Snowshoes, I'm curious.

8:51 p.m. on November 14, 2012 (EST)
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I have 'traditional' Newfoundland handmade bearpaw snowshoes,  slightly egg-shaped ovals about 2/3 as wide as they are long. They're made of pvc pipe, wrapped in black tape, with webbing made of that flat shiny nylon twine that lobster pots are made from. Very lightweight. Mine were made for me as a child and then it turned out I didn't get much bigger, so they still support me. In all these years, they've never needed a repair, and I'll never part with them. But I am curious about these newfangled aluminum ones. 

Aren't they too narrow for off-trail use? In winter I take advantage of the easy bushwhacking, getting to places that would be a bloody struggle the rest of the year. So I'm walking on top of willow, alder, small spruce, all buried under 3 to 5 feet of snow, which means the snow is full of voids and air pockets. Do these narrow shoes keep you up above this? Or are they meant for 'solid' snow? 

Also, do you end up carrying piles of snow on top of them? The slick surface and open weave of mine means no snow builds up on them, even heavy wet snow. These aluminum ones look like serving trays. How does that work? 

Ours also have ingenious 'braces' -- what you'd call bindings -- simple sheets of heavy duty rubber, tied on at the front edges only, with a hole sized for your boot. They're never too tight, they never slip off, and you can get your snowshoes on and off without even bending down, let alone using your hands (just step on the shoe with the other foot). I've studied pictures of the aluminum ones, but can't quite figure out the boot-holding system. Are you fussing with buckles and having to take off your mitts? 

This is longer than I meant it to be! But I'd really like to know how they work.

9:43 p.m. on November 14, 2012 (EST)
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The answer is "it depends." Hey, I'm a lawyer and that's the answer to every question. :)

But back to your question. I suggest visiting this and reading the section on snowshoes. If you are in Ca (as opposed to CA where I am) this is the site for you. Pretty much anything I know about winter travel, I learned there. The members know just about everything there is to know about winter travel in Canada and the Far North. What they mostly use are traditional shoes - big ones made the old fashioned way from wood with leather bindings; essentially like yours, but from traditional materials. They come in various shapes depending on the people who first designed them way back when. As you said, yours sound like the Bearpaw design.

Here is a link to one of the pages on snowshoes-there are other pages in the section on modern shoes and how to use them-

Modern shoes are small compared to the ones those folks use. Mine are Atlas 1225 shoes (not pictured) and are far smaller than the type used in the Far North. Here in California, the snow tends to be very wet, what we call "Sierra Cement," so they work fine under most circumstances except when the snow is new. There are bigger modern shoes of course, but most don't exceed 30-35" and the weight range for a shoe that big is a pretty big person, according to Atlas, for example.

If I was in Ontario, I would probably want a much bigger snowshoe even for someone my size.

Yes, you do get some snow buildup on the new ones, but not as much as you'd think and yes, the bindings are far more complicated than they probably need to be-they do require fiddling with the straps, although the newer ones are easier to use with less tugging and whatnot to tighten and loosen the bindings.

12:04 a.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I'm a fan of the MSR Denalis and the new version, the Evo. They are a plastic resin and quite tough, which is why every school board and equipment rental shop in Canada owns them.  The design is also flexible enough to work well for different weights of users and for different snow conditions. They don't have a metal edge around the outside and they don't have a flexible deck. Snow always slides right off and never balls up. 

While they are quite narrow (which allows for a natural gait) they work fine 'as is' on a typical trail. For deeper snow, my Denalis come with 4" and 8" extensions which can be quickly attached for more float, and the Evos come with a 6" extension.

In terms of surface area, that's on a par with other modern brands. Most are 8-10" wide and from 22-35" long. At 155 lbs, I'm usually fine with 8x22" in the Denalis, but I'll add the 4" extensions in soft powder. I've only had to add the 8" tails on a couple of rare occasions. In winter gear, I can weigh up to 200 lbs, but even then I don't have a problem. The Atlas 1225s that Tom mentions would be 12" wide by 25" long - a small woman would have a hard time walking in them.

The newer models are tougher, more comfortable, and work better in varying conditions. I grew up in Ontario where 6' of snow wasn't uncommon, and have lived and worked north of Latitude 53 for a couple of decades. When I was a kid, the only snowshoes you could buy were the old wooden ones. They worked, but not very well except in certain conditions. Now the only ones you can find in the stores are a very narrow version - I suspect the old tennis rackets caused too many pulled groin muscles from walking like a duck, so the manufacturers have moved away from them.

