How to Choose the Perfect Snowshoes

If the thought of heading outdoors in the cold temps and heavy snow sounds miserable, it's probably because you haven't tried snowshoeing yet.

"People find a barrier to enter the sport and think that it's more challenging than it is—it's walking in the winter," says Chris McCullough, global brand manager for K2 Outdoor, Atlas Snow-Shoe Company, Tubbs Snowshoes and other outdoor brands. "That's why it's fun for families, too."

Whatever level of snowshoeing you choose to do, from easy walks to mountainous hikes, you'll need the right shoes for the conditions.

More: 5 Winter Safety Tips for Heading Outdoors

When you head to the snowshoe wall at your local outdoor store, don't be intimidated by what you see. Instead, McCullough recommends that you use three factors to help you choose the right snowshoes.

  • Your gender: Women-specific shoes have a narrower frame and bindings that mold more appropriately to a women's boot shape.
  • Your weight with gear: Are you going to be on a trail with a daypack or are you going for a full-blown day hike with extra gear?
  • Hiking terrain: Will you be on a groomed trail or in deep snow?

"This steers the consumer into the specific segment of a shoe," McCullough says.

Each snowshoe starts out from the basic industry design and branches off from there. What you buy depends on your answers to those questions.

Local shops and Nordic centers sometimes have events that tie snowshoeing in with a bigger cause or hold demo days to allow customers to test out their gear. If you can make it to one of these events to test out various pairs, that will be your best bet to get the exact pair that you need.

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Groomed or Flat Terrain

If you're heading out on a groomed trail, like at a Nordic center or a trail that doesn't have a lot of snow, aim for a shoe with a comfortable binding and no heel lift—a feature that helps relieve calf and Achilles strain on steep terrain. It just adds weight and cost.

Bindings should be comfortable. They should not create any pressure points but they should be secure enough that your boot won't slide around or come loose from the frame. This secure feel will help to maintain a normal stride, which mitigates hip or knee pain, says McCullough.

When on groomed trails, flotation—or the ability of the shoe to stay on top of the snow—isn't a factor that needs to be taken into account. Also, when buying snowshoes for groomed or flat trails, look for a less aggressive traction system—the crampons below the binding that grip the snow.

More: How to Make the Most of Your Winter

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