In winter, the snow gets pretty deep around here. Sometimes it comes early. Other years it arrives late. Most winters, the snow just keeps getting deeper and deeper until spring arrives. I don’t think much about the snow depth until it reaches my knees, because I can trudge through lesser amounts. But once it gets to my knees, it’s time to wear snowshoes.
Native people originated snowshoes to walk atop the snow. They are still used for that practical purpose today. The original style of snowshoe, with a wooden frame and hide webbing is still available. But new options exist with frames and webbings made of strong, lightweight materials. Most new models are smaller than traditional snowshoes, which means they are easier to wear and less cumbersome. Some have built-in crampons to make it easier to climb slopes.
Choosing the right pair of snowshoes depends upon how you intend to use them. The snow in the Northern Wilds is usually soft and deep, so you need a snowshoe with good flotation to prevent sinking into it. That’s why I like the traditional Alaskan style, which is long and narrow with upturned tips like skis. Since I weigh 200 pounds, I need a substantial snowshoe to support my weight. Even with these shoes, I’ll still sink deeply into unbroken powder.
I generally use my snowshoes to get around in the forest or traverse lakes and trails to reach ice fishing destinations. Some winters, I’ll make a snowshoe trail to walk my dogs. Since my use of snowshoes is primarily utilitarian, my choice of the Alaskan style may not be best for you. If you are planning to use snowshoes for casual recreation or traveled trails, you may be better off with a modern design.
Just as important as the snowshoe is the binding, which attaches the shoe to your boot. The binding should fit your usual pair of warm, winter boots.
You can use snowshoes anywhere there is snow, but it seems silly to me to wear snowshoes when the snow is just a few inches deep. Learning to walk with snowshoes is relatively easy, but if you are just starting out, go to a park or similar place that has a trail for snowshoeing. Don’t use them on cross-country ski trails.
Many shops rent snowshoes during the winter. Trying them out can make for a great family outing. The shop will be able to help you select suitable snowshoes and direct you to a snowy place where you can use them.
Here’s a little pro tip: The best time to go snowshoeing is later in winter, when increasing sunshine thaws the surface of the snow during the day and it freezes at night, forming a crust. The snowshoeing is easy then, especially in the morning, and you can move quickly across the snowpack. It’s a great time to get out and explore the Northern Wilds.
By Shawn Perich