Traditional Wooden Snowshoes: Shapes, Designs, and Names

Traditional snowshoes have been around for thousands of years. First they were first developed as a transportation method from place to place. Then, like modern snowshoes, they evolved. As a result, traditional wooden snowshoes have various design traits and styles to be aware of, each serving a unique purpose.

teardrop snowshoe

Traditional snowshoe with a teardrop frame shape, Photo: Matthew Timothy Bradley

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Traditional Wooden Snowshoe Design Features & Morphology

The distinctive design features of traditional snowshoes or raquettes are the frame shape, frame points, and crossbar. When we refer to the morphology of the snowshoe, we are referring to the “shape, form, external structure or arrangement [of the snowshoe], esp. as an object of study or classification” 1

Frame Shape

Most traditional snowshoes include a one or two-piece frame. Then, additional components are attached within and upon the frame.

There are only a few exceptions to this design. The first is solid-bodied snowshoes made from a single plank of wood or injection-molded plastic. The second is those used as emergency devices made from bundled boughs.

The frame shape of traditional snowshoes tends to be the most distinctive identifying feature. Thus, common shapes include:

  • ovular – egg-shaped or shaped like an oval
  • lenticular – lens-shaped
  • teardrop – rounded on the front end, a distinct point on the back end, similar to a tear
  • rectangular
  • round shape
  • footed – one of the two snowshoes is designed to be worn on the left foot and the other to be worn on the right

If viewed from the side, the frame may be flat or upturned at one or more points, leading us to our next design feature.

Read More: A Few U.S Artisans Keep Traditional Snowshoes a Tradition


Frame Points

Another unique feature of wooden snowshoes is the shape at their ends (or lack of ends in the case of round snowshoes).

The front end/nose is where an upturn is most likely to be seen. Furthermore, the front end/nose shape can be a straight edge to a point, a cusp, or somewhere in between. A straight-edge nose is part of the rectangular design, and a cusp is a pointed end where two curves meet.

As with the front end, the back end of a snowshoe may be rectangular, rounded, or come to a point.

Also, a tail may or may not be present at the very back end of the snowshoe. If the tail is relatively small compared to the whole snowshoe, it is either a swallowtail (pointed) or a beavertail (rounded). Alternatively, it is a trailer if the tail is relatively long compared to the entire snowshoe. A trailer must also come to a point, and most of the tail length must contain no webbing.

Read More: Making Your Snowshoes From Scratch

example of curved snowshoe nose

The nose upturn seen here is more than slight, less than extreme. Photo: Matthew Timothy Bradley


The frame of most snowshoes includes at least one slat running side-to-side between the frame’s inner edges, known as a crossbar.

A typical design consists of two crossbars. Usually, one crossbar is placed near the front end (toe bar), and the other is near the back end (heel bar).

Configurations including more than two crossbars typically include a toe bar and a heel bar, with the remaining crossbars utilized as spacers. Snowshoes with a single crossbar may see it placed 1) as a toe bar or 2) roughly along the shortest area horizontally across the snowshoe.

Read More: How To Repair Traditional Wooden Snowshoes

toe and heel bar- traditional snowshoes

The toe bar and heel bar on a Snocraft elbow snowshoe. Photo: Matthew Timothy Bradley

Traditional Snowshoe Types and Styles

Snowshoes come in a variety of formally named types and styles, each with different design trails discussed above 2


An elbow snowshoe, using the strictest sense of the term,3

  1. has an ovular frame,
  2. lacks a tail/trailer,
  3. has a slightly upturned or flat nose, and
  4. incorporates both a toe bar and a heel bar.

Elbow snowshoes are excellent for those who spend time in dense brush. Tailed snowshoes may snag on the deadfall or underbrush. However, since the elbow snowshoe does not have a tail, it has a definite advantage.

Read More: Snowshoe Makers and Manufacturers That Were

Elbow snowshoes

Elbow snowshoes by Snocraft. Photo: Matthew Timothy Bradley


A Bearpaw snowshoe, using the strictest sense of the term:

  1. has an ovular frame,
  2. lacks a tail/trailer,
  3. incorporates a toe bar, and
  4. does not have a heel bar.

At some point in the past, the scope of the term Bearpaw expanded. It has now come to include all tailless wood frame snowshoes. In past times, most snowshoes currently marketed as Bearpaws would have been Elbows.

Bearpaw snowshoe manufacturers include:

GV Snowshoes
12 x 30, 14 x 32, and 16 x32 (available in rawhide and synthetic laces)

Modified Bearpaw

The term ‘modified Bearpaw’ may refer to one of two types of snowshoes.

The first is of the form innovated by Floyd Westover, an ovular snowshoe with both toe and heel bars and with a swallowtail. Not surprisingly, this type of snowshoe is known as a Westover-style snowshoe.4  The second type of modified Bearpaw is a Green Mountain-style snowshoe, described below.

The Modified Bearpaw snowshoe manufacturers include:

12 x 35 and 13 x 35 (available in rawhide and neoprene laces)

GV Snowshoes
10 x 30, 10 x 36, and 11 x 40 (available in rawhide and synthetic laces)

Maine Guide Snowshoes
13 x 36 and 14 x 36

Read More: Traditional Maine Guide Snowshoes: The Real Deal

Green Mountain

A Green Mountain snowshoe is:

  1. lenticular
  2. tailless
  3. incorporates both a toe and a heel bar, and
  4. has a moderate upturn at the nose

The Green Mountain is the traditional form used most by modern snowshoe models. But, modern models use an aluminum frame instead of wood for the Green Mountain snowshoe.

