Snowshoeing is a great winter activity for families or anyone that wants to extend the hiking season through the winter.  It takes very little skill to use modern snowshoes.  They are designed to fit your feet and not interfere with your normal walking gait.  Further,  the cost of getting into snowshoeing is much lower than getting into sking.

What’s the Point?

The point to using snowshoes is that in many parts of the world the snow gets very deep.  To keep from sinking into the snow you will typically need something bigger than your feet to spread your weight across a larger area.  Skis, cross country and downhill, do that, but they take some skill for safe and efficient use.  Snowshoes do that without making you deal with those long skinny boards attached to your feet.

SnowshoesAs mentioned in the Winter at Crater Lake article,  you might be able to walk on top of the snow when it is iced over and still cold, but as soon as the sun comes up it starts to soften.  By afternoon you will find yourself sinking up to your thighs on the same snow you could walk on earlier.  If you want to get exhausted fast,  try walking on snow like that without snowshoes!

In this article we have provided photos of some snowshoes to illustrate the discussion.  If any of the snowshoes shown look like they would work for you, just click the image to learn more.

Snowshoe Shapes and Sizes

Snowshoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Generally the style of snowshoe depends upon the terrain where you will be using it, the type of snow, your weight and your style of snowshoeing.

SnowshoeingAs you may have noticed,  you tend to sink into powder snow further than into wet or packed snow.  If you intend to snowshoe on soft snow you will need a snowshoe with a larger deck (the part that contacts the ground); likewise if you weigh more you will want a larger deck.  Kids and smaller adults can get by with a smaller deck.

Sometimes snowshoes are marketed that are specially designed for women.  These tend to be narrower and have bindings (the part that attaches your foot to the deck) that are designed for smaller feet.   There are also unisex and men’s snowshoes, so use that as a cue when you are getting your first pair.  Getting a properly sized deck and properly fitted binding will help you walk along without sinking in too deep.  That makes the whole adventure easier and more fun.

Snowshoes come with cleats on the bottom that dig into the snow as you walk.  This keeps you from slipping around as you would walking on a flat board – or on skis.  These cleats are designed in various ways to work better on different types of terrain.  Normally snowshoes come with a set of cleats under the foot.  They work great on most terrain.  If you want to snowshoe steep terrain or are snowshoeing on ice,  you will want more traction.  Snowshoes designed for steeper terrain will have additional cleats positioned around the bottom of the deck.  For the steepest terrain, some snowshoes include a heel lift mechanism that changes the angle between your foot and the deck to make travel easier.



Redfeather Women

Redfeather Hike 25 – Woman’s

If you are just getting into snowshoeing,  snowshoes designed for flat or hilly, but not mountain, terrain are the way to go.  They tend to be less expensive than the specially designed mountain styles.  I don’t usually snowshoe on truly mountainous terrain.  Even at mountainous places like Crater Lake National Park I am typically snowshoeing on a snow covered road that could best be described as hilly.

I use an old pair of  Atlas Model 833 in their hiking series.  They are designed to accommodate up to 250 pounds and they have cleats under both the toe and heel to work well going both uphill (where the toe cleats do the work) and downhill (where the heel cleats do the work).  This particular model is obsolete.  That’s probably a good thing because the reviews suggest that the binding strap will break the next time I use them.  We’ll see.

The Redfeather Hike 25 snowshoes shown above have an aluminum frame, can hold up to 175 pounds and are designed for the typically narrower stride and smaller feet of women. They have cleats on the toe and heel, so they will  be good for hilly terrain.  The Redfeather Hike 30 is the men’s version of this snowshoe.  The major difference is that the deck is 30 by 8 inches vs the women’s 25 by 7.5 inches, so it can carry up to 220 pounds.


Redfeather Alpine Ghost

Redfeather Alpine Ghost

For more advanced users, snowshoes have more features and get more expensive.  The Redfeather Alpine Ghost shown to the right is a unisex model.  It looks different from the Redfeather Hike in more than just its color.  The most obvious difference is the V-tail that is designed to be more maneuverable when the snow gets really deep.

The snowshoe on the right in both photos shows the bottom side.  If you look closely, you can see that the toe cleat (the obvious teeth) is similar on both models, but there are a couple more cleats on the advanced model just towards the tail from the frontmost cleats. That adds more traction in the front.   The heel cleat on the Alpine Ghost is different and is designed for better grip as well.  At 30 by 9 inches it is even larger than the men’s version of the Hike model.

Again, if you look closely,  you can see a metal rod in the shape of a rectangle just behind the heel position on the top side of the Alpine Ghost.  When snowshoeing on steep terrain, you can  flip this up and it becomes a heel lift.  It is designed to keep the heel at a 15° angle to the deck and more parallel to the ground when on a steep slope.

Snowshoes for Running

Atlas Race

Atlas Race

There are also snowshoes designed especially for running. The Atlas Race, shown to the right is one such snowshoe.  Like high end running shoes,  these models get rather expensive.

They are designed to be very light and very strong, two attributes that, when combined, run the cost up considerably.  The special aluminum frame and the titanium cleats contribute to both the lower weight and the higher cost.

They are designed for flat ground and serious runners that just can’t stop even in the snow.



When snowshoeing you really need to have adjustable poles.  If you have trekking poles you use in the summer, they should do.  Just install the baskets that came with them if you haven’t already.  If you need to get a pair,  there are many to choose from at all price levels.

The bindings on these snowshoes will fit virtually any kind of boot.  You want boots rather than shoes to keep your ankles covered if you are in very deep snow.  Whether you use boots or shoes, you can add gaiters to keep the snow out.  You also want boots that will keep your feet warm and dry.  I use the same boots that I hike in in the summer.  I make sure the leather is well waterproofed.  They have a Gore-Tex lining that seems to work well.  Then it’s just a matter of wearing warm wool socks.

Beyond that, you need to dress for the weather and your activity level.  Like cross country skiing, you will be getting a lot of exercise and may find yourself warmer than you expect.  Dress in layers and carry a backpack to stash unneeded clothing.


If you can, rent some snowshoes before you buy any.  That will give you a chance to try the sport to see if it appeals to you. Then, start out with the less expensive models designed for flat to hilly country. Get some designed to carry your weight and you’ll be ready to go.  Although snowshoes make it easy to walk in the snow,  they do force you to keep your feet wider apart than you normally would.  This will introduce you to some weak muscles that need to be strengthened.  Start with short distances and work to longer distances as you get into shape.

If you have questions or would like to learn more, you can start a topic and leave your questions at our partner forum Camping Babble.  There is always someone that has plenty of knowledge and experience on about any outdoor-related topic that can help you out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

Pin It on Pinterest