Can you imagine it: hiking through the woods or the hills or even the mountains on a fresh blanket of snow. The quiet, the solitude, the overwhelming beauty of the scene. Hiking with snowshoes is fast becoming less a mode of getting from one place to another in the snow and more of a relaxing and rejuvenating pastime in gorgeous scenery. It isn’t particularly expensive, and it‘s as easy as the walking you are doing now. Well, almost. Choosing the right snowshoe can be tricky, however.
Snowshoes permit you to tread across snowy terrain without straining, struggling, or most importantly, sinking like you would in regular boots. If your idea of snowshoes amounts to two tennis rackets attached to a pair of boots, like when Bugs Bunny does it, it’s time for you to upgrade your perceptions and see what innovation and technology have brought to winter sport.
Snowshoes literally allow you to float on the snow by decreasing the pressure per inch on the surface of that snow by spreading your weight over a larger surface. This lowers your pounds per square inch of surface area to a point where it's no longer enough to break the surface tension of the snow.
You'll move across the snow as easily as any solid surface. Note, however, that heavier hikers will need snowshoes with more overall surface area to further minimize the pounds per square inch. Also, dry snow tolerates less weight than wet snow, so plan accordingly.
Common Types of Snowshoes
Most snowshoes are for either mountain, rolling hills, or simple flat terrain. More specific types include snowshoes designed for workouts, climbing, or running on trails.
The conditions under which you plan to trek can also have an impact on the snowshoe you need. On the firmly packed snow of trails, when traveling through trees or brush, you might prefer a thinner shoe that's easier to negotiate in tighter spaces. Ice and steeper climbs will also dictate a smaller snowshoe. More surface area, while great for deep snow, will mean less traction in these conditions. Of course, on new-fallen snow and flatter surfaces, the wider, the better.
Most hikers and backpackers will keep to the established trails and paths. Inexpensive, flat terrain shoes are just fine for that. If you are a bit more adventurous, you will probably opt for the rolling terrain style. Those of you with steelier constitutions who just want to conquer deeper snow and steeper and higher terrain should look to the mountain terrain style.
Flat terrain snowshoes
These snowshoes are the best for someone just beginning on snowshoes. You'll find them easier to adjust and designed for less challenging adventures. Most of these models are less expensive, but most are good value for money.
Rolling terrain snowshoes
These are best for more experienced backpackers and hikers. Designed for rolling or steep terrain, rolling terrain snowshoes are designed to take you off the path and onto freshly fallen snow between trails. Not recommended for steep or icy extremes, these snowshoes will take you everywhere else. Rolling terrain snowshoes also have the benefit of more rugged bindings and larger crampons.
Mountain terrain snowshoes
Designed for advanced adventurers, this variety is for icy and steep sloping terrain. Used mostly by mountaineers and climbers, these are the snowshoes you will need if you are planning to take on extreme conditions well off the beaten path. Constructed with the most durable and hefty bindings and climbing grade crampons, they will carry you through the harshest the most. They feature climbing-style crampons and rugged bindings that can withstand harsh situations and inclines.
Before choosing a set of snowshoes, you should familiarize yourself with the various components and parts so you know what to look for when purchasing the best pair for your budget and needs.
Frames and decking
Most modern snowshoes have aluminum frames and synthetic decking, usually made of either nylon or rubber. Others have composite frames with a hard-decking material for taller trekkers.
Snowshoes attach to your snow boots with devices called bindings. These are essentially the same devices used to connect boots to snow skis. Often made of a secure base with nylon straps securing the foot in place.
The two most common types are rotating and fixed. Rotating bindings rotate under your feet for a more natural feel in the snow. The amount of rotation varies from model to model.
The other type, fixed bindings, connect to the boot with a heavy-duty material such as neoprene or hard rubber. This configuration lifts the tail of the snowshoe on every step and makes for a more comfortable feel. It also aids in stepping over rocks and logs (as well as backing up) much easier. The downside of fixed bindings is that they tend to kick up snow on the backs of your legs.
