The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoes

Adult snowshoes

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: Snowshoes are the essential gear item for the activity of snowshoeing (think of it like hiking in the snow), just like skis are the essential gear item for the activity of skiing. Snowshoes are NOT just shoes for snow; i.e., they're generally not needed for walking around a city or resort area where it happens to be snowing. Cities or resorts are well-plowed & maintained--usually a good pair of boots will be sufficient.

What to use & how to choose

Type or Style

Like how there are different types of skis for different types of skiing in different environments (e.g., downhill, touring, skate skis, etc.), there are different types of snowshoes, we've implemented our own categorization below, with a few characteristics to help you understand the differences.

Snowshoes for... Recreational hiking Recreational running Technical hiking
Hiking on flat or gradually inclining terrain; generally established trails

Running on flat or gradually inclining terrain; generally established trails

Think of this like trail running, but over snow!

Hiking on icy, steep terrain; often off-trail, e.g., summiting peaks or for backcountry skiing or snowboarding
Key feature differences
  • Accommodates broad range of hiking or snow boots
  • Smaller & lighter for more natural foot motion & speed
  • Accommodates smaller running shoes
  • Aggressive traction systems
  • Accommodates larger snowboard or ski boots
Price $150-250 $200-300
Less technical More technical

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Most people engage in this type of activity

Fewer people engage in this type of activity

Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

Performance

  • The snowshoes didn't provide enough traction or fit very well: Binding or traction systems not as advanced, so may only work in more basic situations
  • The snowshoes weren't very durable: Rivets, bindings, or straps fell apart or tore easily

Durability

Maybe you are the average person that goes 1-2 times per year, you don't mind the hassle of replacing gear that doesn't last, and you also don't care about the performance differences. Then use our borrow program & get free gear where available! Or for a little more, use our rental program.

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Size (capacity) & Fit

Bindings are generally adjustable for most foot & boot sizes (you may need the Technical Hiking Type to accommodate larger ski/snowboard boots if you're snowshoeing as part of a backcountry ski or snowboard trip). A snowshoe's purpose is to distribute your weight over a large surface area, to help you float above the snow. That's why the most critical size is how long snowshoes are relative to total weight (including all the gear that you will be carrying).

In the table below, the darker color indicates a more ideal fit, while the lighter color could also work, depending on snow conditions. If you're in-between sizes, go for the larger size, especially for fresh powder or deep snow, where greater surface area will better prevent sinking.

Weight (lb/kg)

Total body + gear

20

9

40

18

60

27

80

36

100

45

120

54

140

64

160

73

180

82

200

91

220

100

240

109

260

118

280

127

300

136

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Y

O

U

T

H

17in

43cm

20in

51cm

W

O

M

E

N

22-23in

56-58cm

M

E

N

25-27in

64-69cm

30in

76cm

35in

89cm

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

We only rent snowshoes in the first 3 adult sizes (23-30in, 58-76cm) as these will fit most people

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

    • Do the snowshoes have removable tails? (tails can add or reduce surface area, think of it like a snowshoe where the back part of the oval shape comes off)
    • Do the snowshoes have televators (aka heel lifts or climbing bars)? (these bars normally lie flat, but can flip up to help lift your heel up, making it easier to hike uphill because it feels like walking up steps)
    • What material does the frame or decking use?
    • How does the binding system work? (high end models, like with high end helmets, may use third party BOA fit technology)

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Size 23in (58cm) 25in (64cm) 30in (76cm)
Model
Atlas Montane & Elektra series Atlas Access series
Atlas Montane & Elektra series Atlas Access series

Buy

MSRP with tax

$220

value

Rent $20+

We do carry gear designed specifically for women (some differences mentioned throughout this guide); however, in our experience, most people do not notice the differences; i.e., actual fit & personal preference are more important than industry-average differences based on sex (e.g., not all women are shorter). Whenever considering sex-specific gear, we recommend comparing all the options, to ensure the price difference is worth it (women-specific items are often more expensive). If you do require a specific sex when renting online, please write-in on the Options page of our online order form; otherwise we will pick regardless of sex. For this gear, women-specific items available in the 23in (58cm) length.

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Poles

We'll leave the detailed info in the trekking poles gear guide. A few quick highlights:

  • Poles provide increased stability (and can also help measure how deep snow is), so whether or not you need 1 or 2 depends on your comfort with the terrain & trail difficulty (ice or steepness may present more difficulty, for example)
  • You can use poles for non-snow hiking; for deep snow, you may need snow baskets (to prevent the poles from sinking)
  • You can also use ski poles

Maintenance tips

Repair

Some parts, including bindings, straps, tails, etc. may be replaceable. Check with your manufacturer for more info.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!