What snowshoe features are best for me?

Aluminum, wooden, rubber, plastic, steel, titanium, rounded, pointed, symmetrical, asymmetrical, fixed, pivot… so many materials, shapes and styles – it’s hard to know what’s best for you. Let’s see if we can narrow it down a bit. Now, you have to decide what types of features you want your snowshoes equipped with. This will help you narrow down your choices further to a specific brand. Snowshoe brands tend to have similar features among their entire line. These features consist of frame and decking materials, binding materials and types, crampon materials and types and snowshoe shape.

You say:

How do I know which type of decking material is the best?

The decking material is what wraps around the frame of the snowshoe and gives you your flotation. Speaking objectively, there is no “best” decking material – they all have their own strengths. Hypalon decking is a rubber material found in river rafts and tends to be flexible, forgiving, cold resistant and lightweight. Composite plastic decking is rigid, stable, cold resistant and strong. Both decking materials can share all of these traits, but both are best known for their unique features. There are also certain compact snowshoes made without frames that have a plastic deck that supports weight on its own.

You say:

Are fixed or pivot bindings best for me?

Fixed Bindings are popular because they offer a natural, comfortable stride. The binding is connected to the snowshoe with a strong, neoprene rubber band, which gives the snowshoe a bit of spring while you are walking. Instead of dragging on the ground, the snowshoe follows your foot with each step. This makes it easier if you are traveling off a trail and have to climb over objects, maneuver through dense areas, or back up. Some people don’t like this type of binding, because when the snowshoe “springs” up, it can kick snow on the back of your legs.

Pivot Bindings are popular because they allow the tail of the snowshoe to fall away from your foot with each step you take. The binding is attached to the snowshoe with a metal rod, which allows the shoe to pivot 90 degrees. Since the shoes don’t follow your foot when you step, you shed snow from the tail with each step, reducing leg fatigue. Another feature that makes the pivot binding popular is that it allows you to kick your crampon into steep slopes when you are climbing. Your stride may not be as natural, and it is more difficult to back up with pivot bindings.

You say:

What kind of crampon do I need to have on my shoe?

There is not as much choice in this area. Snowshoe manufacturers have put the appropriate crampon on the shoe according to the intended use of the snowshoe, which you have already narrowed down. But, so you know what you are getting, here is a little information. Recreation snowshoes will have more moderate traction than climbing snowshoes. Climbing snowshoes typically have more aggressive talons that dig deep into the slope. Toe Crampons made of a variety of materials, but typically of stainless steel, are found underneath the binding and pivot with your foot to dig into the snow and provide traction.

Heel Crampons typically come on backcountry shoes. They are usually in a V formation under your heel and in addition to providing extra traction, slow you down on a descent as they fill with snow. Titanium Crampons found in few shoes are lightweight and extremely strong. This is the ideal crampon for a serious racer, or someone who wants to reduce weight when running on snow. Traction Bars are ideal for lateral stability. These are most often found on shoes without an aluminum frame. Traction bars are incomparable when crossing steep slopes, as they give traction along the entire edge of the shoe.

You say:

How do I know which shape snowshoe is best for me?

In the end, this decision is just one of personal preference – here are your choices:

Rounded Tail snowshoes are typically oval in shape and are symmetrical. The rounded tail is ideal for stability and flotation, as they don’t lose any surface area in their design. They do lose a bit in their maneuverability. Because you have to make your stride longer and your stance wider, you are more likely to struggle initially with your balance, since it is not your natural gait.

Pointed Tail snowshoes allow for a more natural stride since the tail tapers at the back. You don’t have to make your stride as long to clear the surface area of the other shoe. A bit of flotation is lost, because the back of the shoe does not cover as much surface area. They also tend to be a little less stable, since the front is significantly wider than the back.

You say:

Which snowshoe frame should I select?

Again, the frame selection is not much of a decision because manufacturers put the best frame on the snowshoe for its intended use.

Wooden Snowshoe Frames are hard to come by these days, but manufacturers are bringing them back for those who are looking for a traditional snowshoe.

Aluminum Snowshoe Frames are the most popular frame on the market. They are lightweight, strong and durable. Some shoes come with aluminum frames that are powder coated. Powder coated frames are nice because they come in a variety of colors and shed snow efficiently.

Powder coated frames can lose some of their visual appeal as the paint chips away with heavy use.

Frameless snowshoes are good for someone looking for a lightweight, compactable shoe. These shoes typically have traction bars along the length of the shoe to provide stability and traction.

It is important to remember that you don’t have to wade through a lot of these features when you are selecting your shoes because the manufacturer fits the best materials to the shoe’s intended use. It is nice to know what you are looking at, though, because it is easy to get bogged down with the technical jargon.

Snowshoeing is a great sport! Once you have selected the perfect snowshoe, you are in for fun, fitness and fresh air!

This is part of a larger article covering all aspects of purchasing snowshoes. This is one section of that series on how to pick the perfect pair of snowshoes. To read the entire article, please click here.

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