Snowshoes have teeth-like spikes called crampons or cleats for additional grip on snow or ice. They dig into the surface while you climb to prevent slippage. You'll sometimes find heel crampons on the bottoms of some models. They are designed to fill with snow and slow your descent speed.
Heel lift side rails (also known as traction bars) beneath the decking provide increased stability to prevent slipping sideways. Braking bars, which maintain forward traction and help prevent you from sliding backward, are on the bottoms of the snowshoe -- incorporated with plastic decking.
While most bindings will accommodate many varieties of footwear, strong, warm, solid boots serve best when using snowshoes. Some boots are specifically designed to pair with snowshoes designed for climbing and running.
Best Snowshoes of 2018
Armed with the above information, let’s check out some of the best of the best snowshoes of 2018 for one that will suit your needs and activities. Your experience and terrain will help determine which snowshoes to explore first.
- Light weight and strong aluminum frame features an ergonomic design to ensure comfortable and easy walks
- UV resistant polyethylene decking, easy-to-use dual ratchet bindings and heel straps with quick release buckles
- Heavy duty aluminum crampons, rotate freely to bite into snow; heel crampons provide traction for heading down mild...
Even the most seasoned mountaineer had to start somewhere. Every hiker, trail runner, and racer on the snow had to have a first adventure across the beautiful and inviting snowpack. For someone just getting started, plopping down a few hundred dollars for your very first snowshoe may not feel like the best idea. After all, it may not be the first time that you thought, “That looks like fun,” only to decide later that maybe it wasn’t really for you.
Not to worry; with the Chinook Trekker, you can put your toe in the snow for about the price of a couple of good steak dinners. The Trekker is a very good entry-level snowshoe that will serve you well as you take your first steps onto the freshly fallen snow. As should be expected at this price, the Trekker is more suited for economy than ruggedness and comfort.
The crampons, for example, are aluminum instead of steel. But if you are only using them in forgiving terrain, that won’t be much of an issue. However, on long hikes, you may start to feel a bit more fatigued and sorer than you would with more finely engineered units. For occasional short trips and easy hiking, the Chinook Trekkers is a good choice.
Most Innovative Snowshoes
Experienced snow hikers may be more interested in the next best thing in a snowshoe. The following three models, in no particular order, feature the latest technology in winter sports gear.
The Fimbulvetr Hikr is not your father’s snowshoe. Let's just put that "tennis racket taped to your feet” business to rest once and for all. Hailing from Norway (where they know a thing or two about walking in the snow), the company aimed to reinvent the traditional snowshoe. It looks like they did just that, with its thermo-plastic decking for durability and an omnidirectional hinge for more agility.
Mostly recommended for fresh and deep snow, this snowshoe is wide and long for supporting a great deal of weight. Not the ideal snowshoe for taking on a steep or icy challenge, but it will serve you well on trails and in open terrain.
- The flexible rocker design makes it feel more like an athletic shoe than a snowshoe. Dual Density foam makes it very...
- Teardrop shape provides a natural stride without sacrificing flotation and maneuverability. Lightweight and cushioned...
- The foam is an insulator so your feet are warmer. Quiet & simple to use.
One of the unique design innovations in recent years is the Crescent Moon Eva all-foam snowshoe. This shoe consists of two layers of EVA foam rather than aluminum or hard plastic. The top layer is soft and excellent at providing a cushion for your feet and legs on your adventure. The rugged bottom layer supplies the traction.
Being flexible, due to its foam design, and lightweight, from the lack of metal and the Velcro bindings, the Crescent Moon Eva is very light and easy to maneuver on the powder.
Best Snowshoe for the Trail
Going hiking in a state or national forest is a sublime experience. But make sure you choose snowshoes that can adapt to the wide range of terrains you'll find.
- Dependable, durable all-condition snowshoes offer excellent traction and floatation on snowy trails and rolling terrain
- Steel traction rails and brake bars are molded into snowshoe decking, and along with carbon steel crampons, provide...
