How to Choose Snowshoes: Complete Guide

Strapping on a pair of snowshoes and heading out into the snow offers a whole new world of adventures in Winter. Of course, whenever you’re heading out, you want reliable and sturdy gear. There are a variety of types of snowshoes and brands on the market, so you might be unsure about how to choose the best snowshoes for you. We’ve put together this complete guide on buying snowshoes to help. We’ll provide tips for choosing snowshoes based on experience level, terrain, and intended use. You’ll learn important details like how to get the ideal fit, snowshoeing techniques, and we’ll answer frequently asked questions about buying snowshoes. Plus we’ll highlight some of the top models on the market from trusted brands like MSR, Atlas, and Tubbs.

How to Choose the Right Snowshoes

Picking the ideal snowshoes depends on the terrain, your weight, and snow conditions. Generally, there are a few basic buying tips you can follow to get you started.

Consider the Terrain

The terrain you plan on snowshoeing on will help determine what type of snowshoe to wear. If you’ll be walking in mixed terrain, look at the majority terrain you’ll encounter to identify needed features.

Groomed trails don’t require aggressive traction or flotation, so basic recreational shoes work well.

If you’ll be snowshoeing in deep backcountry powder, you’ll want larger shoes to keep you on top of the snow. More surface area prevents you from sinking into loose snow.

Steep, icy terrain makes kick turns difficult in large shoes. In slippery, icier conditions, look for compact shoes with strong crampons to improve your grip.

You’ll also want smaller snowshoes if you’ll be walking in tight, brushy areas. Smaller snowshoes that don’t catch on brush as much.

Factor in How Much You and Your Gear Weigh

Just like with swimming, more weight requires more surface area for flotation. The heavier you are, the easier it will be to sink deeper into snow. And, when you’re out in the wilderness, you’re usually fully dressed in outdoor gear and carrying a backpack filled with gear. This is your “load.”

When buying snowshoes, you want to choose one that can handle the load of both your weight and the weight of your gear. Find a snowshoe with a load capacity that exceeds your expected load. Go up a size if between ranges.

Added surface area from tails prevents sinking with heavier gear loads.

Consider Snow Type

The texture and density of the snow you’ll be walking on is another factor when it comes to choosing snowshoes.

Powdery snow is less dense and requires more surface area for flotation. Snowshoes with larger surfaces help prevent you from sinking into soft snow.

On the other hand wet, dense snow has already been consolidates and compacted, smaller snowshoes should sufficient snow flotation. If you’ll be traversing icy terrain or hard pack, look for snowshoes with crampon designs for added grip.

If you’re uncertain of conditions, opt for larger shoes to provide more stability and flotation as needed.

Carefully considering snowshoe types, sizing, key features, and your budget will ensure you get the right gear for your winter adventures.

Types of Snowshoes

We briefly covered how terrain can impact your choice of snowshoe. Now, we’ll go into a bit more detail about the main types of snowshoes available, typical features, and optimal terrain.

Hiking/Recreational Snowshoes

Hiking or recreational snowshoes are the most common and popular type. They are designed for casual snowshoeing on relatively flat to moderately hilly terrain.

Best for beginners and packed trails. Tend to be more affordable and straightforward to use. Great for getting started and mild weekend adventures.

Key Features:Best Use Cases:
– Simple bindings, often webbing-based straps
– Moderate traction components like cleats
– No heel lift for steep slopes
– Lower price point, good for beginners
– Groomed nature trails
– Day hikes on rolling hills
– Entry-level and occasional recreational snowshoeing
Recreational Snowshoe Features & Use Cases

Backcountry/Mountain Terrain Snowshoes

Backcountry snowshoes are built for advanced users hiking steep, icy, or ungroomed mountainous terrain and deep powder. Built for ungroomed powder and steep terrain. Excellent traction, stability, and floatation for hardcore winter exploration off-trail. Allow access to remote locations.

