For those of you who are considering taking up snowshoeing this winter and are new to the sport, here are a few tips on what to look for when you go out to your local outdoor equipment store.

This video is by Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), an outdoor gear company based in New Hampshire. They have an excellent blog on Snowshoes: How to Choose which I would highly recommend. Summarized below are some key attributes to look for when choosing the gear best for you.

Type of Terrain: For the type of trails around Calgary, be sure to choose gear designed for hiking on rolling to steep terrain suitable for all but very steep or icy conditions (unless you are planning real hard-core back-country trips). Rolling-terrain snowshoes are designed with more aggressive crampons and beefier bindings. If you are planning on going into the back country or where there are steep and icy conditions, then choose Mountain-terrain snowshoes. They’re made with climbing-style crampons and rugged bindings that can withstand harsh conditions and terrain.

pair-of-womens-snowshoesSnowshoe Sizing: Snowshoe size is a key factor in getting the right amount of flotation. Generally, the heavier the person or the lighter and drier the snow, the more snowshoe surface area is required. Aluminum-frame snowshoes come in multiple sizes, usually 8″ x 25″, 9″ x 30″ and 10″ x 36″ or something similar. Typically, if you and the pack you are carrying weight less than 180 pounds, then a 22″ snowshoe is appropriate. Over that then a 25″ or more is recommended. Snowshoe size also depends on the type of activity you intend to do. For deep powder, you’l need a longer, wider snowshoe; conversely if you only want to do trail snowshoeing – following someone on a packed trail – you can use a smaller snowshoe – and narrower – much easier and less tiring.

Men’s vs Women’s Gear: Men’s snowshoes are designed to accommodate larger boots and heavier loads. Women’s snowshoes tend to feature narrower, more contoured frame designs and sizes down to 8″ x 21″. Their bindings are sized to fit women’s footwear.

snowshoe-bindingEasy to fasten bindings: Make sure the bindings fit the boots you are going to be wearing, and that the fasteners are heavy duty (so they won’t break) and easy to secure and adjust.


snowshoe-cramponSnowshoe Traction Devices: Snowshoes for rolling or mountain terrain will come with toe crampons that rotate under the  front of your foot to aid in climbing hills. Heel crampons are in a V shape and slow you down when descending hills. Look for both for casual snowshoeing in the Rockies. Some more rugged snowshoes may also have Side rails (also called traction bars) to prevent slipping when crossing steep slopes.


snowshoe-heel-liftHeel lifts: Also known as climbing bars, these are wire bails that can be flipped up under your heels to relieve calf strain on steep uphill sections and save energy on long ascents. This feature gives the feeling of walking up steps and prevents exaggerated calf and Achilles strain. These are highly recommended for the type of outings we do around Calgary.


snowshoe-top-3Closed back: Some snowshoes have a narrow webbing at the back that allows snow to collect on the platform and flip up on the back of your legs. Avoid this design. Look for a style that has a fully closed in back.



Footwear: Most snowshoe bindings are built to accept a variety of footwear, from hiking boots to snowboard boots. Generally, warm boots that are stiff enough to provide good ankle support work well for snowshoeing:

Poles: Generally, you can use any ski or hiking poles with baskets on them. If it is a rigid pole, you will want a pair that are longer than hiking or downhill ski poles to allow for sinking into the snow. You should also choose a pole with BIG baskets – so they don’t sink right in when you are treking in soft, deep snow

So this is a start. But before you go purchase your new set of snowshoes, do a little more research. Ask your friends who are already involved in the sport to find out what features they like. Join a club. Talk to a knowledgeable sales girl at your favorite outdoor store. And don’t go with the least expensive model. You get what you pay for, and equipment that breaks or is difficult to attach to your feet is no fun.

See you on the trails.