Snowshoes have come along way from their origins of rawhide netting over a hardwood frame but their purpose remains the same: distribute the weight of the person over a larger area so that their feet do not sink deep into the snow.
Snowshoes enable mobility when walking through deep soft snow.
Snowshoes are most often used on their own but can be used in conjunction with skiing or snowboarding for enabling back country ascents.
Snowshoe manufacturers are now providing a broad array of snowshoes for racing, off trail floatation in deep snow, mountaineering, narrow steps, kids sizes, etc.
durability: materials and construction. Heavier (weight of person and gear) and stronger individuals will require a more durable snowshoe.
sizing (How much float? More required for soft powder.)
shape: rounded, pointed, symmetrical, asymmetrical
- weight: This is usually determined by the materials used for the frame and decking: wood, aluminum, rubber, plastic, steel, titanium, etc
- wood: this is primarily for decor on the wall of a bar or restaurant or for nostalgic reasons.
- Aluminum: this is the most popular and is reasonably lightweight and strong. Typically they are powder coated to provide a color coating.
- steel: too heavy and it rusts
- titanium: strong as steel with the weight of aluminum. This is often too expensive for no real performance gain.
- plastic: typically used in children's versions to bring a playful theme or design to the snowshoe. Plastic is generally not durable enough for adults of full weight and strength.
- rubber: Hypalon is a durable Dupont elastomer used in rubber rafts. This material is tough.
- composites and plastics: there are a variety of synthetic materials available. eg Coolthane, a polyurethane coated nylon mesh.
- Crampons: toe or heel and toe variations.
- stainless steel
- titanium: strong as steel but with the weight of aluminum
purpose: trail hiking, backcountry and racing all lead to different choices in snowshoes.
- asymmetrical: These snowshoes typically employ a round nose and pointed tail. Those with a short stride will benefit from an asymmetrical snowshoe which helps avoid stepping on the tail of your own snowshoe. Note that an asymmetrical snowshoe has a reduced floatation area in the rear and an area bias to the forward area of the snowshow. This imbalance in fore-aft floatation area can lead to less stability.
- symetrical: Typically a round nose and tail.
Bindings and foot attachments: fixed, pivot
- trail hiking: trails tend to be at least slightly packed and thus less floatation is required.
- backcountry: this often leads on to untouched light powder snow into which one will sink if there is not enough floatation. Backcountry snowshoes tend to be larger to gain the required floatation.
- racing: these are typically small and light with an asymetrical frame to reduce the chance of stepping on one's tail.
This typically includes a crampon under the foot for additional traction. A heel lift is sometimes available to optionally lift the heel during ascent.
- fixed: these provide a natural feeling and predictable behavior.
The tail of the snowshoe may flick snow up on your back.
- pivot: this design has improved incline and descent behavior as it lets the snowshoe lie easily on the terrain surface while the user can maintain a natural foot angle. It can be more difficult to walk backwards with a pivot binding as the tail typically drags and digs into the snow.