We received the following write-up from Kim Lung, one of our Green Mountain alumnae, who, like several of us on staff, is a snowshoe addict (well, not that extreme, but she loves it!).
Snowshoeing is a fun, easy addition to a healthy lifestyle that helps you enjoy the delights of the season. Unlike cross-country skiing which requires a certain amount of skill, balance and athletic ability, snowshoeing is much easier than you might think, and the impact to your knees is less than you might expect. Further, the right snowshoe makes a huge difference in your experience. I’ve compiled some information that can save time and money in selecting snowshoes that will ensure you have fun while you enjoy the snow.
The three big considerations when renting or buying snowshoes is gender, weight and the typical terrain you will snowshoe. All snowshoes have weight restrictions based on the size of the frame. If you weigh over 180 lbs., you will need a snowshoe that is at least 33-36 inches long. Generally, the greater the weight, the longer the snowshoe for what is called in the industry 'float,' or walking on top of the snow (yes, all snowshoes will sink in fluffy powder but less so with a larger surface area). Also if you are concerned with stability, select a men’s snowshoe because they are a bit wider than woman’s and they keep you on top of the snow a bit better, especially in fluffy, light snow.
If you only go on groomed trails, you can use smaller shoes with aggressive teeth (crampons) that bite into the ice and densely packed snow. These small sporty snowshoes (around 18-30 inches) will not work as well on powder or fresh snowfall and you may sink down and discover the hardest workout you will ever hope to survive. (I’ve done this, so I know.)
Be sure to check out the binding mechanism, too. Some snowshoes pivot, causing the snow to flip up off the back when walking. I prefer the type that drags along the snow and doesn't flip up when you bring your leg forward (similar to a flip flop). This flipping whips snow up the back of your pants and eventually often makes it to the back of your jacket. The non-flipping kind, called floaters, also make it easier to climb over objects because you can move your foot through its full range of motion and engage the teeth better going over logs or up a steep grade.
As far as price, get last year’s model. You can find huge savings on the internet for discontinued models, and all descriptions usually include enough information to ensure you're getting the correct one for you. Don’t spend extra on upgraded bindings. I found them all to be a pain to use, and one was not better than another in the eight pairs of snowshoes that I went through. Columbia makes snow boots that already have the groove for the bindings, but any boot with a firm rubber sole will work well. A nice wide snow boot also improves your ability to float on the snow and keeps your feet from getting cold. Ski poles improve your balance and help you keep a rhythm. They also provide a means to get some upper body resistance training. Plus, they're invaluable when you fall down and are trying to get up. Get them, they are worth the additional money. Most have interchangeable tips so they can be used for hiking in the summer as well.
One final word of advice. When snowshoeing, try to mimic your natural stride. Keeping your knees stiff and swinging your legs from the hip will cause extreme discomfort when you try to get out of bed the next morning. Practice on a level surface for a bit first till you get comfortable and then hit the great white expanse.
Oh, yeah. Don't forget to have fun! Getting out in the woods on snowshoes in the middle of winter, amid nature and its quiet beauty, is awe-inspiring and rejuvenating!
Check out the Tubbs snowshoe site for info on how to dress for snowshoeing as well as basic how-to tips and health benefits.