A guide to the best snowshoes for hiking and ultralight backpacking.
In this post, you'll learn how to choose, size and wear snowshoes to avoid getting trapped in deep snow and enjoy hiking even in the winter. We've reviewed and field-tested ten pairs of the best snowshoes available on the market today for hiking and backpacking to help you make the best purchase possible.
|Type||Starting Weight||Starting Price||Where to Buy?|
|MSR EVO Trail||Recreational||3.56 lbs||$139||MSR|
|Crescent Moon EVA||Recreational||3.5 lbs||$160||REI|
|WildHorn Outfitters Sawtooth||Recreational||4 lbs||$69||WildHorn|
|MSR Lightning Ascent||Backcountry||4.12 lbs||$319||MSR|
|Louis Garneau Blizzard III||Backcountry||4.7 oz||$199||Amazon|
|Tubbs Mountaineer||Backcountry||4.9 lbs||$269||Tubbs|
|Chinook Trekker||Recreational||3.9 lbs||$55||Amazon|
|Yukon Charlie Sherpa||Recreational||3.4 lbs||$89||REI|
|ENKEEO All-Terrain||Recreational||4.9 lbs||$59||Amazon|
|Lucky Bums Snowshoes||Recreational||2 lbs||$65||Amazon|
Let's get started and dive into the different type of snowshoes that exist and what to consider when choosing a pair. (skip to reviews)
Like most outdoor gear, there are different types of snowshoes for different activities. Though there is some overlap, we can breakdown snowshoes into three major categories: running, recreational, and backcountry.
BACKCOUNTRY SNOWSHOES: TECHNICAL AND VERSATILE
Backcountry snowshoes are for mountain climbing and are equipped with features that help you traverse challenging terrain. They have heel lifters, called televators, to assist with steep ascents and metal side rails on the bottom of the snowshoe for added traction when descending. Though pricey, backcountry snowshoes are the most versatile snowshoes you can purchase. They can help you plow through the most difficult alpine terrain on one day, and then stroll on a flat or rolling trail the next day.
RECREATIONAL SNOWSHOES: EASY TO USE AND AFFORDABLE
Recreational snowshoes target the everyday walker with easy-to-use bindings and a design that’s suitable for walking. Most recreational models have a lightweight tubular construction with crampons under the footbed for traction. They are best suited for flat and rolling terrain but can be used on steep terrain in a pinch. They are affordable, making them an attractive option for those new to the sport.
RUNNING SNOWSHOES: SHORT AND LIGHT
Yes, some people actually "run" in these things. As its name implies, running snowshoes are designed for running on groomed snowshoe trails. They are made from lightweight materials and often are small in length (22-inches or less) and width (10-inches). Their petite size makes it easy for you to maintain a natural gait while running or walking. Running snowshoes have some traction so you don’t slip, but are not designed for deep snow or for climbing or descending steep terrain. Because they are only specialized for running, these snowshoes tend to be on the expensive side.
From left to right: backcountry, recreational and running snowshoes
LENGTH AND WIDTH: MANEUVERABILITY VS. FLOTATION
Length and width influence how much you will float on top of the snow. You want a snowshoe that is long enough to keep you on the surface on the snow, but small enough that it is still maneuverable. Width, too, helps with float and also influences comfort. A more narrow snowshoe helps preserve your natural gait while a wide snowshoe may require you to walk with your legs a bit further apart.
TRACTION: CRAMPONS, SIDE RAILS AND BRAKING BARS
Traction is essential on snowshoes. It helps you power up inclines and prevents you from slipping down descents. There are three basic forms of traction: crampons, side rails, and braking bars.
CRAMPONS: Crampons are found on the toe or instep portion of the snowshoe. They are positioned on the rotating part of the footbed and are used to dig into the snow or ice as you climb.
SIDE RAILS: Side rails are located on the edge of the decking and provide extra grab especially when you are ascending or descending at an angle.
BRAKING BARS: Braking bars are located behind the footbed and help you from slipping backward when climbing a steep ascent. Some recreational snowshoes have one or two forms of traction, while most mountaineering snowshoes have all three.
Crampons, rails and breaking bars on the MSR Lightning Ascent
FRAME AND DECKING: DESIGN AND MATERIAL
Most recreational and mountaineering snowshoes use a frame and decking design. Some snowshoes use a unibody design that lacks a frame; they rely on different materials.
FRAME-STYLE SNOWSHOES: Traditionally, the decking (body) of a snowshoe often is integrated into an aluminum or steel frame. Decking material in these frame-style snowshoes runs the gamut from a semi-rigid HDPE to flexible and lightweight nylon. A more flexible fabric absorbs impact and flexes when you walk, but may not be as durable as a more rigid material.
