Choosing the right snowshoe can be difficult. You may find some conflicting information regarding the right size snowshoe for your specific needs, so we’ve put together an article to help you out. We have a size chart included below as well.
Factors For Choosing Snowshoes
Snowshoeing is an enjoyable recreational activity that provides ample opportunity to explore the winter wilderness. When choosing snowshoes, there are several factors to consider in order to ensure a comfortable and safe experience.
The size of your snowshoe should be appropriate for your weight and activity level; closely following manufacturer guidelines will prevent over-sizing or under-sizing, but we also will cover some important tips in this article.
With sizing, there are a few key considerations:
- Your weight + your pack and clothing weight
- The conditions you’ll be in
- Is your region always icy, always have deep powder? all over the place?
- WIll you only be using snowshoes in certain types of conditions.
- Deep powder will require bigger snowshoes, but if you infrequently have deep powder days, but often encounter icy conditions, a lighter weight and smaller snowshoe might be better.
Frame material should be carefully considered, you’ll come across three common types:
- Aluminum Frame – This type is characterized by its lightness and strength. It also has supportive decking material attached to the frame, which can be made of plastic, coated nylon, urethane, PVC-coated polyester or synthetic rubber.
- Composite Materials – These types feature a hard material (composite hard plastic) that functions as both the deck and the frame of the snowshoe. These are very lightweight options. You’ll notice on ice or harder snow, that these snowshoes tend to be pretty loud.
- EVA Foam – Foam snowshoes are relatively new, and they have several benefits. The foam adds a layer of insulation between your feet and the ground, which adds warmth. These snowshoes do not have great traction for any ice or steep terrain. Because they don’t have metal traction at the bottom, these can be considered a safer option for walking with pets for example. Also, because of the foam, the sound of these snowshoes is reduced, which could make them viable options for hunters in certain conditions.
Snowshoes have different levels of traction to pay attention to. If you plan on using your snowshoes for mountains, you’ll want a lot of traction in the form of microspikes/crampons on the bottom of the snowshoes. This can come in various forms from just spikes on the toe portion, to around the entire frame, or even to snow breaks to stop from backsliding on steep and powdery slopes.
Each snowshoe you look at should show pictures of the bottom portion, and explain the traction device features that are on them. This can also be nice to scope out in person at a local store.
The style of snowshoe you choose should suit the terrain that you are likely to traverse; flat terrain requires larger running shoes or tapered models, whereas rugged terrain may require smaller climbing or racing frames.
In addition, there are models with heel risers to aid with climbing steeper slopes. This is an important feature for those who will be climbing mountains, but that won’t be needed if your usage is always on flat terrain.
Bindings should fit comfortably around your boots; there are several styles of bindings. In our opinion, the style of binding is just a preference, as most quality snowshoes today have reliable binding systems that are easy to use. We look for a system that:
- Is easy to strap and unstrap with gloves on
- Stays on the boot without slipping
- Is easy to tighten or adjust with gloves on
Watch videos on the shoe you are considering purchasing to see how the binding system works, and also read reviews on this to make an educated decision for yourself.
Most bindings “pivot” meaning that they allow your toe portion of your boot to stay attached to the snowshoe while the heel rises. This makes walking up hill quite a bit easier, and makes it easier to walk with longer snowshoes as well. This is what we recommend in nearly all cases, however, you will find snowshoes that the entire length of your boot is fixed to the deck of the snowshoes. These should only be used in flat environments. Snowshoe runners may use these frequently.
Snowshoe Sizing Chart
There are a few things to note regarding the chart below:
- Weight includes pack weight and clothing weight
- Many snowshoes are unisex, but some are not, so we broke the chart out into women’s, men’s and kids sizes
- The chart has overlapping weights as these are ranges and not hard numbers.
- Individual snowshoes will often have maximum weights, pay attention to the manufacturer’s numbers.
General Snowshoe Sizing Chart
|Weight (LBS)||Weight (kg)||Size|
|Under 23 kg
Women’s snowshoes tend to be a bit more narrow than men’s snowshoes and accommodate smaller shoe sizes. The ranges listed above will be dependant upon the type of snowshoeing you plan on doing. If hiking in powder or loose snow, the larger end of the range is recommended, but if hiking on more packed snow, the lighter and smaller snowshoes can be nice.
Snow Conditions Snowshoe Sizing Chart
|Your Weight||Packed Snow||Soft Snow|
|90-125lbs. / 41-57kg||22 in / 56 cm||22 in / 56 cm|
|125-175lbs. / 57-79kg||22 in / 56 cm||24-26 in / 56-66 cm|
|175-225lbs. / 79-120kg||22-25 in / 56-64||26-30 in / 56-76 cm|
|225lbs.+ / 102kg+||22-25 in / 56-64||30+ in / 76+ cm|
The 80% Rule
You’ll notice that with packed snow, you really don’t need to size up. Packed snow enables just about any snowshoe size to work well. It really is when you start getting into deep snow that you’ll want to size up. Therefore, before choosing a snowshoe length, you need to know where you’ll be spending most of your time. If you’ll be spending 80% of your time on packed and well traveled trails, you’ll probably want a smaller snowshoe. You’ll really only need to increase size for those 20% of hikes, where you may sink in a bit. However, if those 20% days require optimal performance, you can opt for a bigger snowshoe, just know in the packed snow days, you’ll likely be wishing you had some smaller snowshoes.
Snowshoe Sizing & Tail System
MSR is really one of the only brands that utilizes snowshoe tails, but this is an extremely awesome feature that allows you to purchase a smaller pair of snowshoes for the 80% of your snowshoeing days, and then just add on your tail for those super fluffy high snow days.
REI has a great summary video on choosing snowshoes as well:
Top Online Snowshoe Retailers
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Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about