Choosing Running and Racing Snowshoes Starts Here

On a Saturday afternoon, the snow poured down as I drove north to New Auburn, WI, for the Chippewa Moraine 50km foot race.  Having anticipated the possibility of snow accumulation from weather reports during the week, I packed snowshoes for the race, just in case.

I don’t enjoy running in snow wearing trail shoes; I want my racing snowshoes. A firm grip on the terrain with no slipping or sliding and avoiding my ankles rolling around like marbles in glass provide all the motivation necessary to have my racing snowshoes stashed away.  As I arrived at my race, the park looked more like a ski resort sans skis than a trail race. The fresh white snow brightened the dark woods.

At the start, only one person wore snowshoes; everyone else, various types of running shoes.

After reaching the turnaround, the sun beamed through the clouds, making the return on snowshoes a lesson in misery. Mud replaced snow in places requiring some ingenuity to work around on bands of snow remaining on the trail’s edge. I felt like dying.

In the end–unable to quit at each successive aid station because . . . they had already closed–I won the “Glacial Pace” plaque awarded for “earning” the last-place finish. I cherish it to this day.

To race, did I have to select a specific snowshoe, or would any do? Perhaps any could do, but looking for differences you might want depending on your intention, really comes into play.

2008 Chippewa man after race and plaque

Left photo: The author on his snowshoes after the race. Photo: Phillip Gary Smith. Right photo: The plaque from the race. The small photo on the right side of the plaque reminds me of how sick I felt that day . . . yet, garnered a finish. Photo: Phillip Gary Smith

Tips To Keep In Mind

As you’re deciding which snowshoes to use for running and racing, keep these tips in mind for the best selection.

Focus on Bindings

Initially, focus on the bindings for the pair you’re holding in the store or viewing online. If you have the best snowshoe ever made, but with poor bindings, the experience will not be favorable.

My first pair in the modern age looked great on the shelf where I picked them up, but the clerk definitely did not snowshoe. Little did I know the bindings allowed the shoe to flip sideways like a metronome. I didn’t need them to keep musical time; just to keep me moving forward in a somewhat straight path would qualify as struggle enough.

Make sure your binding holds your foot securely, without any pressure points. Major brands all have differences in their bindings as manufacturers realize the differentiation plays an important part in setting them apart.

If you’re having trouble finding the right binding for your foot, a few of the snowshoe options below come with a direct shoe mount instead.

Range of Options

One outcome of going through my own and others’ experiences with running and racing snowshoes comes this revelation: one may experience a panoply of snowshoes used as running or racers. However, they don’t necessarily have to be classified as those.

So, just because you have casual hiking snowshoes does not mean you cannot go and compete if you wish. Like in auto racing, you “run what you brung.” Having fun and finishing provides real satisfaction, though having a medal to place on the rack doesn’t hurt. When Kris Borchardt (WI) and I won our first national USSSA medals in Colorado, we wore them all the way home through restaurants, parking lots, and the Denver airport.

Snowshoe Options for Running & Racing

So, without further ado, here are a few running and racing snowshoe options to inspire you. All of the selections here are independently selected by the author and editor.

snowshoe racers on the course

Racers on the course using their racing/running snowshoes. Photo: USSSA

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Atlas Run & Race

An incredibly popular snowshoe, the Atlas Run features a Speed Helix binding, and Atlas Race features a Z-Speed Race binding. The Z-Speed is also removable if you prefer to direct mount instead. Either way, both bindings fit over an athletic shoe like a mother holding her baby. These snowshoes are built for speed and wear and grip like true support.

At national snowshoe races, one will note a plethora of Atlas snowshoes passing you to lead the front of the pack. Though these snowshoes’ focus is on training or competitive activities, they will work for any type of snow outings.

Both models are available in size 22, which has a weight recommendation of 190 lbs. For larger-sized snowshoes, check out their Helium-BCs, which offer ultra lightness in 23″ or 26″ models.

