Crunch, swish, crunch, swish…….The sound of snowshoes moving through the bush, elevated on top of a new platform of white. A surface that allows you to travel over thick bush that in summer you likely would never have attempted. But now in winter, in the cool of your awesomely breathable traditional winter trekking clothing, no bugs, no heat or uncomfortable humidity, and the freshest of air and bluest blue of sky,…..now you are free. It’s at this time gliding, floating on snow, that you wonder why everyone doesn’t do this, and think maybe winter is the best time of all, when the land is pure, when you can walk on water, and it’s just great to be alive. Snowshoeing in deep, pure snow across the forests and lakes of our great north. We are using the technology of our ancestors – the great northern bush travelers who knew how to live and thrive in winter. This is what it’s all about.
You need a pair of snowshoes to camp and trek in the great northern landscapes. The snow gets deep. Without snowshoes on the trail or open lakes that are not totally windswept, with every step you will sink and your feet will slip backwards, exhausting you. In the bush, off trail, the snow is perched up on pockets of air, suspended by shrubs and logs, and so the effective depth of the snow can be twice as deep as on open trails. You can sink up to your waist, and in some areas of this great land, you can sink up to your neck.
What design of snowshoe do I need, and what size? Well, across our great land the snow conditions vary from mountains, prairies, Shield, forest, tundra, lake country, coasts, and interior plateaus. And it changes within the season, and it can even change drastically within a single day. Soon, just like in the legend of the Inuit’s vocabulary for snow and ice, you too will develop a vocabulary to describe the wide variety of snow conditions you will encounter. So back to the question: If you get into winter camping, and trek and camp throughout the season in a variety of trekking styles, then you will need several different types of snowshoes. There is no one design or size that does it all.
If you are a winter trekking veteran, you already have several pairs of snowshoes, but if you are a beginner looking to get that first pair, there are some designs that are better that others to cover a wider range of conditions. You need to get started with at least one pair, and then progress from there.
There can be a bewildering array of snowshoe designs and materials out there. Unfortunately there is often a lack of skilled, experienced sales staff in gear stores to explain the pros and cons of each model, relating them to specific snow and terrain conditions, and your style of trekking. Don’t believe anyone who says that one size and style will serve you well in all conditions. They obviously have no experience. Will you be hauling a sled, or back packing, or day tripping with a light daypack? Will you be traveling lakes and need floatation over slush? Will you be on old roads and cleared trails, or bushwhacking? Will you be trekking through early winter deep airy powder, or across spring hard crusted, icy conditions? Are you hill climbing or trekking on the flats? All of the above? All these are important considerations.
The following sections describe traditional and modern snowshoes designs, and we include a subsection on snowshoe “style”, relating form and function to activity.