Snowshoeing Guide: Choosing Your Snowshoes

snowshoes2Hot on the heels of Part One of our series on snowshoeing for beginners comes Part Two, where we’ll take a look at how to go about choosing the right pair of snowshoes for your needs. Like many other pieces of outdoor gear, snowshoes vary in classification based on their purposed activity. This way, you get the best experience possible when you’re exploring the snowy trails in your neck of the woods.

While snowshoes tend to be reasonably versatile, they can actually be divided into three activity categories to help you get the best performance and value. Flat terrain snowshoes are designed for easy walking on flat land and are great for beginners or children. Rolling terrain shoes are best for rolling to steep hills and help hikers get off the beaten path if needed. Mountain terrain shoes are great on steep, unsteady terrain and work great for reaching uncharted territory.

Once you determine what sort of terrain you’ll be traversing most often, it’s time to figure out your size. Though, your gender, snow conditions, gear weight, and desired material will be factors in this step.

Aluminum frame snowshoes, for example, come in a variety of sizes, while composite models are typically only available in one size, but offer the option of adding a tail. Your size will determine the amount of flotation you’ll have on the snow, but I’d lean towards picking up the smallest size that will support your weight. This way, you’ll have adequate flotation and the smaller size will be easier to move with.

When it comes to gender models, you’ll notice further distinctions. For example, men's snowshoes are designed to fit larger boots and heavier loads, so they tend to be bigger. Women's snowshoes, on the other hand, tend to feature a narrower, more contoured frame, as well as smaller sizes. 

Next, you’ll want to consider the condition of the fallen snow in your area. Powdery snow, for instance, requires bigger snowshoes than compact, wet snow, so a larger size is in order. Packed trails, brush and forests demand smaller shoes, which are easier to maneuver in tight spaces. Furthermore, smaller snowshoes work best on steep or icy, while open areas with deeper drifts require larger sizes.

Lastly, you’ll need to consider your carry weight. Snowshoes have a recommended load capacity, so your mass, as well as your gear, will factor into the size you’ll need. For instance, 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.

There’s quite a lot to factor in when you’re choosing the best pair of snowshoes for your needs, but taking the time to do so will ensure you have a safe, enjoyable trek this winter. Be sure to return for a look at how to achieve proper technique when snowshoeing in a variety of terrains.