Definitive Guide – How to Choose the Perfect Snowshoes for Your Needs

Snowshoes inside Tromsø Outdoor.

The snowshoe market is flooded with all sorts of products. This is why novice trackers and mountain climbers can have a problem choosing the right ones. There are too many things to take into account, and one can easily end up with a pair that doesn’t meet their personal requirements.

We stand by one simple principle – buying your first pair of snowshoes should not turn into an agonizing decision-making process. In order to help you with your shopping, we decided to put together a definitive guide. Let’s see how to choose the perfect snowshoes for your needs.

Master The Sizing Of Your Snowshoe

The main functionality of snowshoes is flotation. The bottom area serves as a flotation “device” that distributes your weight equally on the snowshoe. This is why size matters. The size will, in fact, dictate the amount of flotation.

Past, Present and future snowshoes

Since snowshoe sizes range from 20 to 36 inches, at the start, it might appear too complicated to find a perfect fit.

However, there is a solution! In order to master the sizing of your snowshoe, you will have to factor in the conditions you plan to encounter and your weight.

The Conditions

In order to successfully break your own trail, you will need to take in to account the location of your trail and the type of the terrain and snow you will go through. For instance, treading on compacted and dense trails will require significantly smaller snowshoes compared to ones you will need for deep, powdery trails.

The Weight Range

If you look in to the specs, every snowshoe has a recommended weight range. You will also quickly notice that different models have different recommended weight ranges. Bear in mind that the weight does not only refer to your body weight, but your body weight including all the gear you are going to carry on you. The recommended weight ranges go as follows:

  • 80 – 150 lb (36 – 68 kg) weight range is common for 20 in (51 cm) models
  • 120 – 200 lb (54 – 91 kg) weight range is common for 25 in (63.5 cm) models
  • 170 – 250 lb (77 – 113 kg) weight range is common for 30 in (76 cm) models, and
  • 220 – 300 lb (100 – 136 kg) weight range is common for 36 in (91.5 cm) models

For more information on choosing a snowshoe that can accommodate heavier weights and loads, especially when in deep and powdery snow, check out Four Kinds of Snowshoes For Big People and Heavy Loads.

Consider The Use

Before you decide which model to purchase, you have to consider the scenarios you are planning to use them for. This will help you look for specific features and snowshoe sizes. Here are the most common snowshoe types.

A hiker with plastic decking snowshoes

Hiking Snowshoes

Hiking snowshoes are also known as recreational snowshoes. They are very popular among novice trackers and come in a number of different designs. These types of snowshoes usually have several common features – a simple traction system, and webbing-based bindings.

They are suitable for flat terrains and rolling hills. Due to the simple features, these snowshoes are among the most affordable ones.

Atlas Race Snowshoes.

Atlas Race Snowshoes

Running Snowshoes

With snow workouts becoming immensely popular, it should be no surprise to stumble upon running snowshoes during your snowshoe browsing. These snowshoes are designed to support any fitness activity on the snow. Running snowshoes are intended for trackers who prefer flat and groomed terrains. Compared to regular snowshoes, these ones are narrower and shorter.

Backcountry Snowshoes

If there was a prestigious title of “the most technical snowshoes”, backcountry snowshoes would definitely win it. This is why these shoes are usually more pricey when compared to other models. They pack advanced features and are made of very durable materials. If you are planning on breaking your trail through deep snow, or steep and icy terrain, these snowshoes are a must have.

Backcountry snowshoes feature properly sized bindings so that people wearing snowboard or winter boots can wear them easily. You will also frequently find crampons on them, including rear ones.

Know Your Features

Just as important as knowing your terrain, you’ll also want to know the features on a snowshoe. This will help you narrow down your options and enable you to make a smart purchasing decision.

Bindings

We’ve decided to list bindings as the first feature on our list because it is the most important one, in our humble opinion. Before we take a look at the bindings, make sure to decide which footwear you will use with your snowshoes:

    • Backcountry snowshoes support bigger boots
    • Running snowshoes support running shoes

Once you make your decision, you will have to stick with it. Be advised – the bindings cannot be replaced.

There are several types of bindings:

  • Nylon webbing straps are the most common straps found on entry-level snowshoes. They are great because they allow you to adjust your snowshoes for a great variety of footwear. On a side note, they tend to stretch over time, especially in wet and cold environments.
  • Rubber or polyurethane straps are the most common straps across the board. They are better than nylon ones because they don’t stretch due to elements and low temperatures.
  • Ratchet straps are very similar to those you can find on snowboards. They are easy to use and will allow you to adjust bindings according to your specific needs.
  • Boa closure is the most secure type of binding. You can find it on newer models.

The Snowshoe Frame

The days of having only classic tubular aluminum frames are over. Now, there are a few different options, as new snowshoes models come in different designs and feature different frames.

An example of a snowshoe with a tubular frame

Tubular Frames

If you are planning on hiking on surfaces that don’t require you to wear shoes with extra traction, snowshoes with tubular frames will do the job. Backcountry models, specifically those designed to help you go through deep snow feature tubular frames. You can also see it on most hiking models.

Flat Stock Frames

The newer models come in a brand new style, which is backed up with the flat stock frame. The edges of the frame are serrated and it also packs rubber decking made of durable materials. These shoes are very light. They are a great pick for longer adventures on steep and icy terrains.

An example of a snowshoe with plastic decking

Plastic Decking

To be able to produce lightweight snowshoes, manufacturers have started to make decking out of plastic or any other rigid material. Plastic decking is lightweight and these snowshoes have good grip, but the tradeoff is the stiffness of the frame. These snowshoes can be very slippery. So tread carefully.

The Traction

Another feature of snowshoes is the importance of traction, which is achieved via crampons. The crampons are usually made out of steel or any of its composites, and aluminum. Steel crampons offer a good grip and a strong platform. On the other hand, aluminum makes the snowshoes light.

Crampons underneath the snowshoe provide increased traction

Most snowshoes have two crampons at the toe, and on very rare occasions, you will see three. In any case, if you decide to go in the backcountry on icy surfaces, you might want to look in to backcountry snowshoes that have a row of crampons under the heel, which is great for downhill traction.

Climbing Bars

Finally, snowshoes can have climbing bars or heel lifts. If you are planning on regularly climbing steep terrain, consider getting snowshoes with these. They will make your life considerably easier.

Example of a heel bar, that allows the heel of your boot to stay elevated off the snowshoe

Hopefully, this guide will help you choose the snowshoes for your specific needs and requirements. Before you come to a final decision, make sure to go through the specs and look for customer reviews. Also, check out our gear guide and gear reviews to explore options!

 

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