If you want to try some of the modern ones, rent from your local MEC store. You could also look on my last trip report for examples of different kinds of modern snowshoes and how well they work. It's been interesting comparing the various styles over the years, on different walks in different terrain with different snow and different levels of experience.

11:31 a.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I like traditional white ash with rawhide lacing.  Some of the modern snowshoes are fine, but most of them are way too small, especially for people that weigh 200 pounds, carry overnight equipment and don't hike on trails.

4:45 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I used only the white ash and sinew snowshoes but in different models. My last pair were sixty year old Tubbs in the Maine design. I found that I liked a stout tail  to the shoes as it helps in tracking and in lifting the front of the shoe. I've used leather harnesses but usually found that a squaw hitch made of lampwicking was better for me.

Longer shoes, like the Ojibwa are great for gliding on open terrain, but the shorter shoes seem to be better for working your way through tangled woods or alder swamps. Obviously, one size does not fit all.

4:47 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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ppine said:

I like traditional white ash with rawhide lacing.  Some of the modern snowshoes are fine, but most of them are way too small, especially for people that weigh 200 pounds, carry overnight equipment and don't hike on trails.

I pretty much agree with this, although I wouldn't go as far as to say 'WAY too small'. The largest surface I can get with my Denalis is 240 sq inches, They work well for snowshoeing with up to 40-50 lbs of extra weight (total 200 lbs) in most snow conditions, including powder and off-trail, but as with the OP I rarely do any long-distance backpacking in mid-winter.

I'd be going slow on deep, soft powder if I tried to carry an additional 50 lbs of winter overnight gear on my back as well. You could make them work for longer trips by carrying your gear on a pulk instead. Buy one of those light plastic sleds for towing kids around if you want to do winter backpacking.

4:52 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I have some modern MSR shoes and a pair of Sherpas and as Tom said, they are fine for the Sierra Cement or Cascade Concrete we have in the coastal west. They are lightweight, relatively robust and easy to use. I also have a pair of babiche laced ash shoes in the Yukon pattern. This style is usually between 56 and 60 inches in length and fairly narrow. Every traditional shoe was designed for specific purposes and specific conditions, but obviously with some overlap. The Yukons also known as Trail snowshoes are good for trails or relatively open country and drier snow. The Bear Paws, sans tails are good for brushy areas where tight quarters are encountered. A Green Mountain Bear Paw is a compromise between the other two styles. Yukons, being narrow but long with an big upturn and long tails have good support. In order to get good support in a short shoe, like the Bear Paw, width is needed which can result in what the voyageurs called "mal de racket". Though traditional shoes are heavier than the modern ones, they do have some advantages, especially the Yukons. They have a fair amount of spring and the tail means you don't actually pick up the whole weight of the shoe with each step. This makes jogging ahead of a sledge in deep snow possible. You will find the newer snow shoes suit you better unless you are covering great distances. No one these days covers the ground the old explorers did, with the current distance record for snow shoes having been set in the mid 19th century, from Fort Macpherson to St. Paul, over a period of two months.

5:48 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I'm not going to be carrying anymore than 30-40 lbs. tops, so all up I'm at maybe 175-180 at most, so my smaller shoes work here in CA. If you read the articles on www.wintertrekking, one thing they note is not to use shoes with crampons (like mine) when crossing lakes where you might encounter slush because you could punch through the snow and wind up with wet boots or worse.

Anyone who wants traditional shoes should look on eBay. There are dozens of them. Most people think they are just decoration these days, but obviously that is not the case. The modern shoes are what you find in the rental shops because they don't require a lot of maintenance and you can put a lot of miles on them without thinking too much about taking care of them.

8:12 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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I must say, I'm happy and surprised to see the word 'rackets' used, I thought that was a Newfoundland English term (we rarely say 'snowshoes').

Some people here still use the wooden-framed tailed ones. My pvc-pipe handmades, while certainly not as attractive, are very common. The use of the plastic instead of wood is pure practicality. It makes for very light snowshoes. I take mine even if I'm not sure I'll need them (they weigh less than half a pound, I'd say) and I can walk all day in them. Also, they're unbreakable. The wooden ones can crack, should you hit a rock or a gap the wrong way. And while you still see leather bindings with buckles, my rubber 'ankle gaskets' (my term, they aren't called that) mean no frozen-fingered fumbling with ice-clogged metal.