Key Features:Best Use Cases:
– Aggressive crampons and traction edges
– Sophisticated bindings fit larger boots
– Integrated heel lift for steep inclines
– Higher price for premium materials and construction
– Backcountry hiking and snowboarding
– Winter expeditions in extreme conditions
– Summit attempts and other technical climbs
Backcountry Snowshoe Features & Use Cases

Running Snowshoes

Running snowshoes are a niche category designed to enable more intense cardio workouts and snowshoe races. Optimized for snowshoe racing and winter run training on groomed surfaces, speed is prioritized over flotation. Running Snowshoes are typically shorter and lighter to allow a fast turnover stride.

Key Features:Best Use Cases:
– Short and lightweight construction
– Allows natural running gait/stride
– Minimal traction components
– Built for groomed or packed surfaces
– Snowshoe running and racing
– High-intensity aerobic training
– Maintaining running fitness in winter
Running Snowshoe Features & Use Cases

In summary, recreational snowshoes work well for beginners and packed trails. They provide a straightforward experience perfect for getting started. Backcountry snowshoes are built for ungroomed powder and steep off-trail terrain. Their excellent traction, stability and floatation allow access to remote locations. Running snowshoes are best for snowshoe racing and winter run training on groomed surfaces. Their short and lightweight design enables a faster turnover stride.

How to Size and Fit Snowshoes

Sizing snowshoes involves some different considerations compared to regular footwear. Snowshoe size is not based on foot length, but rather weight, intended use, and snow conditions. And, snowshoe sizes are measured in inches, which represents the length of the snowshoe.

Proper sizing and fit of your snowshoes is critical for snowshoe performance. Finding the right snowshoe length is important so you don’t struggle with either insufficient flotation or overly large shoes that are tiring to maneuver.

Total Load Weight Determines Size

Your total “load” determines size needs. The total weight the snowshoes will need to support, including both your body weight and the weight of your typical snowshoeing gear/backpack, is a primary driver of size. Check the manufacturer’s recommended load range for each snowshoe model and size. Each model has a weight range it can support. Choose the snowshoe size that fits your expected load. Choose the size that fits your total expected weight when out on the trails. Going a bit smaller is fine as long as there is still adequate load support for the snow conditions you’ll mainly encounter. Extensions like removable tails can add surface area on those deep powder days where you need extra flotation with a heavier pack.

User Weight/LoadRecommended Snowshoe Size
Kids (40 – 90 lbs)14″ – 19″
90 – 140lbs20 – 22″
110 – 160lbs25″ – 26″
150 – 190 lbs28″
160 – 240 lbs30″
240 – 300+ lbs35″ – 36″
Snowshoes Size Guide

Before you head out into the snow, you’ll want to try on new snowshoes on with the actual boots you’ll wear and walk around in them to gauge comfort and binding fit. The toe area should allow natural stride and some wiggle room so your toes don’t hit the front. The fit should be snug, but not painfully tight.

Women’s-specific snowshoes offer a slightly narrower width that better matches average female foot proportions. Kid’s snowshoe models come in youth sizing for growing feet. Older children can use adult-featured snowshoes sized to their current weight and conditions.

How Snow Conditions Affect Size

When shopping for snowshoes snowshoes, whether you’re choosing between different models or considering various sizes within the same model, it’s important to factor in the specific snow conditions you’ll encounter:

  • Powder snow: Larger snowshoes provide more flotation to stay afloat in powder.
  • Compact, wet snow, groomed trails: Smaller snowshoes are easier to maneuver on narrow trails and in brushy conditions.
  • Steep slopes and icy terrain with no powder: Smaller snowshoes are also easier to handle and offer offer improved maneuverability in slippery or icy conditions.

If you’re between sizes, opt for the smallest size that can adequately support your weight. As long as they provide sufficient flotation, smaller snowshoes are generally easier to manage.

Take the time to get properly fitted snowshoes so you snowshoe in comfort all winter long. If there’s a specialty retailer nearby, consider getting a professional boot-on fitting to test snowshoes designed for your expected load, terrain and experience level. On-snow testing with your actual boots provides the best analysis for comfort, control and optimal performance.

