/ Adventure Travel
adventure — By Vawn on December 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm
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Snowshoes: Finding the right fit

snowshoeGrowing up in northern Canada, snowshoeing was part of our school curriculum, and every winter we’d head out into the woods with traditional snowshoes constructed of wood and rawhide lacings. They did the trick, but I had a hard time strapping them on properly so they didn’t fall off, and they always gave me quite a workout (which, I suppose, was the point). Nowadays snowshoes have gone high-tech and there’s such a variety to choose from it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s what you need to know to find the right fit:

There are three major brands: GV, Atlas and MSR, all with a range of offerings (their entry-level snowshoes start at Cdn $140-$150). Consider what you’ll be using them for: Are you planning to snowshoe on groomed trails at a ski resort or do you want to go off-trail? Are you interested in snowshoeing as a recreational activity or are you interested primarily in fitness, perhaps even racing? Will you be mountaineering (which means you’ll need snowshoes designed for hill-climbing)?

This will help determine how much flotation you’ll need. Basically, flotation refers to the ability of the snowshoe to keep you afloat when walking on snow. This will depend not only on your total weight (including gear), but on what conditions you’ll be snowshoeing in. The harder the snow, the less flotation you’ll need. Smaller snowshoes are designed for groomed trails or packed snow, while larger snowshoes provide flotation on deep fresh snow. You can also buy flotation tails if you’re looking to add extra flotation on the trail.

bindingThe more you spend, the better the quality. A higher-end snowshoe, for example, might be constructed of lighter aluminum or offer a heel riser bar, which helps when slogging it uphill. Also consider the binding: GV uses a ratchet system (similar to a snowboard), while Atlas uses a wrap system and MSR uses a rubberized strap. Look at how the binding is attached to the frame, whether it’s rubber-band style or free pivot. For fitness or racing, consider running snowshoes, which are smaller, narrower and more lightweight.

GV offers more than 20 snowshoe models, including the traditional wooden snowshoe, originally used by Native Americans for hunting, trapping and long-distance travel. GV’s Huron model, for example, features a frame made of Appalachian white ash with rawhide lacing. However, aluminum or stainless steel spikes allow the modern-day snowshoer to climb mountains, which isn’t possible with the traditional snowshoe. GV offers a pivot that stays in the rotation axis, canceling lateral movements and allowing for an efficient grip on hardened snow or ice.

Atlas offers a range of snowshoes for the backcountry, mountain hiking, trail walking and speed. The company has come up with several technological innovations such as a dual crampon design and spring-loaded suspension to create lightweight and compact snowshoes. To date, the company has 19 patents, from heel cleats to contoured footbeds.

MSR categorizes its snowshoes under “steep and challenging” and “flat and rolling.” The first category is designed for climbing or long traverses where traction is essential, with 360-degree traction and Televator heel lifts. The second category offers snowshoes with the same traction features, but without the steep-specific features, which shaves off some of the weight.

Whether you want to climb mountains or go night-snowshoeing to look for owls under a full moon, there’s a snowshoe out there that fits.

Photo Credit: GV

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