In our backyard of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, it’s often necessary to attach and carry your snowshoes on your pack for part of any given winter outing. That’s because it is routine to encounter full winter conditions at higher elevations, while down low near the trailhead feels more like fall, particularly in the early and late seasons.
Similarly, well-traveled and wind-swept above-treeline trails will often only require the use of microspikes. But venturing off the beaten path and into more protected areas where the snow is deep requires snowshoes. Even those backcountry snowboarding will want to attach their snowshoes to their pack for the descent.
There are three main methods to attach and secure snowshoes to a pack, each with pros and cons. Knowing all three can help you find the right solution for you, your backpack, and your situation.
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Securing snowshoes to the side of a backpack using the bag’s compression straps is one of the most popular methods for carrying snowshoes. While you can pack snowshoes that lay flat on just one side of your pack—this is especially true for snowshoes like the MSR Lightning Ascent – the side-carry method generally favors positioning one snowshoe on each side of the backpack.
The benefit of the side-carry method is that it evenly distributes the weight of the snowshoes (especially if you’re carrying one snowshoe per side). This method also keeps the ‘shoe weight close to your body and doesn’t interfere with the main compartment’s opening.
The downside of side-carrying snowshoes is that it’s difficult to determine how to best position them.
For example, if you face the snowshoe cleat inwards, as you have to do on snowshoes with bulky bindings, the crampon can damage your pack, especially backpacks made of a lighter-weight fabric. Similarly, facing the bulky binding outwards is a recipe for snagging trees and undergrowth, particularly in heavily forested regions like the Northeast. Side carrying can also inhibit the use of side pockets and water bottle sleeves.
Overall, the side-carry method will work for almost any snowshoe. However, the limitations of this method make it ideal for short, flat snowshoes with low-profile bindings. You can either mount one snowshoe to each side of the pack with the binding facing outward or mount them on one side with the crampons facing each other.
Many prefer the front-carry method for attaching snowshoes to their backpack. This method of securing snowshoes to the front of a pack can be accomplished in many ways. For example, you could use a front stash pocket, a pack’s compression straps, or rig a system with cord or accessory straps.
The most significant benefit of the front-carry method is its versatility—it works with a wide range of packs and trips. It also keeps the snowshoes in your profile, preventing them from getting tangled in vegetation on the trail. Another advantage of securing snowshoes to the front of your pack is that it most likely will not interfere with access to your bag’s main compartment and side pockets.
Depending on how the snowshoes are connected to the pack, it’s potentially not as secure as other methods. It can also damage your front stash and water bottle pockets commonly made with lightweight material. Furthermore, homespun solutions can add expense and complexity to packing your bag or, worse, fail in the field.
Whether using a pack’s built-in methods for attachment or a homemade fix (like attachment straps), front-carrying places the weight of snowshoes away from your body. Unfortunately, this layout can make some feel out of balance and be a problem on steep or uneven terrain.
Another potential problem is that front-carrying uses the same spot and attachments traditionally used to carry ice axes and other tools. So if you’re using your snowshoes for mountaineering, attach them on the side or under the lid so that you can have your ice ax in its usual spot.
Under the Lid
Snowshoers with top-loading packs will find under the lid a fast, secure, and out-of-the-way place to stash their snowshoes when not in use. If you own a top-loading backpack, this method is the ultimate utility. It will work with all kinds of snowshoes and bindings, protect your pack, and often offer redundant methods for keeping the shoes attached.
Carrying snowshoes with crampons facing each other under a bag’s brain is super secure. Since many packs have compression straps under their lids, and along with the lids themselves, this method ensures a high-quality carry that doesn’t subject a backpack to unnecessary wear. It is often the fastest way to secure and perfect for shorter sections of hiking where you have to remove your snowshoes.
The under-the-lid method also keeps the weight close to your body. This layout should provide you with a balanced feel, although some sense that it’s top-heavy. An additional benefit of keeping the snowshoes under the lid is they stay in your profile and don’t get tangled in branches and undergrowth lining the trail.
The most notable pitfall of carrying snowshoes under the lid of your pack is that it makes getting into the main compartment cumbersome. In most cases, there is no way to get to the main part of your backpack without first removing your snowshoes. Also, because the snowshoes are stashed on the pack horizontally, it’s not always the best option for those using really long snowshoes.
Although snowshoers with roll-top bags don’t have a lid to store snowshoes under, they can reap many of the same rewards by attaching snowshoes to the top of their packs. In addition, it’s common to find some form of buckle system on the top of roll-top bags, which works great for securing snowshoes.
In the end, there are a lot of different ways to carry snowshoes on a backpack and what’s best for one person isn’t necessarily best for another. Everything from the type of binding, style of your pack, length of your snowshoes, and where you go outside will influence what works best.
Play around with the different styles to find what works for you, and don’t despair if none of them feels just right. There are plenty of other ingenious ways to attach snowshoes to a backpack. You just have to use your imagination.
What is your favorite way to carry your snowshoes on your backpack? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.