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. A snowshoe’s surface area or the amount of space the snowshoe covers will help to distribute weight and limit post-holing (or punching holes into deep snow).
Thus, snowshoes with wider areas 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″ wide x 36″ long or 12″ wide x 30″ long pair of raquettes for the task. Some snowshoe brands will list their sizing as length only (i.e., 30, 36, etc.) Choosing the right size snowshoe will provide the best experience and depends on a few factors.
Thus, in this guide, we list several styles of snowshoes for big people and heavy loads and cover snowshoe sizing extensively.
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Snowshoe Sizing for Heavy Loads
One of the most common factors used in snowshoe sizing is a person’s total weight, including any gear they’re carrying while hiking. You’ll notice that many of the snowshoes below come with a recommended weight range, which typically relates to the snowshoe’s ability to help you “float” on the snow.
However, Joanne Petrozzi and the team at Dion-NeviTREK Snowshoes mentioned, “The weight recommendations that we use are based on the industry standards but modified somewhat based on past experience and customer feedback…[However], weight does not always tell the whole story when choosing a snowshoe size.”
She states, “People should also consider snow conditions, maneuverability, and the type of trails and type of snowshoeing they expect to be doing when choosing the right snowshoes.” Let’s break down those factors a little more.
The conditions of the snow vary around the world and day to day. For example, “The northeast U.S. typically experiences snowfall that is heavy and wet while the higher elevations in the western U.S. and Europe get powder. Also, snow conditions change from day to day from the same snowfall. Even powder, after a day or so, will be packed a little,” says the Dion-NeviTREK team.
What does this mean for choosing large snowshoes? First, your snowshoes will naturally not sink as far in wet snow or packed snow compared to deep or dry, fluffy powder snow. “The important thing to a snowshoer is to have snowshoes that fit them properly and allows them to walk around in deep snow,” states Dion-NeviTREK
Thus, if you live in an area where the snow tends to be heavy and wet, you can most likely use a smaller size snowshoe, even if you and your gear don’t fall within the weight recommendations. Similarly, if snowshoeing on packed trails, you can use a snowshoe with a lower weight recommendation since you won’t be sinking.
Each snowshoe outing is unique, and what you make of it. Sizing can affect how easily you can move around on your chosen terrain, and the team at Dion-NeviTREK offers their recommendations.
“Too large of a snowshoe with too little traction acts like a snowboard. On some trails, traction/grip is more important than floatation. [For example], on steep climbs, it might be better to use a shorter snowshoe for traction. A longer snowshoe may make it difficult to lift your foot over downed trees or other obstacles that you might find on a wooded trail.”
So, in this case, if you regularly climb steep terrain, find the shortest snowshoe that can support your weight. Like wet conditions, a shorter design will prove easier to climb and descend on steep hills. In general, the team at Dion-NeviTREK recommends that you’ll want to avoid getting too large a snowshoe. Instead, make sure to can walk normally. Try to get the smallest snowshoe you can get away with without post-holing.
Read More: Why To Use Snowshoes While Mountaineering
When choosing snowshoes for big people and heavy loads, it’s helpful to consider the snowshoe binding. However, it can be tough to choose a binding with so many variations and designs.
Simple two or three-strap bindings, including the A and H strap bindings on many traditional snowshoes, tend to be the best bet for an easy fit with less maintenance. Dion-NeviTREK also notes that “The bindings should fit snugly over a person’s boot, [and] be easy to put on and tightened in cold weather, possibly with gloves.”
Most bindings tend to fit feet up to a men’s size 14 (15.5 women, 13.5 UK). “If you wear a snow boot larger than a size 14, you should check to make sure the straps are long enough on the binding,” suggests the team at Dion-NeviTREK. Some manufacturers will include shoe size recommendations. However, if you have a foot larger than a U.S. men’s 14, check with the manufacturer to see if they offer longer straps.
Snowshoe Options for Heavy Loads
Now that you know how to size your snowshoe, here are three types of snowshoes to consider for your adventure.
Option 1: Modern Snowshoes
You can 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 tend to have the most expansive surface area. Thus, they 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 one company manufactures metal frame/synthetic decking models in widths of 12″ or greater, GV Snowshoes. In fact, the GV Wide Trail is excellent in deep snow conditions. Regarding lenticular snowshoes, I have found these tend to be better for steep terrain, and many people prefer them for all-around use.
Modern Snowshoe Examples
Here are a few examples of modern snowshoes that can accommodate big people and heavy loads.
Mountain Quest 9 x 30, 10 x 36, 13 x 30, 11 x 40 (supporting 250 lbs/113 kg to 350 lbs/159 kg)
North Hiker 9 x 29, 10 x 34 (supporting 225 lbs/102 kg to 275 lbs/125 kg)
Mountain Expert 8 x 28, 9 x 30, 10 x 36 (supporting 200/90kg to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Lightning Ascent technical 8 x 25, 8 x 30 (supporting 220 lbs/100 kg to 280 lbs/127 kg)
Option: You can also purchase a tail extender for Lightning snowshoes, 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 (136 kg).
Option 2: Traditional Wood Frame Snowshoes
Traditional snowshoes come in various conventional shapes and designs, each specialized for a particular environmental niche. They are great snowshoes for big people and heavy loads because they have a larger surface area. I think 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, as long as the snow does not have a frozen, crusty layer on top.
- 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.
Traditional Snowshoe Examples
Here are a few examples of traditional snowshoes that can accommodate big people and heavy loads. You may also be able to find used wooden snowshoes that only need a new binding. Some manufacturers, like Dion-NeviTrek, offer modern bindings that can be used on wooden snowshoes.
Alaskan 10 x 56 and 12 x 60 (up to 260 lbs/118 kg and up to 300 lbs/136 kg)
Huron 12 x 42 (up to 220 lbs/100 kg)
Objiwa 10 x 48, 11 x 54 and 12 x 60 (up to 240 lbs/ 109 kg and over 210 lbs/95 kg)
Option 3: Magnesium Military 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 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 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 snowballs. Though, you may be able to limit snowballs by coating your crampons with a lubricant, such as WD-40 or the more environmentally friendly Nexus Green Marine Lubricant.
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 commercial off-the-shelf bindings designed for traditional snowshoes sooner rather than later.
There are three types of snowshoe designs for big people and heavy loads: modern snowshoes, traditional snowshoes, and magnesium military snowshoes. Each type has a variety of styles to choose from for your outing.
However, the sizing of your snowshoes is crucial. If snowshoeing in packed snow conditions or in wet snow, you won’t be sinking as deeply and, therefore, can choose a smaller size that fits your foot. To ensure you have the correct size, the team at Dion-NeviTREK recommends trying your snowshoes out with demo models. If not available, check the company’s return policy so you can return them if they don’t fit.
Now, let’s get out on the snow!
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. It was most recently updated on Sept 29, 2022, and re-published on October 11, 2022.