The Best Snowshoes for Beginners7 min read

By Ben Griffin

Hiker Extraordinaire

Of all the winter sports, snowshoeing is one of the easiest to start.

Basically, if you can walk vigorously, you can snowshoe.

It’s a great way to exercise, get out of the house, and experience the outdoors, even if you don’t live in Whistler.

Unlike skiing and snowboarding — which require mountains, lift tickets, and tons of gear — you just need basic outdoor protection, snow, and snowshoes to get started.

In fact, snowshoeing has been around for about 4,000 – 6,000 years (and most likely originated in Central Asia).

If you look on your right, you’ll see that I’m giving you my top 10 recommendations for the best snowshoes.

Just let me know a little about what type of snowshoeing you are doing, and I will email you 10 pairs that will work!

You can email me directly ben@hikersonrun.com with any questions.

Below is a cool introductory video, showing you how its done.

How do Snowshoes Work?

Snowshoes were created to make it easier to walk in deep snow by giving you a wider base when walking on the snow, thus distributing your weight across a larger surface.

The larger the snowshoe base, the more likely you’ll stay on top of the snow, but keep in mind, a larger snowshoe could affect your maneuverability.

As you might have guessed, before snowshoeing was done for recreation, it was used by ancient people who had to navigate in snowy conditions.

Traditional snowshoes were constructed using a hardwood frame and rawhide lacings.

Today’s snowshoes are designed relatively the same way but with more durable materials.

Things To Consider When Buying Snowshoes

Whether you are buying your first pair or your 10th, here are the main considerations you need to make.

Want the short version? Check out this video by our friends at REI that lays out how to select snowshoes

Weight

Your weight plays a huge factor as to what snowshoe you need to buy.

Typically, the more you weigh, the larger the snowshoe.

Plenty of snowshoe companies label their products with corresponding weight restrictions, so it’s important to look for those before making your purchase.

Also, if you’re going on a multi-day backpacking trip, you’re probably carrying a lot of weight on your backpack, so keep that in mind.

Extra weight could affect the type of snowshoe you buy.

Terrain

Besides weight, terrain is probably the most important thing to consider.

Are you going to walk on a trail where the snow is already packed down from human traffic and vehicles, or are you going to snowshoe at a location where you’re going to walk on fresh snow?
The reason why this question is important is because you need to know the kind of traction you’ll need.

Less traction and surface area is needed for packed snow; however, more traction is needed if you’re going to be on fresh, unpacked snow or even ice.

The level of traction you get is dependent upon crampons or cleats; we’ll discuss more of that later.

Other Gear

You can buy the best snowshoes in the market, but it’s not going to do you any good if you don’t wear the proper attire for the weather.

The best thing you can do for yourself is buy waterproof hiking boots.

Trust me on this, you’ll have a miserable time snowshoeing if snow gets into your shoe and wet your socks and feet.

Not only is a good pair of waterproof hiking boots important but also the socks you wear.

Your feet are going to do a lot more work while snowshoeing compared to a regular walk.

If you need any recommendations, check out our article on “10 Best Winter Hiking Socks.”

Another piece of equipment that you should consider are gaiters.

These are essentially a protective cover for your shoes and pants.

They typically strap on to your shoes and run up your shines.

The idea of gaiters is to protect your shoes and pants from snow.

It’s basically an added layer on your legs to keep the snow out.

The final piece of gear that you should consider, especially if you’re going to snowshoe on more treacherous conditions, is a pair of trekking poles.

These provide extra stability and balance and can do you wonders on the backcountry.

If you don’t want to spend the money on trekking poles, you can always use your ski poles instead.

Gender

I hate to separate men and women but some snowshoes are made better for men, than they are for women and vice versa.

Men snowshoes are usually wider, while females are narrower and can accommodate a smaller shoe size.

Also, in most cases, men walk with their feet pointed out, while females walk with their feet pointed inwards and snowshoes accommodate for that.

By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying unisex snowshoes, especially if you consider yourself a “normal size” person.

I’m not going to go into what a “normal size” person is but gentlemen, if you’re 6’7” and weight 250lbs, it’s probably best you buy a male specific snowshoe.

And ladies, if you’re 5’0” and 95lbs, there’s a women’s snowshoe out there designed just for you.

Finding the Best Snowshoes

There are 3 main components to a snowshoe: frame, bindings, and traction.

Together, these help you find the perfect fit for your snow shoes.

The Frame

The frame should be the first feature you consider when purchasing snowshoes.

As stated earlier, there are so many factors that contribute to the size of your frame such as weight and terrain.

Remember, the larger you are or the harsher the snow conditions, the bigger your frames need to be.

One thing I have yet to mention is that some people wear snowshoes in order to run in the wintertime.

There are snowshoes made specifically for running and these are normally narrower and made from lighter materials.

Bindings

Bindings come with many different designs but they all do the same thing; they have straps to keep your feet connected to the snowshoe.

You want the front straps to be tight but not too tight that it cuts off your circulation.

If you cut off circulation, your feet will get cold quick.

The back heel straps can be adjusted much tighter than the front since there’s no threat of getting your circulation cut off from the back.

It’s definitely wise when buying your snowshoe to bring your waterproof hiking boots with you to ensure a proper fit.

Traction

The amount of traction you’ll need really depends on the terrain you’ll be on.

The crampons or cleats that comes on your snowshoes basically define the amount of traction.

Rule of thumb: IT’S NEVER A BAD THING TO HAVE TOO MUCH TRACTION.

At the end of the day, the whole reason you’re buying snowshoes is for the traction, but of course, the more traction a snowshoe has, the more it’s going to cost.

My snowshoes have a lot of traction because I snowshoe on all types of terrain and I always like to be prepared.

Just remember, less traction is needed if you’re doing a casual walk through the park where there’s packed snow and more traction is needed if you’re going to be on looser snow or ice.

Extra Feature – Heel Lifts

Heel lifts are not standard but make a dramatic difference if you’re going uphill.

It makes your ascent feel more like a natural stride.

It works by distributing your weight more evenly throughout the deck as you walk uphill.

The best part about heel lifts is that they help reduce fatigue on your calves during those upward ascents.

Snowshoe Awesomeness

If you’ve made it this far, then here is some awesome content about snowshoes.

Small, Packable Snowshoes on Kickstarter

Feeling Industrious? Here’s an article about how to make your own snowshoes.

Warm Your Heart – a Bird with deformed feet gets custom, tiny snowshoes to help him stay upright.

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