Snowshoes, designed to allow you to travel across snow-covered ground without sinking or struggling, form a vital part of our winter kit. They provide flotation by spreading your weight over a large, flat surface area allowing you to hike or climb in even the deepest, powdery snow.
Most of today’s snowshoes are constructed with plastic or aluminium frames and synthetic decking, although some are still made of wood. The decking is usually made of a cold-resistant rubber or plastic material. Snowshoes secure to your boots with bindings, which consist of a platform and straps that go over the foot and around the heel and are built to accept almost any footwear, so there is no need to buy special boots. Many modern snowshoes feature some type of crampons or cleats that allow you to maintain a good grip on packed, icy or steep snow. Recreational-style snowshoes will usually have crampons only at the forefoot. Climbing or backcountry snowshoes will normally have more aggressive, toothed crampons at both the forefoot and the heel. Some have a travelator bar underneath the heel that can be lifted to make climbing uphill less onerous and flotation tails can be added to most types to increase the surface area. Main manufacturers include Atlas, Crescent Moon, Faber, MSR, Northern Lights, Redfeather, TSL, Tubbs, Yakima, Yowie and Yuba; some of these make women specific snowshoes. When buying snowshoes there are 3 things to consider:
Recommended load or carrying capacity: This is a major factor in determining the right size. In most circumstances, a heavier person or one with a heavily loaded pack will require larger snowshoes than a smaller person or one carrying gear just for the day.
Snow Conditions: The recommended load is usually based on light, dry snow conditions. Larger snowshoes are needed to stay afloat in powdery snow than in wet snow. It is always best to get the smallest shoes that will support your weight for the snow conditions. As long as you have adequate flotation, smaller snowshoes will be much easier to handle.
Terrain: Packed trails, brush and forest call for smaller shoes which are easier to manoeuvre in tight spaces. Steep or icy terrain is also easier with smaller snowshoes. An open area with deep drifts will require larger snowshoes.
For the type of activities we enjoy we chose the MSR Lightening Ascent, also available in a woman specific version. Ordered online from the US, they are one of our best investments and we have used them a lot in the past 2 winters at home and overseas. We climbed Lugnaquilla last January in them drawing a lot of questions from curious climbers. In the US virtually all avid hikers will own a pair and snowshoe trails abound. But in Norway we found ourselves less welcome on trails that were dominated by Nordic skiers! For more information on MSR snowshoes see: http://cascadedesigns.com/msr/snowshoes/category