In recreational snowshoes, the frame often is tubular, which is inexpensive to use but does not provide any significant traction. On the other hand, mountaineering snowshoes typically have a frame with integrated teeth for optimal traction and durable decking that’ll withstand harsh alpine conditions.
UNIBODY SNOWSHOES: frame-less snowshoes either composite plastic or foam for their decking. Composite plastic is the most common option because it is nearly impossible to break and affordable. This durability comes at a cost - composite snowshoes tend to be stiff and on the heavy side.
Foam snowshoes may not be as durable as their plastic counterparts, but they flex when you walk in them. They also are so feathery light you may forget you're even wearing them.
BINDINGS: ROTATING VS. FIXED BINDING
Bindings attach your foot to the snowshoe. There are two main types of bindings: a floating or rotating binding that pivots along with your foot and a fixed binding that is integrated into the deck of the snowshoe. Almost all snowshoes use a rotating binding which makes it easy to walk in a snowshoe.
The most prominent exception is Crescent Moon's foam snowshoes which have a fixed binding. This unibody foam snowshoe uses a curved deck instead of a movable binding. Not having a binding makes the snowshoe lighter, but you will have to change how you walk, especially if you are already used to traditional snowshoes.
BINDING CLOSURES: VELCRO, RATCHETS OR STRAPS
Though there are two main types of bindings, how they attach to your boot varies greatly between snowshoes. Some snowshoes have velcro straps, some use a quick release ratcheting system and others are equipped with a strap system.
VELCRO: Velcro is found on running and recreational snowshoes because it is easy to tighten and loosen even with gloves. It can be cinched tightly, but its hold may loosen over time.
RATCHETING SYSTEM: A quick-release ratcheting system is found on both recreational and mountaineering snowshoes. It is more secure than Velcro, but it can be harder to adjust, especially if you undo the closure completely. The plastic parts are also prone to breaking in extremely cold weather.
STRAP SYSTEM: Many recreational and mountaineering snowshoes have a strap system that is easy to secure even with gloved hands. The straps tend to be durable, holding up well even in arctic temperatures. It does take some practice to get the right fit with straps. They can come loose if you don’t pull them tight enough at the start
ADD-ONS: FLOTATION TAILS
Some snowshoes can accommodate a flotation tail that connects to the back of the snowshoe and adds several inches of length. This allows you to use a shorter snowshoe when you need maneuverability and then add length when when you need more float in deep snow.
The EVO Trail is MSR"s entry-level snowshoe for hiking. It is made with a unibody composite deck that is bombproof and the company's rock-solid strap system. It also has MSR’s rock-solid strap system for its bindings. Though it falls on the recreational side, the EVO Trail has rugged side rails for grip on steep terrain, making it suitable for hiking. It only measures 22-inches, but the EVO Trail supports tails so you can navigate deeper snow as needed. The EVO Trail snowshoes are also available in a $199 bundle with trekking poles and a carrying bag.
Crescent Moon revolutionized the industry when it introduced foam snowshoes a few years back. Unlike any other snowshoes on the market, the EVA snowshoes have a flexible deck that flexes with your foot as you walk. If you are accustomed to walking in a regular snowshoe, the Crescent Moon snowshoes feel awkward at first, but the rocker at the front makes the transition easy. After a few short hikes, you'll wonder how you ever hiked in a solid deck or framed snowshoes. Adding to the comfort are velcro bindings that hold securely for casual walking and are easy to adjust. The bindings are so gentle on your feet that you can use the Crescent Moon snowshoes with both boots and sneakers.
The EVA foam snowshoes have lugs for traction, but they don’t have the bite of a steel-framed snowshoe. They are ideal for walking or running on flat or rolling trails. If you do need some extra traction, Crescent Moon includes a packet of short metal screws that easily fit into pre-drilled holes on the bottom of the snowshoes. The screws can be removed if you no longer need them.
Wildhorn Outfitters is a relatively new outdoor brand that is making waves with its affordable, yet high-quality gear. Its Sawtooth snowshoes are no exception. The recreational snowshoes hit all the key features you need in a snowshoe and is priced competitively. The ratchet-style binding is easy to adjust and holds your foot securely. Though not as rugged as the composite deck of the MSR Evo Trail or durable as the coated nylon of the Lightning Ascents, the HDPE Decking on the Sawtooth flexes for comfort and is durable enough for regular use. As recreational snowshoes, the tubular frame is ideal for walking on flat and rolling terrain.
