Snowshoes have been around since ancient times. Some clever human who was sick of wading through snowbanks decided that strapping a platform to his feet would keep him from sinking so far in the snow and make walking in it a whole lot easier. Some of the snowshoes we still walk around on today are similar in construction, basically wood frames with crisscrossed rawhide.
Today, in addition to the traditional snowshoes, there are a variety of modern materials and construction techniques used to produce space age versions of this old technology. Many of the new shoes use lightweight aluminum frames with modern plastics to create a snowshoe that will work well in all types of snow. Most also include cleats on the bottom to prevent sliding if there is any ice under the snow.
To pick the perfect snowshoe for some winter fun, the first place to start is the application for which they will be used. If you are buying snowshoes for the occasional winter walk in the woods, then it is probably not necessary to worry too much about the weight or construction. Serious trail hiking or bushwhacking through the mountains will require a better model.
There are a couple of styles that are popular. Snowshoes are made in all plastic molded models, which are very durable and even come in some spiffy colors. Tubular showshoes have a round metal framework with a plastic or fabric deck. Frame snowshoes have a metal edge with points around the edge and offer great traction.
In general, traditional wooden snowshoes are better suited to fairly level terrain. They are not really built for a hike in the high peaks where there will be plenty of steep slopes. If you are looking to traverse several miles at a rip under a variety of conditions, then spending more money for the high-tech hiking models makes much more sense.
Even though modern snowshoes are more popular, don’t write off traditional wooden snowshoes. They are great to look at and in some applications work just as well, so you can float on the snow in style.
There also is something to be said for visiting an area dealer. It may cost a little more than ordering online, but you will end up with the right gear instead of guessing.
In addition to the snowshoes, a pair of ski poles or hiking poles are a good investment. Sometimes it is easy to lose balance, depending on what you step on in the woods, and having the hiking poles helps with balance and can prevent a fall. They also make it easier to get up and down a steep hill.
One common rookie error with snowshoes is to overestimate the distance on your first trip in the woods. Snowshoes are not like taking a walk in the woods. It is a little different walking gait, and there is weight on your feet. In addition, there is all of the snow to contend with.
The point is, don’t decide to do a 10-mile hike the first time out.
Finding a place to go is easy. There are loads of state forest lands out there, both in the Adirondack and Catskill parks, and in each county. Everyone has good snowshoe territory within an easy drive of their house. Just be sure to sign in at trail registers, have a travel plan, and be sure to have a map of the area and a compass.
Winter gets kind of boring, and most of us don’t get enough exercise. A couple of hours tromping through the snow in the quiet stillness of a winter forest is a great way to spend some time outdoors.
Rob Streeter is an outdoors columnist for the Times Union. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send items to 961 Stoner Trail Road, Fonda, NY 12068.