How to Choose a Pair of Snowshoes

As part of our Wednesday snowshoe series we’ve discussed the history of snowshoeing and reasons to snowshoe. Today we’re talking about how to choose a pair of snowshoes.

We’ll start with the basics. The components of a snowshoe, the types of snowshoes and how to fit a snowshoe.

When I started snowshoeing I knew nothing about snowshoes. I simply headed to Sierra Trading Post and picked a pair of Redfeather Snowshoes out of the bargain barn for 25 bucks. I didn’t know that snowshoes should be sized or that there were even different types of snowshoes. I guess I did alright because I love those bargain barn snowshoes!


Since then I’ve learned that snowshoes contain 4 basic components: the deck, frame, binding and traction and finding the right snowshoe has a lot to do with gender, weight, terrain, and even snow type.


Larger decks tend to work best in powder conditions, allowing the snowshoe to stay on top of the snow, and smaller decks are best to allow the snowshoer to move on packed powder. Think of those old heavy wooden snowshoes with huge leather decks from back in the day. Their purpose was to keep whoever was on top of them on top of the deep snow.

Here in Wyoming we get a good mix of heavy wet snow, especially in the spring and dry powder snow. We like to snowshoe on a wide variety of terrain from deep snow to steep icy climbs to packed powder conditions, so while we probably should have a multitude of snowshoes I just have one pair of general recreation snowshoes. Al has two pairs of choose from.  This is especially important because he’s either moving fast down a packed trail or loaded down with a heavy pack in the snowy backcountry.


There are also 3 basic types of snowshoes, although each brand labels them something different.

3 types of snowshoes

  • Recreational: For use on gentle packed powder terrain.
  • Backcountry: For use on challenging and deep terrain (steep climbs, descents etc).
  • Racing: Short and ultra-light snowshoes designed for speed on packed trails.

There are also snowshoes specifically designed for women and children.


When it comes to fitting snowshoes each manufacturer has different guidelines. Redfeather has this handy-dandy pdf chart, Tubbs has an awesome digital snowshoe finder and Atlas has a selection filter on their website. Before purchasing a pair of snowshoes I’d recommend perusing the websites of some quality snowshoe brands.

When it comes to snowshoeing you can get really fancy depending on how into the sport you are and how much money you want to spend or you can get a really basic pair of snowshoes and still have a blast out on the trails.

What do you think about choosing a pair of snowshoes? Who has some advice to share?

Be sure to check back next Wednesday because we’re going to talk about where to buy snowshoes and whether or not you should buy them new or used.



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User Comments

  1. Johnny Mercer |

    Awesome information, Rebecca. Is there such a thing as “sizing down” in snowshoeing? My weight puts me in the 36″ snowshoe range. But when we got out to the Happy Jack area, all the trails were packed.
    I just hiked sans snowshoes and all was well, but there were a few times on some cheater/side trails that I did posthole about 6-8 inches. Would a 28″ shoe be good enough to float me on a semi-packed surface?

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