This is the third installment in the Snowshoeing with Your Small Dog 101 Series. Snowshoes are designed to increase the surface area of your feet and keep you floating on top of the snow, while still providing traction and stability. Today I am going to tell you about snowshoe features, how to pick the right ones and where to get them.
Like last week when I told you about what you should wear snowshoeing, I can simplify the snowshoe mystery and tell you everything you need to know in a handful of points.
- There are two hinge types on all snowshoes. There is the pivot system where the snowshoe drags on the ground when you lift your foot. There is also the “return spring” type where the snowshoe lifts off if the snow when you lift your foot. Get the hinge type so they don’t flip up and throw show on your dog (and you butt) or hit them in the face.
- There are various binding types. They all work. The easiest to get on have three rubber straps that go over your shoes like the MSR Lightening Explore snowshoes. The harder ones look more like a slipper (some with hard plastic sides even) that you put your foot in.
- There are two main deck types. One is hard, solid plastic (type of material). The other has some kind of aluminum frame with a flexible PVC-coated polyester decking. It doesn’t matter which type you get.
- Those little metal bars you can flip up in the back are heel lifts designed to reduce calf fatigue on steep terrain. Get them if you will be hiking on hilly terrain.
- The size/length of snowshoe you need is based on your total weight (including that pack you might carry) and what kind of terrain you will be hiking on. Most women will take something between the 22 and 25 inch range (check your actual weight against the size chart on the tag). Most men take something between the 25 and 30 inch range. If the snow will be hard packed then you can go with the shorter length. If you will be breaking trail through powdery snow, then go with the longer.
- The amount of teeth on the bottom will tell you what kind of terrain they can be used for. Three or less teeth in the front and only a few in back mean they are only appropriate for flat, groomed trails. A handful of extra spikey teeth in the front and a bunch in back mean you can go almost anywhere. One exception to that is the MSR-style snowshoe. They only have a few teeth up front and small teeth running down the whole length of the snowshoe. Those can pretty much to anywhere too. Think about what type of terrain you will be on most and buy those. (note: the rougher the terrain you can hike with them, the more you will pay. However, I would rather be a little over prepared than under).
- Even with the appropriate snowshoe, you should expect to sink down into the snow a few inches. That is how you get a better workout than hiking.
- You should expect to pay an average of $200 to $250 for a good pair of most, or all-terrain, snowshoes. If you find a cheap pair, I would make sure that the aggressiveness of the snowshoe is going to work for what you plan to use them for. A quality pair can last you 10 to 15 years or more.
That is pretty much all you need to know. I know I don’t have any pictures to explain but I would have to fill this post with 20 or 30 to cover everything so I didn’t bother. Trust me, print out this list and take it with you when you go to the store at it will all make sense.
I can give you a real-life example to demonstrate how to size a snowshoe.
I weights a total of 175 pounds, including the gear in my backpack. According to the manufacturer chart found on the snowshoes or online, a 25 inch snowshoe is most appropriate for me. Since the upper range of that snowshoe is 180 lbs, I might want to consider sizing up if I was always hiking in powdery snow. However, the “consequence” of going with the smaller one in powdery snow would just mean that I would sink down in the snow and little farther and burn a few more calories (bonus to me). Going with the longer snowshoe makes them a bit more cumbersome to walk in so I stick with the shorter ones.
So where is the best place to get snowshoes? That depends. It depends on how much money you have to spend and how often you plan to use them.
Unless you are sure you actually like snowshoeing, I highly suggest you try them out (in the actual snow) before buying a pair. To avoid having to buy a pair you can borrow them from a friend or rent them. Some places you might be able to rent them are downhill ski resorts, cross-country ski trail areas and REI or other outdoor gear shop.
Even renting can cost you an average of $30 to $50 a day. If you are renting them for an extended trip, you may want to compare prices and see if the cost would be similar to just buying a pair. If you decide you don’t like them you can always turn around and sell them to get some of your money back.
That leads me to where to buy them. The new models usually start rolling into stores around mid-October. The stores usually bring out a few pairs of last year’s models for sale around those times. If they even have any, then tend to go fast though. If you buy them right of a sales floor, I would expect to pay full price for them.
That being said, there are several ways that you can find them at a discounted price. You can watch for sales at your local outdoor gear shop and buy them then. I also suggest checking two of my favorite online discount sites, REI Outlet and the Sierra Trading Post, for good deals. I would also check sites like Craigslist and Ebay.
For more information (probably more than you need), see the REI guide.
Next week I will tell you about gear and clothing you should have for your small dog when you go snowshoeing.