Key Snowshoe Features to Look For

When choosing snowshoes, there are a few key features to look for.

Traction

Snowshoes need to have good traction to prevent you from slipping and sliding. Look for snowshoes with aggressive crampons on the bottom. Crampons are metal teeth that dig into the snow to provide grip. There are two main types of crampons: toe crampons and heel crampons. Toe crampons are located on the front of the snowshoe and provide traction when you are climbing uphill. Heel crampons are located on the back of the snowshoe and provide traction when you are descending downhill.

Flotation

Snowshoes need to have enough flotation to keep you on top of the snow. Look for snowshoes with a large surface area. The surface area of a snowshoe is measured in square inches. The larger the surface area, the more flotation the snowshoe will have. Flotation is especially important if you will be snowshoeing in deep powder snow.

Bindings

Snowshoe bindings need to be easy to adjust and secure. They should also be comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. There are two main types of snowshoe bindings: strap bindings and buckle bindings. Strap bindings are more traditional and are typically found on lower-priced snowshoes. Buckle bindings are easier to adjust and are typically found on higher-priced snowshoes.

Durability

Snowshoes should be durable enough to withstand the rigors of snowshoeing. Look for snowshoes made from high-quality materials such as aluminum or plastic. Aluminum snowshoes are more durable than plastic snowshoes, but they are also heavier. Plastic snowshoes are less durable than aluminum snowshoes, but they are also lighter.

Other key snowshoe features to look for include:

  • Heel lift: A heel lift is a mechanism that raises your heel off the snow. This can be helpful when climbing steep hills.
  • Rocker: The rocker of a snowshoe is the curvature of the frame. A more pronounced rocker will help you float over deep powder snow.
  • Snowshoe Tails: Extensions that can be added to the frame of certain snowshoes to provide additional flotation and traction in deep snow.

Additional Features

Some snowshoes come with additional features such as:

Carrying straps: Carrying straps make it easier to transport your snowshoes when you are not using them.

Toe guards: Toe guards protect your toes from being hit by the frame of the snowshoe.

Side rails: Side rails provide additional traction on icy or side-hilling terrain.

Decking: The decking of a snowshoe is the platform that your foot sits on. Some snowshoes have a soft decking that is more comfortable to walk on, while others have a hard decking that is more durable.

Consider which features will enhance your experience based on the conditions. Prioritize the features that give you control, stability, and performance for your intended snowshoeing activities.

Budget

Snowshoes range widely in price from under $100 to over $500 depending on the type, materials, and features. Here is some guidance around budgeting and what impacts snowshoe pricing:

  • Entry-level recreational snowshoes – Typically $100-$200. Good for occasional use on groomed trails. Basic designs but still quality construction.
  • Mid-range all-around shoes – $200-$300. Offer more durability for frequent recreational use with good traction and stability features.
  • High-end technical backcountry snowshoes – $300+. Packed with performance features for hardcore backcountry use. Very durable materials.
  • Kids’ shoes – Generally $50-$100. Simple and sized for younger kids. Older kids’ models have more technical features.
  • Used/Rental shoes – ~$50-$100. Great way to start trying snowshoeing or get kids’ shoes they will outgrow.

For occasional recreational use, budget-friendly models provide good value. For hardcore enthusiasts, pricier backcountry shoes are worth it for advanced features and durability.

Decide how much you want to invest based on how frequently you plan to use them. Decide how much you want to invest based on how frequently you plan to use them. Consider renting snowshoes first before making a big purchase, especially for kids who quickly outgrow them.

What Impacts Snowshoe Pricing

Several key factors influence the price range of snowshoes.

Material

The materials used in constructing the deck, binding, and frame play a role. Entry-level snowshoes typically use durable plastics which keeps costs down. Mid-range shoes may incorporate lightweight aluminum or composite materials. High-end snowshoes may use advanced materials like carbon fiber which increases durability but also cost.

