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Snowshoeing 101

Depending on the terrain you’ll be encountering depends on the type of snowshoe to look for. 

Flat Terrain

Snowshoes designed for mostly flat terrain are designed for ease of walking on trails and provide good traction from the underfoot crampon.


This type of snowshoe is designed as an entry level shoe and will provide long lasting wear.

Rolling Terrain

A little more advanced snowshoe will accommodate better for hiking on rolling or steep terrain and icy conditions. The underfoot crampon here will provide a more traction than the entry level shoe for more longer and more technical hiking and generally has a more heavy duty binding.


This type of snowshoe is designed as a more advanced shoe and will provide long lasting wear.

Mountain Terrain

This category shoe is designed for icy and steep mountainous terrain.  If you are willing to brave the elements and hit the trails for some snowy bushwacking, than this style may be the one for you. If you plan on traversing through the backcountry is moderate to harsh conditions, these are designed with climbing style crampons and rugged edging for added traction.


This type of snowshoe is designed as a more advanced shoe and will provide long lasting wear.

Run or Race

These snowshoes are specifically designed for fitness and running and are made with lightweight materials to ensure ease of travel.


The Outfitters hosts an annual St. Paddy’s Day Snowshoe Event - these shoes would be ideal.


Step 1: Narrow by Gender (or Age)

Men's snowshoes are designed to accommodate larger boots and heavier loads.


Women's snowshoes are designed to accommodate smaller boots and the bindings are sized accordingly. Women’s snowshoes are usually narrower.


Children’s snowshoes are offered in smaller sizes and intended for multi-use purposes including backyard activities and hikes.

Step 2: Consider Snow Conditions

Recommended loads are based on light, dry snow conditions. But consider that on powder snow you need bigger snowshoes to stay afloat than you would on compact, wet snow.


Packed trails, brush and forest call for more compact shoes, which are easier to maneuver in tight spaces. Steep or icy terrain is also best explored with smaller snowshoes. Open areas with deep drifts require larger snowshoes.


Tip: Get the smallest size that will support your weight based on snow conditions and terrain. As long as you have adequate flotation, smaller snowshoes will be much easier to handle.

Step 3: Determine Your Weight with Gear

Your weight, including equipment, is referred to as the recommended load or carrying capacity on snowshoe specs. This is a major factor in determining the right size. In most circumstances, a heavier person or one with a heavily loaded pack will require larger snowshoes than a smaller person or one carrying gear just for the day.

Parts of a Snowshoe

Snowshoes allow you to travel across snow-covered ground without sinking or struggling. They require much less effort than walking with regular snow boots. To do so, snowshoes provide "flotation" by spreading your weight evenly over a large, flat surface area. This flotation allows you to hike, climb or even run. Generally, the heavier the person or the lighter and drier the snow, more surface area of a snowshoe is required.

Frames and Decking

Today, most snowshoes have aluminum frames and synthetic decking. These decks usually feature nylon or Hypalon rubber so they can be light and responsive. Another style of snowshoe, popularized by MSR, features a composite frame with an integrated hard decking material. You can attach an up to 6" tail to these for extra flotation in deep powder. Both frame styles work well.


Snowshoes secure to your boots with bindings, which usually consist of a platform and nylon straps that go over the foot and around the heel. Two types are common:


Rotating (or floating) bindings pivot at the point where they attach to the decking—under the balls of your feet. This movement allows you to walk naturally and to climb hills. The amount that bindings pivot varies among models. Some bindings are attached with metal rods and pivot 90° or more. This causes the ends of the snowshoes, called tails, to fall away as you step, shedding snow and reducing leg fatigue. Rotation also allows "tracking" or steering in deep snow and positions your boots for kicking steps into steep slopes. The downside? Rotating bindings can be awkward when you need to climb over logs or back up.


Fixed bindings are connected with heavy-duty rubber or neoprene bands and don't pivot as much. This type of binding brings the snowshoe tails up with each step, allowing a comfortable stride. This also makes stepping over obstacles and backing up easier. The downside of fixed bindings is that they tend to kick up snow on the backs of your legs.


You don't need special footwear to go snowshoeing. Most snowshoe bindings are built to accept a variety of footwear styles, from hiking boots to snowboard boots. A few are made specifically for running shoes, while others are made for plastic mountaineering boots.

Traction Devices

Although your weight provides some traction by pushing snowshoes into the snow, snowshoes feature tooth-like crampons or cleats for greater grip. Snowshoes for flat terrain offer moderate amounts of traction, while models made for mountainous terrain have more aggressive crampons for steep, icy conditions.


Toe or instep crampons are located on the undersides of the bindings, so they pivot with your feet and dig in as you climb. This is the primary source of traction for any snowshoe.


Heel crampons are placed on the decking undersides of many snowshoes. They are frequently in a V formation, which fills with snow and slows you down as you descend.


Side rails (also called traction bars) on the decking undersides provide lateral stability and reduce side-slipping as you cross slopes.
Braking bars are integrated into the undersides of plastic-decking snowshoes to provide forward traction and prevent backsliding.

Heel Lifts

Also known as climbing bars, these wire bails can be flipped up under your heels to relieve calf strain on steep uphill sections and save energy on long ascents. This feature gives the feeling of walking up steps and prevents exaggerated calf and Achilles strain.

Snowshoe FAQs

Q: What kind of boots should I wear with my snowshoes?

A: Any waterproof hiking boot or insulated winter boot should work fine. For long hikes, avoid loose-fitting boots with removable liners as the liners eventually pack down and leave your feet cold. Consider wearing knee-highgaiters, too, to keep snow out of your boots, especially in deep snow conditions.


Q: Where do I place my foot in the snowshoe?

A: Your foot should be centered with the ball of your foot over the pivot point of the snowshoe. This placement gives you the most natural feel when you walk and helps you maintain a normal gait.


Q: What makes a "fitness snowshoe" different from other types of snowshoes?

A: "Fitness snowshoes" are generally made with lighter materials, minimal traction and a tapered tail. This creates a lighter snowshoe that is easy to run with and helps you to maintain a normal gait. Some women's snowshoes have these same properties and can be double as fitness snowshoes.


Q: Can I use my downhill ski poles for snowshoeing?

A: This is not recommended. For most snowshoeing outings, poles should be adjustable for your comfort and safety. Trekking poles outfitted with large snow baskets work fine. Snowshoe poles are essentially the same thing as trekking poles, but with snow baskets already in place. You can switch these out to smaller trekking baskets for summer hiking.


  • More reliable and easy to use bindings
  • Better materials that will ensure long life from the shoe
  • Added traction from the crampon and in some shoes the traction on the outer edge


  • These showshoes will take you farther with less effort
  • Gender specific to accommodate for males and females
  • More comfortable for not just a walk around the park



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