SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

Traditional Wooden Snowshoes: Shapes, Designs, and Names

teardrop snowshoe

Traditional snowshoe with a teardrop frame shape

Traditional snowshoes have been around for thousands of years. They were first developed as a method of transportation from place to place, and like modern snowshoes, they evolved. When choosing a traditional wooden snowshoe, there are various design features and styles to be aware of, each serving a unique purpose.


 

Traditional Wooden Snowshoe Design Features & Morphology

The distinctive design features of traditional snowshoes or raquettes are the frame shape, frame points, and the crossbar. When we refer to the morphology of the snowshoe, we are referring to the “shape, form, external structure or arrangement [of the snowshoe], esp. as an object of study or classification” 1


Frame Shape

traditional snowshoes- lenticular frames

Lenticular and ovular frame-shaped traditional snowshoes

Most traditional snowshoes include a one or two-piece frame. Additional components are attached within and upon the frame. There are only a few exceptions to this design. The first exception is solid-bodied snowshoes, which are made from a single plank of wood or injection-molded plastic. The second exception is those used as an emergency device made from bundled boughs.

The frame shape of traditional snowshoes tends to be the most distinctive identifying feature. Common shapes include:

  • ovular – egg-shaped or shaped like an oval
  • lenticular – lens-shaped
  • teardrop – rounded on the front-end, a distinctive point on the back-end, similar to a tear
  • rectangular
  • round shape or footed- less common, footed means one of the two snowshoes is designed to be worn on the left foot and the other to be worn on the right

If viewed from the side, the frame may be either flat or upturned at one or more points, which leads us to our next design feature.


Frame Points

example of curved snowshoe nose

The nose upturn seen here is more than slight, less than extreme.

Another distinctive feature of traditional snowshoes is the shape at their ends (or lack of ends in the case of round snowshoes). The front end/nose is the point at which an upturn is most likely to be seen. The front end/nose shape can be a straight edge to a point, or a cusp, or somewhere in between. A straight edge nose is part of the rectangular design, and a cusp is a pointed end where two curves meet. The two-piece frame design forms the cusp.

As with the front end, the back end of a snowshoe may be rectangular, rounded, or come to a point. A protruding tail may or may not be present at the very back end of the snowshoe. If the tail is relatively small compared to the whole snowshoe, it is either a swallowtail (pointed) or a beavertail (rounded). If the tail is relatively long compared to the entire snowshoe, it is a ‘trailer. A trailer must also come to a point, and the majority of the tail length must contain no webbing.


Crossbar(s).

toe and heel bar- traditional snowshoes

The toe bar and heel bar on a Snocraft elbow snowshoe

The frame of most snowshoes includes at least one slat running side-to-side between the inner edges of the frame, known as a crossbar. A common configuration consists of two crossbars. One crossbar is placed near the front end (toe-bar), and the other is near the back end (heel bar).

Configurations including more than two crossbars typically include a toe bar and a heel bar with the remaining crossbars utilized as spacers. Snowshoes with a single crossbar may see it placed 1) as a toe bar or 2) roughly along the shortest area horizontally across the snowshoe.

Read More:
Making Your Own Snowshoes From Scratch
Traditional Snowshoe Bindings 101


Traditional Snowshoe Types & Styles

Snowshoes come in a variety of conventionally named typed and styles, each with different design features discussed above 2


Elbow

Elbow snowshoes

Elbow snowshoes by Snocraft.

An elbow snowshoe, using the strictest sense of the term,3

  1. has an ovular frame,
  2. lacks a tail/trailer,
  3. has a slightly upturned or flat nose, and
  4. incorporates both a toe bar and a heel bar.

Elbow snowshoes are an excellent choice for those who spend time in dense undergrowth. Tailed snowshoes may snag on the deadfall or underbrush. However, since the elbow snowshoe does not have a tail, it has a definite advantage.


Bearpaw

A Bearpaw snowshoe, using the strictest sense of the term:

  1. has an ovular frame,
  2. lacks a tail/trailer,
  3. incorporates a toe bar, and
  4. does not have a heel bar.