- DuoFit bindings deliver freeze-proof, glove-friendly, adjustable attachment to a wide range of footwear
MSR is one of the most popular snowshoes in the business. The Evo is another good shoe for beginners and more experienced hikers alike. It features lightweight plastic decking, acceptable traction, toe crampons, and steel side rails. You can also upgrade it with optional 6-inch tails for better performance in soft snow.
You'll find the EVO a reasonably priced, intermediate snowshoe with acceptable, if not rugged, performance capabilities and a stellar reputation.
- Unrivaled Traction: 360° Traction frames deliver edge-to-edge grip, and split teeth of Torsion2 crampons better...
- Secure Attachment: Two-piece, independently conforming PosiLock AT bindings create our most secure, freeze-resistant...
- All-Condition Adaptability: Modular Flotation tails (sold seperately) allow you the maneuverability of a smaller shoe in...
Another MSR snowshoe of note is the Lightning Ascent. With 360-degree traction, you're assured of sure footing in any snowy conditions. It stays snug on your foot thanks to the AV bindings for more of an “extension of my own foot” kind of feel.
Perfect for both short distance hiking or cross-country trekking, the highly praised Lightning Ascent will fill the bill.
Another intermediate trail snowshoe from a reputable company is the Tubbs Xplorer. Aimed at the less extreme snowshoeing enthusiast, the Xplore isn’t high-end or over-engineered. It is a good, sturdy, comfortable, dependable snowshoe at a reasonable price.
Perfect for short treks and well-used trails, the Xplore will still let you venture out into the unknown occasionally. But don’t plan on using it for going cross-country or up steep terrain.
Tubbs also offers a package called the Xplore starter kit that includes the Xplore shoes, a pair of poles, and a set of gaiters for around $180
- V-frame: the V shape tracks straight in deep snow and the tapered tail pulls less snow as you step forward, Saving you...
- Spring-loaded suspension: spring-loaded suspension's suspends the snowshoe close underfoot so it can move freely for...
- Wrapped swift binding: the wrapper swift binding provides great fit, comfort and ease of use with the positive toe...
The V shape of the Atlas Women’s Electra tracks straight in deeper snow. The V-shaped tapered tail pulls in less snow when you step forward. This will save you energy.
And it features a spring-loaded suspension for better comfort and traction. The bindings provide a snug and comfortable fit, while the spring suspension offers increased comfort with less effort and strain while you trek.
Purchasing a snowshoe for running is a dicey endeavor unless you plan to use it to do nothing but running. Most snowshoes are too heavy or cumbersome for running, jogging, or even just walking fast on the snow. The Atlas Run, however, was built just for running. The upside is that it's an exceptional running snowshoe. The downside is, it isn’t all that good for anything else.
Quite streamlined and short (only 22 inches), it has a natural and comfortable feel when running across the snowpack. Not overpriced by any means, but, as we said, designed for a very specific purpose. However, if you feel the need for snow-covered speed, this may be just what you are looking for.
The Tubbs Mountaineer is the shoe for you if you are more likely to blaze new trails than follow the pack. It features "Anaconda” crampons boasting 8-inch teeth, front and rear, to bite hard into the whatever surface you are taking on. The 36-inch model can carry adventurers weighing up to 300 pounds across the snow in the most unforgiving terrain.
On the downside, this combination of features makes the Tubbs Mountaineer weigh in at over 5 pounds each. For beginning adventurers, that may feel like too much of a load to pick up and put down over a long trek. However, if you have already conditioned yourself to tolerate long walks in the deep snow in tall mountains, you can’t do much better at any price.
Regardless of your expertise level or the terrain, having the right snowshoe for your style of fun, competition, and recreation impacts your performance and your endurance.
If you're just beginning to enjoy adventuring out in the beautiful, snow-covered wilderness, the Chinook Trekker is an excellent place to start. For more advanced trailblazers, Fimbulvetr Hikr or the Crescent Moon Eva are both excellent choices. If you want to zip across the snow like a frosty speed demon, go for the Atlas Run and leave the others in your powdery dust. If you want to leave all the others behind and below, the Tubbs Mountaineer will set you far and away from the rest. Either way, adventure awaits!