One of the first secrets to understanding snowshoeing is this: if you can walk, you can snowshoe.
by James Dziezynski, special to Marmot
One of the first secrets to understanding snowshoeing is this: if you can walk, you can snowshoe. All it takes is a dozen perfectly normal strides to see how fun, efficient, and easy today’s snowshoes are to use. This hasn’t always been the case.
A Little History
Snowshoes have a lengthy history, stretching back as far as 3,000 BC, when both Native American and Scandinavian cultures used handcrafted wooden shoes to float over powdery snow. Snowshoes were engineered as practical, utilitarian devices, customized to their environments. For thousands of years, the idea of a recreational snowshoe was secondary to its utilitarian function as an aid in hunting, traveling, and simple survival. It wasn’t until the 1900s that engineering-minded outdoor enthusiasts began to create ways to make snowshoes better. Aluminium frames replaced wood, high-tech hypalon decking added float and durability, and most importantly, flexible and comfortable binding systems were used to secure snowshoes to boots.
Progress was slow, but as winter sports technology improved (breathable jackets, insulated gloves, lightweight boots), so did snowshoes. The 1970s and 1980s brought about the first wave of change but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the sport finally came into its own in the canon of winter recreation.
Choosing The Right Snowshoes
Snowshoeing is an accommodating sport for those who love exploring winter landscapes. Entry-level and all-around snowshoes are perfect for hiking winter trails where snow may already be packed down—with the option to cruise into untracked powder as well. Higher end snowshoes are worth the investment if making your own trail feeds your winter soul. These shoes have easy-to-use, flexible bindings, aggressive claws underfoot for hard ice, and the toughest incarnations of decking and framing materials.
For winter backpackers, extra-long versions exist for maximum float when burdened with a heavy pack. And conversely, there are small, compact snowshoes used for racing, on packed trails, and for many snowboarders, on uphill-accessible ski resorts.