|Selecting the right snowshoe for you is a balance of the following key influencing factors: Primary activity or use, Gender, Snow conditions, and Terrain. If you snowshoe a fair amount of time this may lead to a couple different pair for snowshoes: one pair for backcountry and one pair for racing.|
- Primary activity: Decide how you will use your snowshoe: Fitness, recreation, racing, and expedition or backcountry. Racing snowshoes are light weight and small (regulation length 8"x22") and are designed for running over groomed trails as a competitive sport or for fitness. Fitness and recreation snowshoes span the difference between racing snowshoes with a small deck and the larger backcountry snowshoes with larger flotation.
- Gender: Women specific snowshoes differing these areas: smaller bindings to accommodate women's smaller boots and shapes to match the stride pattern of women.
- Snow conditions: If you snowshoe in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, or Southeast the snow conditions tend to be wet/dense thus you may want to choose a smaller size shoe.
- Floatation: Floatation is linked to your weight (in your winter boots and all your layers and possibly a pack) and the snow conditions. Typically, larger snowshoes are used in powder, while smaller snowshoes are used heavy wet, packed snow. Racing snowshoes have very little flotation and are best for hard packed groomed snow courses.
- Terrain: Will you be snowshoeing on rolling terrain or steep ascents climbing 14ers or on a hut trip? Steep ascent and traverses suggest aggressive crampons and side teeth for stability.
- Binding types: There are two binding types: fixed and hinged with a pivot point. The advantage of the fixed (with a spring-loaded binding system) is increased maneuverability and the ability to easily backup. The racing snowshoes I own [Atlas Dual-Trac Super Lite] use this type of binding system. The down side of the spring-loaded system is during training on surfaces that are not completely groomed and packed you will have snow kicked up by the spring action on your back and legs (usually down the neck). Backcountry or most recreation use the hinged (single pivot point) that swing freely down to allow snow to fall off the back decking. You can mount your shoes to the decking through a number of methods which reduce the weight for racing. I have seen this technique used for backcountry snowshoes offered by a rental company.
Snowshoes I own and use:
- Racing snowshoes: Atlas Dual-Trac Super Lite. Used in winter adventure racing and training. Owned 3 years. Excellent snow shoes.
- Training snowshoes: MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes 25x8. I just bought a new pair for 2020 and they are outstanding! I have used the orginal pair for training and many Search and Rescue missions requiring sketchy travel.
- Backcountry snowshoes: Older Tubbs Mountain Series. Owned 12 years. Used in backcountry in West Virginia, Virginia (Old Rag area) and Colorado. No complaints, but the newer binding systems are attractive...
Bottom Line: Carefully examine how you will use your snowshoes throughout the year and select recreational, backcountry or racing snowshoes that match your needs. I have provided both MooseJaw and Altrec snowshoes below. I purchased my racing snowshoes at Altrec--they offered the best price and were in stock.