Function over form. What I have has been perfected for the environment I'm in. Really, so far, I see no reason to use anything else. The only feature on modern ones that made me look twice was the integrated crampons, but with rackets that are so easy to take off and carry, that's not a feature I actually need. If there's ice, then off they come, and I put on the 'creepers' (our word for crampon-type things). Our conditions are mostly deep soft snow, anyway.

TomD, thanks for the link!

9:02 p.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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'Rackets', from the French 'les raquettes' or 'raquette a neige'. It's the same word used in French for tennis rackets.

The crampons come in handy, especially in areas where you get freeze/thaw cycles that can leave icy layers that make for treacherous walking on wooden snowshoes. They are also good on steep slopes; on occasion, I've put my snowshoes on just for the ease of getting up a hill using the crampons, and taken them off at the top.

I've never had a crampon punch through the ice on a frozen lake, since the snowshoes make you float on the snow on top of it. I HAVE had my toes punch through the snow into water trapped above the ice under the snow though. That was back when I was young and foolish enough to walk on questionable ice, and it was just the toes of my mukluks on wooden snowshoes that punched through. 

I sure would like to see a photo of those 'traditional Newfoundland snowshoes'! Sounds like quite a unique design and it's neat how local materials were used to build them. PVC and lobster trap line? Very cool!

12:32 a.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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Even on my old Yukons, we modified them for our own use, While not installing crampons, the trick was to wrap the frames with poly rope. It gave better traction and saved the babiche from wear. There was also the debate of the thin babiche over the thick. The thin was lighter and certainly more beautiful, but much more prone to being cut by crust. Islandess, your rackets seem to work well for you which is the metal of any tool!

6:38 a.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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Each type of snowshoe has its pros and cons. The more traditional style shoes do indeed provide superior flotation due to their increased surface area/size. Newer more modern shoes generally do not provide as much flotation as their traditional counterparts, but this can be remedied by making the shoes longer with tails such as on the MSR Denali shoes, or by buying a bigger shoe in general.

I find the big difference is in the new bindings and crampons/teeth on the modern shoes. I am sorry, but trying to traverse a steep slope while wearing traditional shoes can be challenging to say the least. And the bindings on trad shoes leave much to be desired as well, especially when going up and down slopes.

I started out with trad shoes and they worked great for their intended purpose-to provide superior flotation over gently rolling terrain,poor traction, OK bindings if not trying to traverse steep terrain, larger size makes off trail use tricky at times but superior flotation counteracts this some. Then I switched to the MSR Denali's which provide-decent flotation,superior grip/traction, excellent bindings, small size makes navigating off trail or around obstacles very easy.

Kinda goes with everything, but if the modern shoes didn't have a role to fill and were not any better than traditional styles shoes  then there would be none for sale!

8:28 a.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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Your statement

Kinda goes with everything, but if the modern shoes didn't have a role to fill and were not any better than traditional styles shoes  then there would be none for sale!

neglects the key element of advertizing and human behavior captured in the famous quote "There is a sucker born every minute." :)

I found some gravel on the floor this morning. When I bought this pet rock I was told it was house-trained.

1:23 p.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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Yes, Rambler, you are correct in that if there wasn't a need, the Sherpas and now a plethora of other modern snow shoes would not have been developed. Nor would traditional snow shoes still be made and used in places like Nunavut, NWT and the Yukon if there wasn't a practical reason for their use. To be sure, I have not used my Yukons in more than ten years because of the steep slopes and hard snow in the PNW.

With all gear, it is important that we assess our needs and the qualities of the product.  We often think that in terms of more traditional gear, it survives only because of some misplaced loyalty or adherence to past practices. Canvas wall tents survive and flourish in their use in the North, not because of any nostalgia for the past, but because they are a proven technology that continues to function. Every summer, I see dozens of these tents along the rivers I paddle. They are expensive and very heavy, and notwithstanding that many are made by Fort McPherson Tents, the people who use them are not in the least nostalgic about them.

