Repairs that you may encounter would depend on the type of snowshoe you own. So far I have not made major repairs to my snowshoes. But, I attribute this to owning good quality snowshoes and taking care of them.
If you have an aluminum frame snowshoe, you may have problems with the rivets that attach the decking to the frame. If this is the case, use wire to reattach the missing links. Or consider contacting the manufacturer and ask what repairs they would do and at what cost. If you have a warranty on the shoes, take advantage of having it repaired under warranty.
Other repair problems with modern snowshoes may involve the bindings or the pivot system (the device that allows the binding to swivel on the snowshoe). These repairs may be difficult to undertake, considering the advances of modern technology applied to contemporary bindings and pivots. If you are mechanically inclined and creative, you may be able to solve the repair problem. And again, you could consider checking with the manufacturer about your repair needs as I would do, since I am not mechanically inclined.
Read More: Anatomy of A Snowshoe
When it comes to repairing traditional snowshoes, I did have to repair a short strip of leather on one of my modified bear paws due to not treating the ‘shoes for the first five years that I owned them. I was unaware of proper snowshoe care techniques at that time. But now, they are nearly 20 years old and doing just fine.
However, when the case does arise to do a repair, traditional snowshoes can be a challenge. But it is more practical than repairing the aluminum snowshoes, in that you use woodworking or weaving skills rather than mechanical engineering skills. Leather can be attached and re-laced, as can nylon or neoprene ends be retied.
Once wood frames or wooden crossbars are broke, it is difficult to repair them and maintain the same strength as before. Broken wood frames can be repaired in the field with two splints and nylon cord, cloth tape, or Red Green’s “handyman’s secret weapon” – duct tape. Back in the shop, you would need to repair the damage with glue and sunken bolts. Or again, send them to the manufacturer for repair. One other solution for broken wood frame snowshoes would be to mend the wood with glue only and permanently hang them over the fireplace as decor to add ambiance to your family room.
Finally, the last step: storing your snowshoes. I store my snowshoes in my basement where it is dry and relatively cool during the off-seasons. I hang them from wooden beams where I can visually see them during the summer….to remind me that not too far off I will be taking them down again to go snowshoeing.
Modern aluminum and plastic snowshoes would be safe in most places as long as they are not exposed to moisture. The metal parts like cleats, hinges in pivots, and rivets attaching decking to the frame can rust if stored in damp or wet conditions.
Len McDougall, author of The Snowshoe Handbook writes that he puts a coat of cooking oil over the metal parts, as the oil will produce a gummy waterproof skin that protects against corrosion and can be left on through to the next season’s use.
Also, you’ll want to store your modern snowshoes out of sunlight. The decking of many aluminum-frame shoes is made of neoprene or the commonly used Hypalon material, which can eventually be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Over time, it can result in cracking.
The primary key for the storage of traditional snowshoes is to also keep them dry. Wood-framed traditional snowshoes need to be in a place where they are moisture-free to prevent mold and mildew from developing.
Second, traditional shoes need to be in rodent-free areas. Mice would love to eat the leather on my modified bear paws, and raccoons would love to chew the wood on both pairs of my traditional’ shoes. If left in the garage, mice would most certainly make my shoes a meal. Luckily, raccoons have not gotten in my garage to date though. So, make sure you’re storing your snowshoes in areas not accessible by rodents. Hanging up your snowshoes on pegs in the garage could be an alternative solution.
Finally, keep snowshoes out of direct sunlight. The rays can fade and dry out wood resulting in cracking and warping, as well as bleach out the leather.
Hang Up Your’ Shoes, But Not Your Feet
In the northern hemisphere, April may be the month to hang up your snowshoes for the season. But it is not a time to hang up your feet. Just as the snowshoe racing athlete cross-trains in the summer by jogging and trail running, so should the snowshoe hiking enthusiast remain active by hiking, backpacking, paddling, biking, or participating in other outdoor sports.
Snowshoers need to keep in shape during the non-snow seasons. A healthy policy when hanging up your snowshoes for this season is to dig out from storage your warm-weather outdoor adventure gear. Putting that gear to use will help prepare you for future snowshoeing challenges. So, when you are ready for snowshoeing next winter, you will then put on well-preserved snowshoes and take to the trails with a well-preserved body.
What recommendations do you have for preserving your snowshoes before placing them in storage? Let us know in the comments below!
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