The narrow width of the Green Mountain decreases flotation, and you may sink more in deep snow. However, the design helps you go along narrow upland paths, and these ‘shoes stow conveniently on your backpack.

Green Mountain snowshoe manufacturers include:

9 x 30, 10 x 36, 12 x 44 (available in rawhide and neoprene laces)

Country Ways
10 x 36

Read More: How To Attach Snowshoes to a Pack (3 Methods)


A Huron snowshoe is

  1. teardrop-shaped
  2. has a moderately upturned nose
  3. has a distinctly long trailer compared to its overall length
  4. has both a toe and a heel bar

The Huron snowshoe is also sometimes known as the Michigan-style and excels on flat and rolling terrain covered by deep snowpack. Moreover, the upturned noses help avoid digging into snowbanks and nasty face plants. Finally, the long tails help the snowshoes track straight through rolling terrain and drifts.

Huron snowshoe manufacturers include:

Country Ways
12 x 42

GV Snowshoes
9 x 29 Rawhide Laces
10 x 33, 11 x 36, 12 x 42 , 14 x 48

12 x 46 and 13 x 46 (Michigan)

 Read More: Ask Us Your Traditional Snowshoe Questions

Huron snowshoe- traditional snowshoe type

Huron or Michigan snowshoes. Photo: Matthew Timothy Bradley


An Ojibwe, also called Ojibwa snowshoe, includes:

  1. a cusped and prominently upturned nose
  2. long overall length, which may reach five feet
  3. has a trailer
  4. often make use of three or more crossbars

Because of their length, Ojibwe snowshoes are not recommended when climbing is required. However, they are excellent for use on flat ground. Also, the Ojibwe have a large surface area and, therefore, are recommended for large wearers or when bearing heavy loads.

Obijwe(a) snowshoe manufacturers include:

GV Snowshoes
10  x 48 and 11 x 54

Iverson Snowshoes
11 x 56 and 12 x 60

Country Ways
9 x 36; 10 x 48; 11 x 54; 12 x 60

Read More: Connecting to Lineage: Crossing Paths On My Ojibwa Snowshoes

Ojibwa snowshoes sticking up in the snow

Ojibwa snowshoes are perfect for deep snow on fairly flat terrain. Photo: Jim Joque


An Alaskan snowshoe is similar to the Ojibwe style. Thus, the key traits of the Alaskan snowshoe are:

  1. long overall length, which may reach five feet
  2. has a trailer
  3. often makes use of three or more crossbars
  4.  a rounded nose (as opposed to the cusp nose of the Ojibwe)

Also, the Alaskan is best when traveling flat ground and carrying heavy loads.

Alaskan snowshoe manufacturers include:

GV Snowshoes
10 x 46, Rawhide or Synthetic Laces
10 x 56, Rawhide Laces

Maine Guide Snowshoes
12 x 60

Iverson Snowshoes
10 x 56 and 12 x 60

Country Ways
10 x 56; 12 x 60

Read More: Traditional Snowshoe Care and Maintenance

Alaskan snowshoes

Alaskan or pickerel snowshoe. Photo: Matthew Timothy Bradley


A Montagnais snowshoe has the following traits:

  1. noticeably round with little or no upturn at the nose,
  2. has a swallow or beavertail.

The width of this type makes for a less-than-natural stride. Additionally, this type evolved in Subarctic areas for large amounts of snow. Thus, this snowshoe’s large surface area provides excellent flotation (less sinking) in deep powder and drifts.

So, what’s your favorite style of traditional wooden snowshoes? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.

This article was originally published on November 25, 2012. The most recent update to this article was on December 22, 2022. 

Read Next: A Historical Perspective of Snowshoes

Notes and Bibliography

1. oed.
2. Prater, chart I, and Heilman are good rundowns of named snowshoe styles.
3. “Mushu Innu Bearpaw Snowshoes,” Hudson Museum.
4. See Heilman as well as Norton.
5. Pospisil.

Burgesse, j.a. “Snowshoes,” The Beaver 271: 24–28. Mar 1941.

Davidson, Daniel Sutherland. Snowshoes. Vol. 6 in Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, 1937. OCLC = 3394641.

Drummond, Thomas. “The Canadian snowshoe,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, section 2. Series 3, vol. 10: 305–20 + pl. 1–6. Dec. 1916.

Heilman, Carl, ii. “If you can walk… you can snowshoe.” 2008.

Hudson Museum, The University of Maine. Snowshoes: a gift from Gluskabe. [Online exhibition.] 2009.

Mason, Otis Tuft. “Primitive travel and transportation,” pp. 237–593 + pl. 1–25 in Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1894. Washington, 1896. (see pp. 381–410 for information on snowshoes)

Norton, Mortimer. “Outdoors,” Schenectady Gazette, February 2, 1963, 17. Available online via Google News at

Oxford English Dictionary Online. “morphology, n.” September 2012. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 15, 2012).

Osborne, Carolyn M.; Appleby, Kristyn; Kershner, Pat. “A technical analysis of three forms of Sub-Arctic snowshoes,” Arctic Anthropology 14(2): 41–78. 1977.

Pospisil, Allan. “At Vermont Tubbs, they still make snowshoes the way they used to,” Sports Illustrated 51(21): 6. November 19, 1979. Available online at

Prater, Gene. Snowshoeing: from novice to master. 5th ed., Dave Felkley, ed. Seattle: Mountaineers Books. 2002. OCLC = 427437682.

Speck, Frank G. “Notes on the material culture of the Huron,” American Anthropologist, n.s., 13(2): 208–28 + pl. Viii–XI Apr.–Jun. 1911. DOI: 10.1525/aa.1911.13.2.02a00020. Traditional snowshoe designs. 2012.


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