Snowshoeing basics with Cathy Anderson-Meyers

December 3, 2002

Cathy runs a snowshoe guide company. She has taken courses in avalanche training, maps and compass, first responder, etc. Anyone can snowshoe at any age. The major limitation is the altitude adjustment: people can get winded just by walking at high altitude.


The snowshoe is made up of several parts:

  1. The frame, made out of a tube of aircraft aluminum. It's bombproof and will last forever.
  2. The flotation surface. It is made of Duratec or neoprene. The surface can be punctured, but it is tear-proof.
  3. Binding straps on top of the foot and around the heel. Try the snowshoes with the boots that you will be wearing.
  4. The claw system. For mountaineering, in either deep powder or on ice, use an aggressive claw. For packed powder, use smaller claws, since you can trip on larger claws. Be careful about the claws: they can cut. Newer snowshoes now have rear claws to help prevent slippage when traversing or going downhill.
  5. A pivot system. For your toes dig into the snow, then the back of the snowshoe either flicks up only a little (unhinged style), or flicks up to be parallel to the bottom of your foot (spring loaded style). The spring loaded style flicks up a lot of snow.

Use shorter snowshoes for racing, or for packed powder, or for smaller people. For kids up to 5 years old, you can use the bear paws plastic snowshoes. They are a little wider than optimal. There is also a slightly large, somewhat narrower kids version that is more comfortable. You need a longer snowshoe for powder, or for snow camping where you are snowshoeing in powder with a heavy backpack.

Snowshoe Brands:

A 25" snowshoe is about right for normal people.

Poles are a must. They help your balance and give you an upper body workout. Adjustable snowshoe poles are about $60. you want your forearm at a right angle to your body. don't use cross country poles: they are too tall. When traversing, you can adjust the snowshoe poles so that the uphill pole is shorter. When going downhill, you can adjust the poles shorter.

Specialized snowshoe boots are very sturdy but lightweight, with a thick sole, a stiff upper, and a hard heel for protecting against snowshoe straps. Lightweight is better: every extra pound on your feet is equivalent to 5 extra pounds on your back.

When you snowshoe, your feet are a little further apart, so you get sore muscles in your groin and on the outside of your leg. Snowshoeing will strengthen your lateral leg muscles.

You should use two layers for your feet: sock liners and socks.

You can also use neoprene booties that are used by road bikers.

Gaiters are required, even for snowshoe boots, otherwise snow will get in your boots.