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 wore various types of running shoes.

After 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 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? Again, perhaps any could do, but looking for differences you might want depending on your intention, really comes into play.

In this guide, we cover tips to keep in mind when choosing your snowshoe and several snowshoe models to consider.

snowshoe racers on the course

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

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 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; to keep me moving forward on a somewhat straight path would qualify as struggle enough.

Make sure your binding holds your foot securely, without any pressure points. Brands have differences in their bindings as manufacturers realize that differentiation is integral in setting them apart.

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

Read More: Snowshoeing Footwear: Tips for Choosing Your Boot

Range of Options

One outcome of going through my own and others’ experiences with running and racing snowshoes comes with 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 absolute 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 home through restaurants, parking lots, and the Denver airport.

Read More: Definitive Guide: How To Choose Snowshoes for Your Needs

2008 Chippewa man after race and plaque

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

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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. Please note: Many manufacturers are working through supply chain issues, restocking from the unprecedented sell-out last year, and may temporarily be sold out.

Use the list to navigate to specific snowshoes of interest. Or keep reading to go through all of them.

1. Atlas Run – versatile speed

2. Crescent Moon Gold 12 and Luna Foam – comfort, innovation

3. Dion Racers – customized, direct mount available

4. GV Race Ultralight Spin – tough conditions, seamless

5. Iverson Wooden Racer – quiet, traditional snowshoe

6. MSR Lightning Ascents – best for training, steep climbs

7. Northern Lites Race Wave – lightweight, direct mount available

8. Redfeather Vapor – maneuverability, direct mount available

9. Yukon Charlie’s Run Ultralight and Elite Spin  – lower price point, basic features

Atlas Run

An incredibly popular snowshoe, the Atlas Run features a Speed Helix binding. The bindings fit over an athletic shoe like a mother holding her baby. These snowshoes are built for speed and wear and grip like genuine 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 snow outings.

The Atlas Run is available in size 22, with a weight recommendation of 190 lbs. Also, check out their Helium BC snowshoes, which offer ultra lightness in larger 23″ or 26″ models.

Key traits: Versatile speed

Read More: Gear Review: Atlas Race Snowshoes

Shop the Run at REI

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two racers in snowshoes at 2020 USSSA national championships

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

Crescent Moon Gold 12 & Luna Foam

Many moons ago, a company came out of a garage building basic snowshoes in Vail’s mountains when the homes there might have seemed affordable. Today, Crescent Moon produces, 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. Of course, 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.

As an alternative to the Gold 12, try Crescent Moon’s innovative foam snowshoe. If you want to startle others on any Sunday, you need a pair of these. The Luna models 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

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

Shop the Gold 12 at AmazonShop the Luna at Moosejaw

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Crescent Moon Eva All-Foam

The Eva Foam snowshoe is a unique option for recreational adventures and running on packed snow. Photo: Susan 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 slipping in and out of them more manageable for some and 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 consider the strap kit to get the binding fit you want.

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

Read More: Dion Snowshoes: Fly to the Finish Line

Shop the Racers at Dion

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snowshoe racer crossing the finish line

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

GV Race Ultralight Spin

Since 1959, GV of Canada has produced tough snowshoes for demanding winter enthusiasts, and GV creates appealing snowshoes that the casual snowshoer may overlook.

Their offerings work well for running and racing, too, particularly on challenging courses with ungroomed surfaces and nasty climbs – you know, fun runs.

For example, the Race Ultralight Spin features an aerodynamic shape, decking that can resist temperatures down to -50C, and a Spin binding, made of a similar polyester used in climbing rope.

Key traits: Tough conditions, seamless

Read More: 7 Beginner Snowshoes for Varied Terrain

Shop the Race Ultralight Spin at GV

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Iverson Wooden Racer

The traditional Iverson Snowshoes employ Michigan White Ash wood crafted bindings made old-school with rawhide or modern neoprene. Their wooden 9 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.

Over the years, I have watched athletes race in traditional wood snowshoes and medal against the aluminum versions. So, don’t discard the idea of using wooden snowshoes. Instead, own a pair, and you’ll have something to show, too. Just remember to take care of your wooden snowshoes so they last.

Key traits: Unique, quiet, traditional

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

Shop the Wooden Racer at Iverson

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two racers on the course, man wearing traditional wooden snowshoes

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

MSR Lightning Ascents

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

Due to their exceptional 360 grip, these snowshoes are heavier than other options we’ve presented here. But, this extra weight makes them excellent for training snowshoes while building strength and endurance.  In addition, their bindings feel supple enough to fit over thick boots.

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

Key traits: Training, steep climbs

Read More: The Claw Patrol: MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review

Shop the Lightning Ascent at MSR

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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 use 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 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 the Race Wave at Northern Lites

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racer Zach Miller during VT race

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

Redfeather Vapor

As the first to produce a snowshoe for running, a V-tail announces the 21-inch Vapor by Redfeather Snowshoes, a natural super 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. You can use the Thunderbolt direct shoe mount as an alternative to the cross-country binding.

As another option, their bargain-priced Conquest model features injection molding for the black deck and snazzy red bindings—a 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

Read More: Redfeather’s History Helps Define the Evolution of Snowshoes

Shop the Vapor at Redfeather

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Redfeather Vapor running snowshoes gold color

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

Yukon Charlie’s Run & Elite Spin

Yukon Charlies offers their Run Ultralight snowshoe at a much lower price 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, the Elite Spin 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 Pro Series (930) Snowshoe Kit for the Backcountry

Shop the Run Ultralight at AmazonShop the Elite Spin at Amazon

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Get Your Racing Snowshoes

As you can see, there are a wide variety of racing snowshoes to choose from, each with its 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 you should also explore outside of snowshoes. I’ve highlighted some but not all. When visiting their websites, don’t miss what else they created. Sometimes, their ingenuity strikes one as outstanding.

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 harsh 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.

This article was first published on January 13, 2021, and most recently updated on September 12, 2022. 

Read Next: Run, Rabbit, Run: Transition from Running to Snowshoe Racing

Author

  • 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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