This Month's Gear Guru Question:by Backcountry Bob
Q. I'd like to take up snowshoeing, but I don't have a clue as to what's the best snowshoe to buy. There's so many styles and kinds. I'll probably be mostly on trails, to start.
A. Hi Susan,
You're right, it is very confusing - there are a lot of snowshoe models to choose from! Here are some things to consider. Size, binding systems and crampons.
Size relates to your weight and the kind of snow you'll be hiking in. By weight I mean you, and whatever you may be carrying - so for example if you do a lot of winter camping, take into account the extra 40-50 pounds you'll be carrying. Snow is not the same everywhere - Sierra Cement is a lot different than Utah Powder - the difference lies in the water content. For snowshoers this means the amount you will sink down into the snow, or the amount of floatation you need. In Utah a bigger shoe is required to stay afloat than in California, in most cases anyway. If you're on mostly packed trails, you don't need much of a shoe at all.
Now Bindings; basically you get what you pay for - what you want is a secure fit that's easy to get in and out of, and doesn't require a lot of adjustments. It seems the ones that accomplish this the best cost more. The really inexpensive ones skimp here. A good binding holds your foot securely so your heel doesn't just flop around - you want the shoe to stay in line with your foot so you're not tripping over your shoes. It should also return the tail up towards your heel on each step. You don't want just a free swinging hinge there - that make it difficult to walk. The best binding systems allow the snowshoe deck and crampon claws to work independantly - which is important on side hills - you want the deck to tilt, but not the claw.
The crampon or claw comes into play on firmer snow, usually in the Spring. Most snowshoes have the claw under the toe area of the binding so you can "kick" it into the snow when it becomes icy. Others have rail type claws down the sides - these are mainly for mountaineers and climbers but work well for everyone that traverses across a slope in icy conditions.
Atlas has been making great snowshoes a long time and they are my personal favorites. They also make nice Women's specific models that feature smaller bindings a more taper in the tail to better accomondate a women's stride. What I would recommend is the Elektra 10 Series in the 1022 size. That's for if you think you're really going to get serious about snowshoing. If you think you may take a more recreational approach, and want to save some money, go with the Altas Elektra 8 series in the 822 size. These are actually on sale right now! A great deal. Good luck and happy hiking!
This month's Gear Guru question was submitted by Susan from California. She will receive a Backcountry.com Nalgene bottle for his question. Enjoy Susan!
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