Finding The Right Pair Of Snowshoes
By Mike Boisvert.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. And with these tips, you can find the perfect pair for your next snowwalking adventure. As GOers quickly learn, good snowshoes can make the difference between feeling helpless and feeling like you're floating on air/safe. Yes, the difference is that dramatic.
A good snowshoe is short -- because most trails are packed down due to the number of winter hikers nowadays -- and has good crampons underneath to grip icy conditions. The crampons helps you grip onto the trail, instead of slipping and falling on the trail. Those with cinching bindings are best for ease of getting into and out. And those with heel lifters make steep ascents easier.
RISE ABOVE IT
The more surface area a snowshoe has, the less you sink. This is referred to as flotation, though it is a bit of a misnomer since you never truly skim across the surface without sinking to some degree. Snowshoe sizes vary by length, with most falling between 22 and 30 inches. As a general rule you should always the smallest snowshoes that meet your needs, in order to save weight on your feet and in your pack. Manufacturers provide sizing recommendations based on the weight of a person plus gear, but keep in mind that snow conditions vary dramatically by region. The amount of flotation necessary in the fluffy dry powder of the Rockies is markedly different than in the wet dense snow of New England. In the Northeast most people will find 25 to 30-inch models adequate. I would recommend buying the 25-inch possible since most trails are broken out most of the time.
IN A BIND
Good snowshoes feature a binding system that securely attaches to your boots. Bindings vary more than any other feature, and you should consider several important design elements. They should fit your footwear as snugly as possible, with little to no side-to-side movement this is especially important when sidehilling or navigating uneven terrain. Your snowshoes should accommodate the largest footwear you expect to wear snowboard boots are too large for some models. Straps and buckles should be easy to operate with gloved or mittened hands and should never loosen during use. Lastly consider bulk models with large bindings can be cumbersome and irritating to pack.
GET A GRIP
All snowshoes feature some sort of traction, or crampon system, on their undersides. As you go up in price, you gain more metal teeth that dig deeper in an increasing number of directions. While it's hard to have too much traction, the extra cost may be unnecessary if you'll be traveling mostly over gentle terrain. Entry-level models sometimes feature aluminum crampons, which are lighter and less expensive but dull more quickly than stainless steel.
HIT THE DECK
The surface of the snowshoe, or deck, is made from any number of indestructible materials. Many of them are propriety composites-thermoplastic urethane, poly-vinyl laminate, etc., but all of them readily hold up to major abuse. More important to examine are the rivets that attach the deck to the frame, which are usually the first things to break over time and with hard use. The deck of most snowshoes attaches to tubular aluminum frames of varying weight and thickness (you'll pay more to get less weight).
A SNOW JOB?
Before heading out with your new snowwalkers, consider whether you actually need them. Don't be deceived into thinking that snowshoes are necessary anytime the ground is coated white. They are only useful when you would otherwise be sinking above your boot tops or in icy conditions when you have no crampons. Even the lightest pair will add significant weight to your feet remember that every pound on your feet is equivalent to five to 10 pounds on your back when it comes to effort. Skip the snowshoes when traveling on packed-out trails or firmly consolidated snow. We recommend purchasing traction for your boots instead, like MicroSpikes.
HAPPY JOLLY SOULS
Snowshoers share the trail with cross-country skiers and other cold-weather enthusiasts. Be courteous by not tromping down the parallel tracks of established ski paths. To increase your personal enjoyment, consider using a pair of trekking poles outfitted with larger snow baskets to help maintain balance. To reduce calf burn on extended uphill climbs, look for snowshoes that feature heel-lift bars, which pop up to help support your feet.
SNOWSHOE BRAND RECOMMENDATIONS
The type worn by most winter hikers in the Northeast are those made by MSR: Denali Ascents, Denali Evo Ascents and Lightning Ascents; and Tubbs Flex VRT. The MSR Denali Ascents and Evo Ascents cannot be purchased new.
The full-length crampons, combined with the toe crampon, make these excellent for trail conditions in the Northeast. They have enough flotation for the usual 6"-12" breakout plus several feet of consolidated snow under them, and all those teeth on the bottom mean much better traction on the more packed sections of trail.
The MSR Lightning Ascents and Tubbs Flex VRT have the "televator" which is simply a heel lifter to allow the snowshoe to be at an angle on the slope while the foot remains closer to level. You don't want to use the heel lifter on loose stuff, as it makes it too easy to put weight on the back of the snowshoe instead of kicking in the toe, and then sliding back. But flip that heel lifter in for packed steep sections and feel your calves thanking you.
IF YOU ONLY EXPECT TO GET A FEW LUCKY POWDER DAYS PER YEAR, IT'S PROBABLY BEST TO WATCH THE WEATHER FORECAST AND JUST RENT SNOWSHOES WHEN CONDITIONS CALL FOR IT. All major hiking retail shops in North America are well-stocked with snowshoes to rent.
If you're planning on multiple deep powder days per season, buying is a good idea. And the springtime is often the best period to find great deals on new snowshoes.
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