Key traits: Versatile speed, direct mount available

Shop the Atlas Race & Atlas Run

Read More:
Gear Review: Atlas Race Snowshoes
Atlas Race Snowshoes Receives Outside Magazine’s 2013 “Gear of the Year” Award

snowshoe racers after race wearing Atlas snowshoes

Two racers heading after the race wearing their Atlas Race snowshoes. Photo: Paul Wowk

Dion Racers

Dion snowshoes attract a near-cult following as their bright-white offerings provide so much flexibility and choice. With multiple binding options and cleats available, buy a pair with their orange tabs at either end of the decking and join the crowd who race and run with them.

These racing snowshoes offer advanced velcro bindings making the ease of slipping in and out of them easier for some, along with any adjustments one wants to make on the trail.

If vision issues trouble you like me, consider Dions. Go ahead and order their deep cleats, standard cleats, and ice cleats. One never knows the conditions of a planned run or racecourse until getting there, particularly if covering new terrain.

If you have larger feet, you may want to consider the strap kit to get the binding fit you want.

Key traits: Flexibility in choice of bindings, frames, cleats

Shop Dion Racing Snowshoes

Read More:
Made in Vermont: A Profile of Dion Snowshoes
Dion Snowshoes: Fly to the Finish Line

snowshoe racer crossing the finish line

This racer, using his Dion snowshoes, is about to cross the finish line.  Photo: Susan Wowk

Redfeather Vapor & Conquest

As the first to produce a snowshoe for running, a V-tail announces the 21″ Vapor by Redfeather Snowshoes, a real dandy choice.

The cross-country type bindings with a Live-Action Hinge hoist the back of the snowshoe up and out of the snow, ready to move ahead. As an alternative to the cross-country binding, you can use the Thunderbolt direct shoe mount.

As another option, their bargain-priced Conquest model features an injection molding for the black deck along with snazzy red bindings. Pretty interesting new design for the company that introduced the first lightweight aluminum V-Tail design back in 1988.

Key traits: Maneuverability, direct mount available

Shop Redfeather Vapor

Read More:
Snowshoes Designed for Everyone: Find Your Match with Redfeather
Redfeather Snowshoes Gear Guide

Redfeather Vapor running snowshoes gold color

The 2020-2021 Vapor, Redfeather’s signature racing snowshoe. Photo: Redfeather

MSR Lightning Ascents

The Lightning Ascents have been praised for their ability to navigate steep climbs. Likewise, these would be the trekker’s dream for running while handling extreme environments like those found on the way to the Arctic circle. The Lightning Ascents can pretty much go anywhere you care to go, including some quite-steep hills or ice flows.

With features like their heel lift bars making a climb or steep slope feel more like flat ground, along with portable extenders acting to increase the shoe’s flotation, the MSRs resemble a Range Rover-kind of snowshoe. And like the SUV, the price will be the upper end for a snowshoe but worth it.

Please take note, though, due to their exceptional 360 grip, these snowshoes are heavier than other options we’ve presented here. This extra weight can make them excellent training snowshoes to use while building strength and endurance. Their multiple bindings feel supple enough to fit over thick boots.

Key traits: Training, steep climbs

Shop MSR Lightning Ascent

Read More: 
The Claw Patrol: MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review
MSR Snowshoes: Engineered for Winter’s Changing Moods

close up of feet in Lightning Ascents with Paragon bindings

The Lightning Ascents have excellent traction for steep hills and, due to their weight, could be a beneficial snowshoe for training. Photo: Susan Wowk

Northern Lites Race Wave

Northern Lites fit the name as their Race Wave claims to be the lightest racer on the market and attracts a bundle of attention from world-class snowshoers. As the company that began the direct mount wave, many world-class athletes are on the Northern Lites train.

Although you can order the Speed binding with this snowshoe, most runners and racers go with a shoe deck fastener. Some may argue this design doesn’t fit “real snowshoeing,” but the United States Snowshoe Association and the World Snowshoe Federation accept them for competition.