Components

The technical components like traction systems, binding designs, brakes, and floatation mechanisms also impact pricing. Basic recreational shoes have simple crampons and bindings. Backcountry shoes incorporate aggressive cleats, modular floatation, and articulated bindings suited for rugged terrain. These complex features demand more engineering and production costs.

Design

Manufacturing process influences price as well. Basic shapes use flat injection molded designs that are relatively easy to produce. More ergonomic snowshoes with tailored shapes require more complex, multi-part molds which are costly. Individual sizing and customization also adds expense.

Brand Reputation and Warranties

Established brand names from companies like Atlas, Tubba, and MSR come with reputation and history that allow them to command a premium. This helps account for their investment in innovation, research, and customer service.

While higher cost doesn’t always mean better performance, understanding these pricing factors helps set realistic budget expectations when shopping for snowshoes.

With the right model, snowshoes can last for years of winter fun if you care for them properly.

Best Snowshoes for Any Terrain and Winter Activity

MSR Evo Trail Snowshoes

MSR Evo Trail 22 Snowshoe

MSR Evo Trail Snowshoes

Price: $169.95

Features:

  • 22″, Up to 180 lbs load
  • Steel Crampons and Traction Rails for grip
  • Glove-friendly straps and buckles
  • Durable injection-molded deck

The MSR Evo Trail Snowshoes are ideal snowshoes for beginners starting out. The durable molded deck provides a sturdy yet comfortable platform, while the steel crampons and traction rails deliver reliable traction across mild terrain. Adjustable Paraglide bindings use a pressure-free stretch mesh to securely attach to a variety of different footwear. Simply cinch the glove-friendly straps to lock in and start snowshoeing. Add the modular floatation tails (sold separately) to boost flotation in deep powder or to support heavier loads. Made in the USA using quality materials, the Evo Trail Snowshoes offer accessible performance and comfort for recreational winter adventure.

The bindings secure the boots snugly while allowing for natural foot movement. In terms of comfort, the Evo requires minimal break-in so your feet stay cozy mile after mile. Altogether, the thoughtful design, rugged materials, safety features, and approachable pricing make the MSR Evo the top choice for beginners.

MSR Lightning Ascent

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes - Men's Cobalt Blue 30in

MSR Lightning Snowshoes

Price: $389.95

Features:

  • 22″-30″, Up to 280 lbs load
  • 360° Traction frames and steel crampons
  • Adjustable Paragon bindings with freeze-resistant mesh
  • Modular floatation tails
  • Integrated Ergo Televator heel lifts for hills

Conquer extreme backcountry terrain with the performance-driven MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes. Designed for aggressive all-terrain performance, the 360° Traction frames and rugged steel crampons deliver relentless grip on icy traverses and powdery steeps. The innovative Paragon bindings wrap boots securely with a comfortable freeze-resistant mesh strap that allows for responsive stride control. Modular floatation tails let you adapt flotation on demand to match conditions and load. The Lightning Ascent also converts quickly between flat and ascended configurations when climbing. Built-in Ergo Televator heel lifts simplify striding uphill, so you can tackle steeper mountain landscapes. Altogether, the Lightning Ascent’s impressive floatation, grip, and thoughtful components make it the top pick for deep backcountry adventures.

Tubbs Flex STP Snowshoe

Tubbs Flex STP XL Snowshoe

Tubbs Flex STP Snowshoe

Price: $109.95

Features:

  • 24″ and 28″, Up to >190 lbs load
  • Torsion Deck™ preserves gait and improves comfort
  • QuickPull™ binding and Tubbs’s Control Wings™ keep feet securely in place
  • Toe Crampon and Traction Rails for Grip

The Tubbs Flex STP snowshoes deliver accessible performance for new snowshoers or those seeking reliable trails shoes on a budget. The durable deck provides a stable platform while the integrated toe crampons supply ample traction on slippery hardpack. Adjustable webbing bindings cinch down to fit a variety of winter boots securely. Testers confirm the Flex STP performs admirably across mild groomed terrain thanks to the thoughtful stability features like articulated rotation and side rail traction. While best suited for flat, groomed trails, the comfortable fit, confident grip, and budget price make the Tubbs Flex STP a top value pick for casual snowshoeing. For cost-conscious recreational snowshoeing, the Tubbs Flex STP provides long-lasting quality and decent floatation without breaking the bank.

