How to Select the Correct Snowshoes / Help Article About Choosing the Right Snow Shoes

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Snowshoeing is a fun and healthy activity that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Strap a pair on, grab a pair of adjustable poles, and you'll soon be an expert. Whether you're using snowshoes to help push your way out of bounds to the top of a snowcapped peak, or you're using them for recreational purposes while you stroll through the woods in your backyard, the benefits of snowshoeing are the same: flotation and traction on snow are significantly improved, and a good romp offers a solid dose of safe, low-impact exercise. On average, snowshoeing burns about twice as many calories as walking, utilizes more major muscle groups, and is a lot more fun. Perhaps best of all, it's an activity that you can do with the whole family. It's no wonder that each year, more and more people are getting hooked.

Choosing the right pair is much easier than it may appear. Yes, there are many different types of snowshoes, and the selection at first can seem overwhelming, but when armed with a reasonable amount of knowledge, you’ll be able choose the right pair for you. This article will explain the key elements of the function of snow shoes, as well as snowshoe anatomy, and the different categories and intended uses. Once you’ve read this, you’ll have a much better idea of what to look for and your selection can then be narrowed down to just a few pairs.

The function of snowshoes can be broken down into four key elements: Flotation, Articulation, Control, and Traction, or F.A.C.T. The importance of these four elements varies based on your intended use.

Flotation (Determining proper size)
Snowshoes keep you "on top" of the snow by distributing your weight over a wide surface area. When we say they keep you "on top" of the snow, we really mean that they limit how much you sink into the snow. Snowshoeing isn't like walking on water. Depending on how deep and fluffy the snow is, you're going to sink a bit, but not nearly as much as you would without snow shoes. The concept is simple: the bigger the snowshoes, the more surface area, and the less you'll sink in. Does this mean that you should buy the largest snowshoes available? Not at all.

Snowshoe size is determined by a number of factors. The biggest factor is the weight of the user including equipment. Someone who weighs in at 120 lbs won't need a shoe as large as someone who tops 200 lbs, for example. Another factor is snow density. If you are sticking to mainly packed snow, flotation is less critical, and a smaller snowshoe, which is more maneuverable, can be used. Snowshoeing in Colorado Champagne powder will require a larger size to achieve the same amount of flotation that snowshoeing in wet, heavy Vermont “Champlain” powder would. The final factor is usage. Smaller shoes are more maneuverable, especially in tight places, so someone who likes to bushwhack would want a smaller shoe than someone who heads for wide-open expanses. Sizes can often times overlap different weight ranges, i.e. your weight may be suitable for a 25" or a 30" shoe, so a user must decide whether optimal flotation or optimal maneuverability is a priority. Simply refer to our handy sizing charts found on each snowshoe product page, and remember to take into account any additional weight you intend to carry in a backpack etc.

Articulation refers to your foot, and how much movement it has in relation to the frame, so that it is free to find the most comfortable position on uneven terrain. If you're sticking to mainly flat terrain and primarily packed snow, articulation won't be of much concern to you. However, if you do encounter varying terrain, especially when traversing, you will want as much articulation as possible as it will greatly improve you're traction, balance, and comfort. The type of toe cord used to attach the binding to the frame, and even the flexibility of the frame are factors that affect articulation.

Control, like articulation, also comes from how much support the binding offers. A binding that fits securely and keeps your foot centered over the snowshoe will result in more control. As with articulation, if you're walking around a golf course, you won't need as much support from your binding as you would when snowshoeing up and down your favorite summer hiking trail. However, there is no disadvantage to using a snowshoe with a binding that provides a more secure fit with excellent support, even for golf course excursions. Who knows, you might feel adventurous and want to head into that sand bunker.

The metal crampons, or cleats, that stick out from the bottom of the showshoe provide traction for uphill grip and downhill braking. The amount of traction varies greatly between models and is based on the intended use of the snowshoe. You don't need a whole lot of traction when trudging around a golf course, but when you're in the steeps and deeps, you can never have enough.

We break our snowshoes down into four categories based on terrain, so the first thing to do is to determine where you want to go snowshoeing.

  • Basic Beginner. Do you want to head over the meadow to grandmother's house?
  • Recreational and Trail Adventure. Do you want to head over the meadow and through the woods to grandmother's house?
  • Go Anywhere and All Terrain. Do you want to head over the meadow and through the woods and up and over snowy peaks on your way to grandmother's house?
  • Expedition & Out of Bounds. Do you want to forget about Grandmother’s house and hike towering mountains to their snowy, icy peaks?

