Choosing the best snowshoe for you

There are many ways to get around in the snow and explore, whether you are a skier, snowmobiler or hiker. For me, I find snowshoeing to be one of the most effective and rewarding activities.

A lot of times it is actually easier to get around places on snowshoes in the winter. If you can walk, you can probably snowshoe.

There are many types of snowshoe available to choose from, from the modern to traditional. Although the modern snowshoes have their advantages with metal crampons and maneuverability, I prefer the look and function of the more traditional snowshoe.

Traditional snowshoes are primarily made up of a frame of steam-bent wood strung with rawhide, sinew or, more recently, neoprene. Attached to that is a binding to hold your shoe in place. A simple lamp wicking used to loop around the toe and heel has been used. Around here, the more common binding is the Maki binding, made of inner tube rubber, that works well. There are also a few modern bindings with straps and buckles to secure your boot.

There are basically four different types of traditional snowshoes out on the market today and each of them has its own unique function.

The most common and familiar to this area are the Michigan or Main snowshoes. These have a rounded and upturned toe and typically measure around 45 inches long and about 14 inches wide. These measurements vary depending on manufacturer and the size of the user. They are fairly maneuverable and have a sufficient amount of float for the amount of snow we have to deal with.

A closely related style of snowshoe to the Michigan/Maine is called the Ojibwa. Instead of having a rounded toe, these shoes have a pointed toe. This makes them much easier to navigate through tangled brush such as a tag alder swamp. This is my preferred style of snowshoe for getting around thick woods.

The Alaskans are a much longer snowshoe measuring around 60 inches long and 10 inches wide. They are great for trekking in a straight path with good float over powdery snow. Unfortunately they are not very maneuverable through brush and can be difficult to use in this area.

The bear paw or green mountain style is another common variety. They measure only about 30 inches long and at most 14 inches wide. They are very maneuverable, but do not have sufficient float to be efficient for travel in our mid winter snow. They are more useful during the late season when the snow gets crusty and in the early spring when the tree-tapping season begins. I believe that is their intended use.

Finally, there is the beavertail or elbow-style snowshoe. They measure about 30 inches long and 20 inches wide. They can look almost circular. Indigenous people in the far north use this type of snowshoe where the snow is especially powdery due to the extreme cold. These are typically more densely and intricately woven than the more common snowshoes. This provides a lot of surface area to help float over fluffy snow.

Now that the snow is here there is a plethora of opportunities for outdoor recreation. There are many new chances to get out any and enjoy the outdoors that were not available earlier this winter. From skiing to snowmobiling, there is no reason not to get out and enjoy this beautiful season.