This minimalist approach by Northern Lites reminds one of the times when the bright ware and cookies were stripped off standard cars, transferring them to hot rods. Maybe that best describes Northern Lites: the real hotrods of snowshoeing.

Key traits: Extremely lightweight, durable, direct mount available

Shop Northern Lites Race Wave

racer Zach Miller during VT race

Colorado’s Zach Miller during his half-marathon race on Northern Lites racing snowshoes. Photo: USSSA

Crescent Moon Gold 12 & Eva Foam

Many moons ago, a company came out of a garage by building basic snowshoes in Vail’s mountains when the homes there might have seemed affordable. Today, Crescent Moon builds, arguably, the Cadillac of aluminum snowshoes known as the Gold 12 in candy red or shocker yellow.

They term it a teardrop design, but the ride and comfort of the bindings and deck seem to fit the luxury car status it deserves. There will be lighter snowshoes out there than these, but running with such a comfortable appliance underfoot makes for a delightful model regardless of which Crescent Moon you select.

Then, out of those high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains, Crescent Moon’s Foam Snowshoes evolved. If you want to startle others on any Sunday, you need a pair of these. Whether the Eva or Luna models, they have broken the mold on what a snowshoe must look like to be effective.  Maybe like having a Cadillac in the garage while you tool around in the Tesla.

Key traits: Comfort, innovation

Shop the Gold 12 and Foam Models

Read More: 
Crescent Moon Eva Snowshoes Review: A Unique Experience

Crescent Moon Eva All-Foam

The Eva Foam snowshoe is a unique snowshoe option for recreational adventures and running on packed snow. Photo: Susan Wowk

TSL Symbioz Hyperflex & Step-In Alpine

Since TSL Snowshoes find their home in the French Alps, perhaps that is why they cause the comparison to Formula 1 race cars. These snowshoes look fast in a way that no other does, even when resting in a display window. Perhaps the aerodynamic structure earns the title.

Looking like they have no weight causes one to ask, “What extra weight?” Every piece seems to aid traction without intrusive cleats. It appears more like steel pencils gripping the snow with the snowshoe edges aiding the cause. Binders ride as minimalist additions, strong but lean in weight.

Built for fast times, the TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Racing snowshoes go fast and look snazzy simultaneously. When you leave the snow, wipe them down and put them on the wall for display.

As an alternative to their Symbioz Hyperflex, TSL’s Step-In Alpine also presents that aerodynamic feel while firmly holding your foot for ease of stride.

Key traits: Aerodynamic, hyperflex moves with your foot

Shop the TSL Symbioz Hyperflex & Step-In Alpine

Read More:
TSL Introduces a New Generation of Snowshoes

runner using TSL snowshoes

Eric Hartmark on his way to another of his USSSA National Championship wins using his TSL snowshoes. Photo: USSSA

Faber Sommet & S-Line

Faber Snowshoes, in 150 years of creativity, presents highly innovative, original ideas on snow. The ultra-light Sommet has an incredibly unique design for running in mountainous terrain. This snowshoe includes 17 stainless steel teeth for grip and an anti-slip toe and heel plate for sure footing on steep trails.

If you’re in the mood for a different type of workout, try their S-Line snowshoe, a would-be contender for the best prize for creativity on snow. From 36″ to 46″ in length, these will combine snowshoeing and cross-country skiing into one design. One slides along a flat path but can climb like a snowshoe up or scale down more technical hills. If there isn’t a race class for these, there should be.

Key traits: Creativity, steep terrain, hybrid models

Shop the Faber Sommet & S-Line

Read More:
Faber S-Line Snowshoes Review
Faber & Co: Time-Honored Traditions for a Modern Age

Iverson Wooden Racer

Only in snowshoeing could a furniture company become a factor in the sport. The traditional Iverson Snowshoes employ Michigan White Ash wood crafted bindings made old-school with rawhide or the modern neoprene. Their wooden 10 x 32 Racer shows why their wooden models are the Porsche of snowshoes.