Atlas Run Speed Snowshoes

Atlas Run 22 Snowshoe

Atlas Run Snowshoes

Price: $269.95

Features:

  • 22″, 75 – 190 lbs load
  • Lightweight, aluminum frame and crampons
  • BOA® Fit System
  • Modular floatation tails
  • Patented Atlas Heel Cleat

Take your winter running to new heights with the Atlas Run Snowshoes. Optimized for speed and traction, the lightweight design enables a fast, natural stride to help you keep pace all season long. Along with Spring-Loaded™ Suspension to help you keep your stried, the Run also has aluminum toe crampons that bite icy patches when you need stability. The low-profile Speed Helix binding with BOA dial-in system customizes a precision fit for responsive control. Reviewers report feeling fast, agile and free when charging groomed trails or racing in the Atlas Run. For winter runners wanting safety plus high performance, the Atlas Run delivers, making it the best choice for snowshoe racing and winter run training.

Tubbs Storm Youth Snowshoes

Tubbs Kids' Storm 19" Snowshoes

Tubbs Storm Youth Snowshoes

Price: $89.95

Features:

  • 19″-21″, Up to 150 lbs load
  • Tapered deck sized for kids ages 6-10
  • Step-in QuickLock binding for easy on/off
  • Integrated toe and heel crampons

The Tubbs Storm Snowshoe is the top choice for getting kids started snowshoeing. These beginner-friendly snowshoes are sized just right for the smaller feet of kids ages 6-10. The tapered frame delivers stability without oversizing. Step-in QuickLock bindings make it easy for kids to securely fasten independently. Kids love the cool color options – teal and purple – that stand out against the snow. Thoughtfully designed for youth just starting snowshoeing adventures, the Tubbs Storm provides needed flotation so kids can make the most of winter.

Atlas Helium Snowshoes

Atlas Helium MTN 26 Snowshoe

Atlas Helium MTN Snowshoes

Price: $229.95

Features:

  • 23″-30″, Up to 270+ lbs load
  • Wrapp™-MTN bindings with Boa® closures: For a secure and comfortable fit every time, even in cold weather.
  • Aggressive MTN crampons: Provide excellent traction on all types of snow and ice.
  • Louvered Helium deck: Sheds snow to keep the snowshoes lightweight and maneuverable.
  • Pivot Limiter: Allows for a more comfortable and natural stride.
  • 19° heel lift: Reduces fatigue on ascents.

When it comes to the best all-around snowshoes on the market, we like the Atlas Helium MTN snowshoes. They’re incredibly versatile and are designed for use across all types of snowshoe activities – from casual snowshoes to backcountry hiking. The sleek, lightweight composite deck delivers unmatched floatation in deep powder combined with agile maneuverability across icy trails. The Boa® closures make it quick and easy to get the snowshoes on and off, even with gloves on. Thanks to the crampons offering 360-degree engagement for superior grip and lightweight traction rails, the Atlas Helium MTN snowshoes deliver excellent traction and performance in all types of snow and ice conditions. Reviewers reported feeling fast and agile thanks to the lightweight responsiveness when charging through snow.

Despite its minimal design, the Helium remains remarkably durable after miles of use over varied winter terrain from deep powder to packed trails. From racing groomed tracks to charging up steep mountain slopes, the Atlas Helium MTN has the versatile high-performance to handle it all.

Bushcraft Charlie

As an avid outdoor enthusiast, Bushcraft Charlie first developed his wilderness and survival skills in the suburbs of Maryland. After relocating to Montana, he's continued to spend time outdoors - hiking the Rocky Mountains and practicing bushcraft skills like shelter building and fire making.

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