Basic Beginner
Beginner snowshoes are designed for light to moderate use on mostly flat or rolling terrain and primarily packed snow, such as a golf course or trails in the park. The crampons are not very aggressive, the bindings have minimal lateral stability and aren’t as easily adjustable as upper level models, and the materials used are less durable. For these reasons, they fall into the most affordable price point.
» view all Basic Beginner Snowshoes

Recreational and Trail Adventure
A good step up from the Basic Beginner snowshoe can be found here. With better traction and more supportive bindings, these are able to tackle more challenging terrain, but aren’t quite sufficient enough for the steeps and deeps. If you’ve never snowshoed and are considering getting into it, trust us, you’re going to love it, and you’ll appreciate the benefits of improved binding support and better traction.
» view all Recreational / Trail Adventure Snowshoes

Go Anywhere and All Terrain
The slickest bindings, the most bomb-proof materials, and the lightest overall weight are reserved for the Expedition & Out of Bounds models, but the snowshoes in the Go Anywhere and All Terrain category, our most popular category, will offer nearly the same level of traction and support at an exceptional value. They won’t break your wallet and they won’t let you down.
» view all Go Anywhere / All Terrain Snowshoes

Expedition & Out of Bounds
These are no compromise snow shoes with the most aggressive crampons and most supportive bindings for optimum traction and control when climbing, descending, and traversing. For less fatigue and even better traction when climbing, these come with the additional benefit of a heel lift, or climbing bar. Made of the most durable materials, they can withstand abuse from ice chunks, tree trunks, and slam-dunks. They are built to last a lifetime and are the best choice for snowshoers who hike on a regular basis and routinely tackle the most extreme terrain.
» view all Expedition / Out of Bounds Snowshoes

The snowshoe is only as good as the sum of its parts, and those parts are the frame, the decking, the crampons and traction bars, and the bindings and toe cord.

Typically, snowshoes use an aluminum frame to which the decking is attached. More expensive snowshoes use stronger and lighter grades of aluminum. In some cases, the aluminum is shaped in ways to enhance stiffness and compliance where appropriate. Women-specific frames taper towards the tail to facilitate a more natural stride and prevent the tails from banging together.

The decking material used on modern snow shoes is usually made of a synthetic rubber or plastic like material that is cold resistant. As you move up the line, the material used in the decking becomes more durable to withstand punctures and tearing. Softer materials make for more quiet steps in crunchier snow. Harder materials tend to be more bombproof.

Crampons and Traction Bars
Crampons are made of either aluminum or steel and vary in size and placement on the snowshoe. As you move through the categories from Recreational to Expedition, the crampons get more aggressive and prevalent. Recreational snowshoes have less aggressive crampons that work fine on flat or rolling terrain, but won’t provide sufficient traction for the steeper stuff. Expedition snow shoes have very aggressive, deep penetrating crampons in the toe and heel as well as traction bars running along the sides for improved lateral stability and decreased sideslipping.

Bindings and Toe Cords
The bindings are the interface to the snowshoe. How they wrap around the foot varies greatly between models and brands, but what is true across the board is that a better fitting binding will make the snowshoe seem more like a natural extension of the body. Women specific snowshoes have bindings that can accommodate a smaller foot. The binding can make the difference between a good outing and a great one, so pay attention to how the bindings work on whatever pair you are considering.

Toe cords attach the binding to the snowshoe, and there are two main types: Rotating and fixed.

With a rotating toe cord, the binding is attached to and pivots on a metal rod. When you pick up your foot to take a step, the tail stays on the ground and sheds snow from the snowshoe, reducing fatigue. Tubbs Snowshoes believes strongly in this design, and has incorporated it in every adult pair they make. The disadvantage is that with certain lengths, shin bang can occur when taking giant steps. Also, backing up and stepping over obstacles can be awkward.

With a fixed toe cord, the binding is attached to a heavy duty and flexible band that keeps the snowshoe relatively close to the foot. When you take a step, the snowshoe comes off the ground. With certain designs, such as the Atlas Snowshoes Spring Loaded binding, the snowshoe can partially rotate down to shed snow but not so much that the shoe swings away and out from under your foot. Because the toe cord is flexible, the foot generally has better articulation on uneven terrain. The disadvantage to this design is that snow can get flipped onto the back of your legs. If you wear a pair of gaiters, however, this won’t be much of an issue.

Once you’ve chosen the snowshoes that suit your needs, it is time to consider some accessories that will enhance your experience. There are many accessories out there that you could consider, but we’ve made a Snowshoe Gear Checklist of the accessories that we feel are the most important.
» view all snowshoe accessories

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