At some point in the past, the scope of the term Bearpaw expanded. It has now come to encompass all tailless wood frame snowshoes. In past times, the majority of snowshoes currently marketed as Bearpaws would have been Elbow snowshoes.

Bearpaw snowshoe manufacturers include:

GV Snowshoes
Rawhide Laces, 12 x 30  or Synthetic Laces, 12 x 30
Synthetic Laces, 14 x 32
Synthetic Laces, 16 x 32


Modified Bearpaw

The term ‘modified Bearpaw’ may refer to one of two types of snowshoes. The first is of the form innovated by Floyd Westover, an ovular snowshoe with both toe and heel bars and with a swallowtail. Not surprisingly, this type of snowshoe is also known as a Westover-style snowshoe.4 The second type of modified Bearpaw is known as a Green Mountain-style snowshoe, described below.

Modified Bearpaw snowshoe manufacturers include:

Iverson
Rawhide, 12 x 35 or Neoprene, 12 x 35
Rawhide, 13 x 35 or Neoprene,13 x 35

GV Snowshoes
Rawhide Laces, 10 x 30 or Synthetic Laces, 10 x 30
Synthetic Laces, 10 x 36 or Rawhide Laces, 10 x 36
Rawhide Laces, 11 x 40 or  Synthetic Laces, 11 x 40

Maine Guide Snowshoes
13 x 36; 14 x 36

Faber
14 x 30; 16 x 30


Green Mountain

A Green Mountain snowshoe is:

  1. lenticular
  2. tailless
  3. incorporates both a toe and a heel bar, and
  4. has a moderate upturn at the nose

The Green Mountain is the traditional form used most by contemporary snowshoe models. However, modern models use an aluminum frame instead of wood for the Green Mountain.

The narrow width of the Green Mountain decreases flotation and may sink more in deep snow. On the other hand, the design helps snowshoe on narrow upland paths and will stow conveniently beneath backpack compression straps.

Green Mountain snowshoe manufacturers include:

Iverson
Rawhide 9 x 30 or Neoprene, 9 x 30
Neoprene, 10 x 36 or Rawhide 10 x 36
Rawhide 12 x 44 or Neoprene 12 x 44

Country Ways
10 x 36


Huron

Huron snowshoe- traditional snowshoe type

Huron or Michigan snowshoes.

A Huron snowshoe is

  1. teardrop-shaped
  2. has a moderately upturned nose
  3. has a distinctly long trailer compared to its overall length
  4. incorporates both a toe and a heel bar

The Huron snowshoe is also sometimes known as the Michigan style snowshoe and excels on flat and rolling country covered by deep snowpack. The upturned noses help avoid digging into snowbanks, and nasty face plants. Additionally, the long tails help the snowshoes track straight across rolling terrain and through drifts.

Huron snowshoe manufacturers include:

Country Ways
12 x 42

GV Snowshoes
Rawhide Laces, 9 x 29
Synthetic Laces, 10 x 33
Rawhide Laces, 11 x 36 or Synthetic Laces, 11 x 36
Rawhide Laces, 12 x 42 or Synthetic Laces, 12 x 42
Synthetic Laces, 14 x 48 


Ojibwe

Ojibwe snowshoes- traditional snowshoe type

Ojibwe snowshoes.

An Ojibwe, also called Ojibwa snowshoe is distinguished by:

  1. a cusped and prominently upturned nose
  2. long overall length, which may reach five feet
  3. incorporate a trailer
  4. often make use of three or more crossbars

Because of their length, Ojibwe snowshoes are not a recommended choice when climbing is required. However, they are excellent for use on flat ground. The Ojibwe have a large surface area and, therefore, recommended for large wearers or when bearing heavy loads.

Read More: Crossing Paths On My Ojibwa Snowshoes

Obijwe(a) snowshoe manufacturers include:

GV Snowshoes
Synthetic Laces, 10 x 48
Synthetic Laces, 11 x 54

Iverson Snowshoes
Rawhide 11 x 56 or Neoprene 11 x 56
Rawhide 12 x 60 or Neoprene 12 x 60

Country Ways
9 x 36; 10 x 48; 11 x 54; 12 x 60

Faber
11 x 48; 12 x 60


Alaskan

Alaskan snowshoes

Alaskan or pickerel snowshoe.

