Anytime you’re using snowshoes to put more than 200lbs/90kg atop unpacked snow—be it powder, wet, or crusted—you’re going to want to spread it out across as much space as is practical. The greater the snowshoe’s surface area, the more evenly it can distribute weight and limit post-holing, especially in deep snow. Thus, snowshoes that tend to have a greater surface area tend to be best for carrying big people and heavy loads.
My informed opinion is that you should go with no smaller than a 10″ x 36″ or 12″ x 30″ pair of raquettes for the task. However, you’ll also want to consider your foot size. Buying a pair of snowshoes that is too large for your foot could lead to other complications, including altercations to your natural stride. Thus, when choosing your snowshoe, it’s important to look at whether the binding will fit your shoe size. This guide is broken up into the following categories to help you find what ‘shoe is best for you.
You’ll notice that each snowshoe comes with a recommended weight range, which typically relates to the snowshoe’s ability to help you “float” on the snow. In many cases, you can use the snowshoe above the recommended weight range. However, the floatation will decrease, meaning you will sink further in the snow.
If your goal is to travel in deep snow, it’s best to choose a snowshoe that has a max weight range above the weight you’ll be carrying if possible. For packed conditions, the weight ranges tend to be more flexible. Thus, you may be able to get away with choosing a ‘shoe with a lower weight recommendation. But, always check the manufacturer’s recommendations since the weight ranges for floatation/packed snow can vary.
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Option 1: Traditional wood frame and babiche webbing snowshoes
Traditional snowshoes come in a variety of conventional shapes and designs, each specialized for a particular environmental niche. They are great snowshoes for big people and heavy loads because they tend to have a larger surface area. My impression is that traditional snowshoes provide more floatation per square inch than metal and synthetic models, but that is admittedly up for debate.
However, two things are beyond debate when comparing traditional and metal and synthetic models.
- Traditional snowshoes are quieter. So, apart from the aesthetic experience, this makes them an excellent choice for hunters and wildlife photographers.
- You can’t just ride them hard and put them up wet. You can ride ’em hard, but you need to put ’em up dry and airy to ensure long life.
If you look in the right places and ask the right people (for example, Lure of the North), you might be able to find wood frame snowshoes laced with neoprene or monofilament (heavy fishing line) webbing. The “why” is to reduce maintenance requirements and, especially with the monofilament webbing, to minimize moisture retention and extra weight in lake slush and/or over the course of multi-day treks. I have never used a pair of neoprene or monoline webbing snowshoes myself, but I have been told that they can be an excellent choice when well-crafted.
Here are a few examples of traditional snowshoes to consider.
Option 2: Wood frame and synthetic decking snowshoes
Faber offers a model that combines a wood frame with synthetic decking, made of copolymer, which is more rigid than Hypalon. The Winter Rover is available in 8 x 28 (up to 200 lbs), 9 x 30 (up to 250 lbs), and 10 x 36 (up to 300 lbs). In the past, Faber also offered their Winter Guide model, which I have put some miles on and think highly of them.
The components of the hybrid models function well when the temperature is right at the freezing mark, as slushy snow neither “balls” on the wood frame nor soaks the synthetic decking. Moreover, the hinged binding is more efficient than a traditional lashed-on binding, and the traction is sufficient for the icy spots you will inevitably encounter.
Option 3: Aluminum frame and synthetic decking snowshoes
In addition to traditional wooden models, you can also use modern snowshoes made of aluminum or other materials for carrying heavy loads. Wide models greater than 12″ and lenticular (lens-shaped) or teardrop-shaped models of modern snowshoes tend to have the widest surface area and thus, have the greatest chance of supporting heavy loads.
I am a big fan of wide snowshoes for flat and rolling terrain. But, as far as I know, only two companies manufacture metal frame/synthetic decking models in widths of 12″ or greater, Faber and GV. Regarding lenticular snowshoes, I have found these tend to be a better choice for steep terrain, and many people prefer them for all-around use.
Here are a few examples of some modern snowshoes to consider:
Mountain Quest backcountry 9 x 30, 10 x 36, 13 x 30, 11 x 40 (supporting 250 lbs/113 kg to 350 lbs/159 kg)
Mountain Pro recreational 8 x 28, 9 x 30, 10 x 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
North Hiker recreational 9 x 29, 10 x 34 (supporting 225 lbs/102 kg to 275 lbs/125 kg)
North Lander recreational 9 x 29, 10 x 34 (supporting 225/102 kg to 275 lbs/125 kg)
Mountain Expert technical 8 x 28, 9 x 30, 10 x 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Mountain Master technical 8 x 28, 9 x 30, 10 x 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Wide Trail 11 x 28, 11 x 38, 12 x 33, 12 x 42 (supporting 200/90kg to 280 lbs/127 kg)
Winter Walker recreational 26, 30, 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 280 lbs/127 kg)
Appalaches II recreational 8 x 25, 9 x 30, 10x 36 (supporting 220 lbs/100 kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Massif recreational 8 x 25, 9 x 30, 10x 36 (supporting 220 lbs/100 kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Blizzard III technical 8 x 25, 9 x 30, 10x 36 (supporting 220 lbs/100 kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
As a note, MSR snowshoes also have a tail extender option, which attaches to the snowshoe to provide extra length for better floatation in deep snow. The tail extenders can bring the weight support up to 280-300 lbs.
Wilderness recreational 25, 30, 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Panoramic recreational 25, 30, 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Mountaineer technical 25, 30, 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Option 4: Magnesium frame and stainless steel webbing snowshoes
As an alternative to traditional and modern models, military snowshoes are another option for big people and heavy loads. Magnesium frame, stainless steel webbing military surplus snowshoes, are widely available online and in Army-Navy stores.
These Magline manufactured snowshoes combine the dimensions of a traditional Huron snowshoe with the durability of metal components. They also take advantage of the switch from wood to magnesium to add some frame-based traction in the form of some small teeth to provide a little grip for icy patches and light climbing.
I have yet to have the opportunity to try a pair of these out, but they have a generally good reputation, except for two caveats:
1. This model has a reputation for very poor performance in wet snow. I imagine that globs of snow clump atop the decking and that both the frame and the webbing are subject to the “balling” problem that the Faber hybrid models evade.
2. If you purchase a pair of these, they may come with a set of nylon military issue bindings thrown in at no additional charge. These I have used, and there is a reason they would be thrown in for free: they are absolute garbage. Thus, do yourself the favor of purchasing a set of COTS bindings designed for traditional snowshoes sooner rather than later.
Bindings for Large Boot Sizes
With so many binding variations, it can be tough to know which one to choose for large boot sizes. For an easy fit, simple 2 or 3 strap bindings or a simple lacing mechanism are the best bet. Also, you’ll want to avoid bindings that have toe boxes or other mechanisms that will impede the foot.
Some manufacturers, such as MSR and Tubbs, will include shoe size recommendations in their snowshoe specs. Most simple strap bindings, including the A and H strap bindings on many traditional snowshoes, can fit a men’s 13-14 size shoe. However, some manufacturers offer longer strap options. For example, I’ve read that straps on most Northern Lites snowshoes can fit up to a 16 size boot, and MSR offers 18-inch straps that you can purchase for your snowshoes. But, if there is any concern on whether the boot will fit, I would recommend contacting the manufacturer to check the binding strap length.
What other recommendations do you have? Also, are there snowshoes that you regularly use to carry heavy loads? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
This article was originally published on Dec 8, 2014, and Susan Wowk updated it to include additional information on March 18, 2021.