And, yes, you can run or race wooden snowshoes. You’ll just need to add cleats if not in powder conditions. I’ve done it. In Wisconsin, there was a series only for wooden snowshoes. Nothing like chasing distance in the forest with five-foot pieces of wood held together with straps. They felt very solid underfoot though getting around a few trees took practice. Plus, they look so throwback and native.

Over the years, I have watched athletes race in traditional wood snowshoes and medal against the new style aluminum or exotic metal versions. So, don’t discard the idea of using wooden snowshoes. Own a pair, and you’ll have something to show, too. Such uniqueness attracts a crowd.

Key traits: Unique, quiet, traditional

Shop the Iverson 10 x 32 Racer

Read More:
Iverson Crafts New Traditions for the Porsche of Snowshoes

two racers on the course, man wearing traditional wooden snowshoes

Wood snowshoes worn by Jay Punke compete against modern Atlas models. Photo: Ed Busby

GV Snow Aerolite Spin & Race Ultralight

Since 1959, GV of Canada produces tough snowshoes for tough winter enthusiasts. It turns out, many of their offerings work well for running and racing, too, particularly on challenging courses with ungroomed surfaces and nasty climbs . . .  you know, fun runs.

Start with the Snow Aerolite Spin. They call them snowshoes for the “advanced recreational hiker,” which describes a perfect racer. Light and durable, they just look like you can win on them . . . or just get your finish for that matter.

The Race Ultralight features a “Step-In Tech harness,” appearing like a maze capable of holding your feet just where you want.  GV creates appealing snowshoes that may be overlooked by the casual snowshoer.

Key traits: Tough conditions, seamless

Shop the Snow Aerolite Spin & Race Ultralight

Yukon Charlie’s Run & Spin Models

Yukon Charlies offers their Run snowshoe at a much lower price point than other racing snowshoes on the market. With each feature’s basics and at 2.5 pounds a pair, this is your bargain racing snowshoe.

If you’re looking for a little more technology, check out their Flex Spin, which features a buoyant “over-molding technology.” This technology, along with their unique dial binding, integrated toe box, and minimalist design, means your feet can get up and go as quickly as you want. This qualifies as a roadster snowshoe, all stripped down and ready to race. With 8 cleats ready to find the traction and hold, traversing difficult terrain seems easier.

Its brother, the Elite Spin, may seem more like the snowshoes you’ve seen, but now it sports a lighter frame, a “Swift Strap” heel strap, and the SPIN Northwave Dial Binding. Think Venus Fly Trap Flower for the feet, and you’ll get the idea.

Key traits: lower price points, basic features

Read More:
Yukon Charlie’s Racing Snowshoes Debut at 2016 USSSA National Snowshoes Championships

Get Your Racing Snowshoes

As you can see, there are a wide variety of racing snowshoes to choose from, each with their own unique qualities for track conditions. The most important aspect is that your foot feels comfortable and secure in the binding, so you can focus on running and not on your feet.

On another note, these snowshoe companies have many other products outside of snowshoes you should also explore. I’ve highlighted some but not all. When visiting their websites, don’t miss what else they created. Sometimes, their ingenuity strikes one as amazing.

Snowshoe Thompson made history by using a long ski variation with some snowshoe characteristics while utilizing a pole to deliver mail during blizzards in the tough mountains of California and Nevada. That’s about 150 years ago. His influence continues to push development today. Perhaps his earlier days in the Madison Wisconsin region provided the Midwest’s impetus to compete with NorthEast and Rockies snowshoers as hotbeds of snowshoeing.

So, what is your favorite pair of racing snowshoes? What recommendations do you have when choosing your ‘shoe? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author

Avatar

Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition, including drag racing, his favorite motorsport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra-distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING: Keys" in a unique way. Currently, he has two books in the works.
Write to him at Phillip@ultrasuperior.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook @iHarmonizing.

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