Updated February 2022
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Buying guide for Best snowshoes

Snowshoes offer a fun and inexpensive way to explore a snowy landscape, and little skill is required to get started. The different varieties of snowshoes are designed for certain types of terrain, so you should have an idea of where you’ll be trekking before purchasing a pair.

A snowshoe is made up of a frame, decking, binding, and crampons, each of which helps to secure your feet and distribute your weight over a large area so you can “float” on the surface of the snow. Snowshoe varieties include flat, rolling, and mountain snowshoes. Some snowshoes are better and handling certain conditions, like powder, deep drifts, packed trails, and steep ice. The price of snowshoes depends on their size and overall construction

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Not sure what carrying capacity to choose when buying snowshoes? Add 10 to 25 pounds, or more, to your weight, depending on how much gear you plan to carry with you.

Anatomy of a snowshoe

The construction of a snowshoe is simple at first glance, but it contains a number of important and useful features. After all, there’s a reason they’re still around after thousands of years.

  • Frame: Modern snowshoes have a rectangular or oblong frame made either of a single piece of aluminum tubing or composite plastic. They’re usually wider at the front, tapering to a narrower point at the back, or tail, of the snowshoe.

  • Decking: The material filling the space in the frame was traditionally a latticework of rawhide strips. Now it’s usually a panel made of synthetic material. (Some composite models are just a single piece of molded plastic with venting added.)

  • Bindings: Atop the decking are the bindings that hold the snowshoe on your foot. These can be simple straps or a step-in binding system. Some snowshoers opt for hybrid binding, also known as a fixed binding system, which provides greater control on rough terrain but also offers more comfort when walking.

  • Crampons: On the bottom of the snowshoe are crampons, which provide traction on rugged terrain so you can go up a hill without sliding back down.

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Expert Tip
Shorten your snowshoe poles slightly to help with uphill climbs, lengthen them for balance on downhill stretches, and try one shorter and one longer when easing up or down the side of a hill.

Flotation and articulation

Flotation and articulation are important terms to know when looking for snowshoes to buy.

Flotation is the way a snowshoe spreads out your weight so that you seem to “float” over the snow. The wider the snowshoe, the higher the flotation.

Articulation refers to how much your foot moves in the snowshoe bindings. Most of the snowshoes used for recreational snowshoeing have a full-rotation binding system that allows the tail of the snowshoe to drop away from the heel while you walk, reducing muscle fatigue. Racers and other snowshoers who need more maneuverability and control use a fixed-rotation binding system that limits the distance the tail drops from the foot.

One size doesn’t fit all

At first glance, a snowshoe doesn’t look too complicated. It’s just a frame several inches wider than your foot with webbing in the middle and some simple bindings, right? Well, there are different snowshoes designed for the terrain, the individual user, and even the kind of snow in which they’ll be used.


There is a snowshoe designed for every type of terrain out there.

  • Flat: Best for beginners, casual snowshoers, and families, snowshoes for flat terrain are also the easiest to find and usually the lowest priced. They work on level to gently rolling ground, which is what you’d find at a local park or snowshoe center.

  • Rolling: For hikers and backpackers who like to explore off the beaten path, this type of snowshoe has sturdier bindings and longer crampons to take a bigger “bite” on the terrain. These snowshoes can handle tougher challenges. They’re rugged and designed to carry the extra weight of a hiker’s heavy winter rucksack.

  • Mountain: Backcountry snowboarders, mountaineers, and experienced hikers are most likely to purchase ultra-tough snowshoes. Often made of composite material, these work well in icy conditions, on very steep terrain, and in the harsh conditions you’ll find well off the trail. There are even specialty snowshoes made for running on snowy or icy terrain.


Gender and age are factors in choosing the right snowshoe for you.

  • Men: Typically, the largest-width snowshoes are designed for men. Even lower-priced, flat-terrain versions are often built to be a little more rugged than necessary to accommodate the heavier weight and larger boots.

  • Women: The bindings on snowshoes designed for women are sized to fit women’s winter footwear. The snowshoe frames are narrower, more contoured, and come in a range of sizes as small as 8 x 21 inches.

  • Children: Snowshoes come in a range of sizes for children – even toddlers. The bindings are adjustable to accommodate growing feet.

Snow conditions

And of course, you want to consider the type of snow you’ll be snowshoeing in.

  • Powder: Light, fluffy snow is the most difficult to traverse in snowshoes. A wider snowshoe works better on this type of snow. If you plan to snowshoe in powder conditions, make sure the length of the snowshoes is appropriate for this type of snow. Consult an expert or the manufacturer’s sizing guide.

  • Deep drifts: Wider snowshoes can also help you walk over and past drifting snow.

  • Packed trail: It’s much easier to maneuver in a narrower snowshoe on packed trails and in brush or forested areas. Walking in wider snowshoes on packed or groomed snow may expend more energy than necessary.

  • Steep ice: Narrower snowshoes with beefier crampons handle treacherous conditions much better than wide snowshoes.

"While wider snowshoes are best for drifts and powder, narrow snowshoes are easier to move around in. If you need maneuverability more than flotation, pick the smallest width snowshoe that will support the weight of you and your equipment."

Snowshoe prices

  • Lower-end snowshoes for flat terrain range from $60 to about $100.

  • Snowshoes for rolling terrain can range from $80 to nearly $300.

  • Specialty snowshoes for mountainous terrain can run well over $300.

  • Children’s snowshoes range from $20 (toddler and low-end models) to $90.

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Casual snowshoeing doesn’t require an aggressive crampon system, like deep crampons or side-rail traction. Save your money for accessories.


Practice getting in and out of the bindings at home. This will give you a chance to adjust the snowshoes to your feet without struggling with them in the snow at the trailhead. This is also a good time to adjust your walking poles to size.

Make sure the bindings are comfortable and that you can move around freely. Whether in the store or at home, strap on (or step into) the snowshoes, adjust the bindings, and walk around. This will tell you whether the bindings are too loose or uncomfortably tight. If the bindings are too loose, the snowshoe will move around too much under your foot and make snowshoeing difficult. If the bindings are too tight, the pressure points can be painful.

Dress in layers. Wear a base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin and an outer layer that is water- and wind-resistant. You want to be able to remove or add layers as you heat up and cool down during your trek. And remember to check the weather conditions before heading out.

Start with a short trek. Test your snowshoes at a local park, around your neighborhood, or at a snowshoe trail if one is available. You’ll get used to the feel of walking with snowshoes, learn how to place your poles for balance, and discover any issues. Snowshoeing takes more effort than walking (but not as much as cross-country skiing), so the short walk will get you accustomed to the effort and help you gauge your level of fitness.

Plan a longer trek. Once you’ve tested out your gear, go out for a few hours or even a full day. Consider going with a group the first few times. You can make new friends and tackle challenging courses you may not want to do by yourself.

Use your snowshoes for the appropriate activity. To get the longest life out of your snowshoes, don’t use casual snowshoes on rugged terrain. It could lead to broken bindings or dinged-up aluminum tubing.

Wipe down the frame, decking, crampons, and bindings when you’re done. Hang the snowshoes up to dry, but try to keep them away from direct heat sources like space heaters or fireplaces. For long-term storage, place them in a snowshoe bag.

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