3:53 p.m. on November 18, 2012 (EST)
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If I ignore the many snowshoes made on the spot in an emergency, I have owned three pairs over the last few decades. My first "real" pair was based on the Beavertail or Cree model used by the Canadian Armed Forces. Money was tight back then and much of my gear was acquired through the local army surplus in Dawson. These have aluminum frames with cable webbing. The harness is lamp wick. I have used these for may years, but have since retired them in favour of a pair of Sherpa Bigfoot I saved from a land fill. I found the Sherpa's to be a revelation of technology and could never go back to the more traditional models. Now I use MSR Lightning Ascent snowhoes and absolutely love them. They are a little more time-consuming to lace up but are much stronger, with better traction and much more stable than traditional ones.

5:20 p.m. on November 18, 2012 (EST)
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I have three traditional pairs, and I got some denalis for xmas last year. I just want some snow, all this talk of snowshoes is great but here in nh we have been over a year without snow. I old school tubbs, until I hit a hill. Sliding backwards or sideways back down has lost its thrill for me.

5:21 p.m. on November 18, 2012 (EST)
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+1 on the MSR's. I have the denali's and love them. Here in CA the snow we get is mostly wet, and my Denali's float above it with ease. Nice and light too, let you walk with a natural gait. never needed to use the tails, my snowshoeing is mostly day trips.

9:57 p.m. on November 18, 2012 (EST)
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I havent even used mine yet. I got them for xmas and we have had no snow since. I carried them up a couple of hills last winter, but everything was ice so I used my micro spikes. I cant wait to try them, im sure ill need the extensions as im over 200 lbs.

10:12 p.m. on November 18, 2012 (EST)
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I think I forgot how to use snowshoes after last season. My 10 points got a good workout though. Hopefully I will get to use them sometime as the season progresses and have a reason to get them out of storage...

11:57 a.m. on November 19, 2012 (EST)
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I have seen references to"packed-trail use" in snowshoe reviews. Now, where I am, the only 'packed trails' are snowmobile trails and maybe somebody's trapline, so that's a criteria I hadn't really considered. That's not like areas of localized ice or hard crust, and I can see that having some traction might matter quite a bit, more of the time. We use the rope wrapping technique  that Erich mentions, using rough old rope for best traction, when required, and the gap in the weave lets toes dig in on slopes.

I did kind of think that the deal with modern snowshoes was mainly that they could be mass-produced.  Even with a substitute for the bentwood frame, the woven webbing on traditionals is a good bit of handiwork. So materials and methods change, like when a small wooden boat gets rendered in fibreglass or aluminum. Sometimes differences in function go along with the change of material.

But a fellow on another forum said that snowshoeing in 'deep light snow' was 'not fun'. And here's me looking forward to it. I hope he either doesn't have to walk in it much, or finds the right snowshoe, however it's made.

4:31 p.m. on November 19, 2012 (EST)
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See latest TR and use that "half as far, half as fast" rule when planning a snowshoe walk, until you get a good idea of distances and time, especially in deep, dry powder.

6:30 p.m. on November 19, 2012 (EST)
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Rick-Pittsburgh said:

I think I forgot how to use snowshoes after last season. My 10 points got a good workout though. Hopefully I will get to use them sometime as the season progresses and have a reason to get them out of storage...

 Hmm, if I remember right, it's left foot first, then right foot, then left, but I may be wrong, and it's the other way around. :)


6:47 p.m. on November 19, 2012 (EST)
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i have been using the same pair of Sherpa snowshoes for nearly 30 years.  aluminum frame, neoprene deck and lacing.  i'm on my 3d pair of bindings; except for a lot of scrapes on the aluminum and a few small repairs to the neoprene laces, they are in great shape.  incredibly durable.  they are a fair bit heavier than modern snowshoes. 

Sherpa long since disappeared, but as of a few years ago, the last time i replaced my bindings, you could still buy the functional equivalent from IRL Supplies in British Columbia.

Note that these snowshoes are available in substantially larger square footage than most.  these snowshoes are 10 x 37 and have enough float to navigate deep, off-trail powder for me plus a daypack (around 220-230 pounds combined weight).  with a large backpack, combined weight 270, i'm postholing in light powder but usually sinking to my knees, not my hips.

another advantage is that the "ice harness" claw is very aggressive, spikes almost as long as my crampons, and they are heavy grade steel.  outstanding grip in situations where many snowshoes might take you for a downhill slide.   




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