An Alaskan snowshoe is a similar type of snowshoe to the Ojibwe snowshoe. The key features of the Alaskan snowshoe are:

  1. long overall length, which may reach five feet
  2. incorporate a trailer
  3. often make use of three or more crossbars
  4.  a rounded nose (as opposed to the cusp nose of the Ojibwe)

The Alaskan is also best when traveling flat ground and carrying heavy loads.

Alaskan snowshoe manufacturers include:

GV Snowshoes
Synthetic Laces, 10 x 46 
Rawhide Laces, 10 x 56 or Synthetic Laces, 10 x 56

Maine Guide Snowshoes
12 x 60

Iverson Snowshoes
Rawhide 10 x 56 or Neoprene, 10 x 56
Rawhide 12 x 60 or Neoprene 12 x 60

Country Ways
10 x 56; 12 x 60


Montagnais
A Montagnais snowshoe has the following characteristics:

  1. markedly round with little or no upturn at the nose,
  2. incorporates a swallow or beavertail.

The width of this type makes for a less than natural stride. Additionally, this traditional snowshoe type evolved in Subarctic areas for large amounts of snow. Thus, the large surface area of this snowshoe provides a tremendous amount of flotation (less sinking) in deep powder and drifts. 

Read More: 4 Kinds of Snowshoes For Big People & Heavy Loads

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Notes

Most recent revision: October 2019 
1. oed.
2. Prater, chart I and Heilman are good summaries of named snowshoe styles.
3. “Mushu Innu Bearpaw Snowshoes,” Hudson Museum.
4. See Heilman as well as Norton.
5. Pospisil.

Bibliography

Burgesse, j.a. “Snow shoes,” The Beaver 271: 24–28. Mar 1941.

Davidson, Daniel Sutherland. Snowshoes. Vol. 6 in Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, 1937. OCLC = 3394641.

Drummond, Thomas. “The Canadian snowshoe,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, section 2. Series 3, vol. 10: 305–20 + pl. 1–6. Dec. 1916.

Heilman, Carl, ii. “If you can walk… you can snowshoe.” http://www.carlheilman.com/snowshoes-walk.html. 2008.

Hudson Museum, The University of Maine. Snowshoes: a gift from Gluskabe. [Online exhibition.] http://umaine.edu/hudsonmuseum/exhibits/online/snowshoes/. 2009.

Mason, Otis Tuft. “Primitive travel and transportation,” pp. 237–593 + pl. 1–25 in Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1894. Washington, 1896. (see pp. 381–410 for information on snowshoes)

Norton, Mortimer. “Outdoors,” Schenectady Gazette, February 2, 1963, 17. Available online via Google News at http://tinyurl.com/a3znd73.

oed = Oxford English Dictionary Online. “morphology, n.” September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/122369?redirectedFrom=morphology& (accessed November 15, 2012).

Osborne, Carolyn M.; Appleby, Kristyn; Kershner, Pat. “A technical analysis of three forms of Sub-Arctic snowshoes,” Arctic Anthropology 14(2): 41–78. 1977.

Pospisil, Allan. “At Vermont Tubbs they still make snowshoes the way they used to,” Sports Illustrated 51(21): 6. November 19, 1979. Available online at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1126307/index.htm.

Prater, Gene. Snowshoeing: from novice to master. 5th edn., Dave Felkley, ed. Seattle: Mountaineers Books. 2002. OCLC = 427437682.

Speck, Frank G. “Notes on the material culture of the Huron,” American Anthropologist, n.s., 13(2): 208–28 + pl. Viii–XI Apr.–Jun. 1911. DOI: 10.1525/aa.1911.13.2.02a00020.

Wintertrekking.com. Traditional snowshoe designs. http://wintertrekking.com/snowshoeing/traditional-snowshoe-designs/. 2012.

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