The crampons have some bite and there are televators to help on steep ascents, but the tubular frame tends to slip and does not have the traction you need in demanding terrain. We much prefer the side rails of the Tubbs Mountaineer or the toothed frame of the MSR Lightning Ascent for climbing steep mountainous trails.
Even though it’s not designed for technical hiking, the Sawtooth is a great deal at $69. It is our top pick for someone new to snowshoeing or for the experienced snowshoer who wants a solid-performing, all-around snowshoe that doesn't break the bank.
The Lightning Ascent from MSR is one of our top snowshoes for hiking mountains and technical terrain. It excels at steep inclines thanks to its elevators that lessen the stress of climbing on your legs and a toothed frame with steel crampons for outstanding traction. Not only are they rugged, but the Lightning Ascents also are comfortable thanks to its flexible nylon deck that acts as a shock absorber. The 2019 models include MSR's new Paragon binding that uses mesh instead of straps to secure your foot. These bindings have a toe stop that makes it easy to align your boot perfectly in the snowshoe. The mesh also wraps around your entire boot, removing the chance you may develop a hotspot from overly tight straps.
The Louis Garneau Blizzard IIIs are great, all-terrain snowshoes. The flexible fabric deck provides extra shock absorption on rough terrain, while The longer length will appeal to people who spend time in deep snow. The Blizzards feature the twist-to-tighten Boa system that is easy to adjust but doesn't hold as tight as the strap system in the MSR snowshoes. Though the Blizzards are equipped with a beefy crampon under the footbed, the tubular frame tends to slide in slippery conditions, especially since there are no side rails for extra grip.
Available in extended sizes, the Tubbs Mountaineer strikes a near-perfect balance between performance in deep snow and steep terrain. Though it has a tubular frame, the Mountaineer has an 8-point crampon under the foot, two short side rails, and a heel crampon. You are guaranteed not to slip even on steep or slippery terrain. One of the highlight features of the Mountaineer is its Active Fit 2.0 binding system. The binding takes seconds to adjust thanks to two easy-pull cinch straps and a quick-fastening buckle at the heel. When you are done snowshoeing, you don’t have to fuss with multiple straps or complex ratchet closures. Simply grab the pull strap to loosen the binding and slip out your foot. The Mountaineer also is available for women in both 21-inches and 25-inch sizes.
Available in a variety of sizes, the Chinook Trekker is an entry-level model for those who don't demand a lot from their snowshoes. The Trekker has a basic binding with two ratchet straps over the foot and a buckle on the heel. The binding will hold your foot securely, but it is not as comfortable or as easy to use as the competing binding systems from Tubbs or Crescent Moon. The Trekker is equipped with small foot and heel crampons that make it easy to walk on flat trails, but they provide only minimal grip. We would not trust these snowshoes on steep terrain. Affordably priced, the Chinook Trekker may appeal to the occasional snowshoer who sticks to local trails and walks on mostly flat or rolling terrain.
The Yukon Charlie Sherpa is an entry-level snowshoe from a trusted brand known for delivering reliable outdoor gear at prices most people can afford. The classic snowshoe has a sturdy HDPE decking with an aluminum frame. Steel crampons and a brake bar provide traction for rolling hills, but we would not recommend them for steep or technical terrain. A quick-release ratcheting system makes it easy to secure and remove the snowshoe with minimal fuss.
ENKEEO All-Terrain snowshoes are an excellent value for the occasional snowshoer who sticks to non-technical terrain. Like most affordable recreational snowshoes, the ENKEEO All-Terrains are equipped with a two-strap ratchet binding and a buckle closure heel strap. The decking and aluminum frame handle steep snow as well as groomed trails. The toe crampons provide enough grip for flat or rolling terrain, but we would not recommend them for steep ascents.
Lucky Bums Youth and adult snowshoes are designed for families who want to get outside in the winter. Unlike most snowshoes that start at 21-inches, the Lucky Bums youth snowshoes are sized as low as 14-inches. This smaller size is ideal for kids eight and under. The snowshoes are equipped with ratcheting buckles on both the foot and heel for ease of use. They also have small crampons that are safe for kids. Unfortunately, their low-profile teeth won't provide enough grip to traverse steep or slippery terrain. Stick with flat trails or rolling terrain.
Though sized for younger kids, the Lucky Bums have a tear-drop shape that may make it difficult to walk, especially for young children. Kids under six who may not have the coordination or leg strength to walk with their legs slightly apart. This waddling gait is necessary to prevent kids from stepping on their snowshoes and falling.
Activity: Deciding what size snowshoe to purchase depends first on how you intend to use the snowshoe. A shorter snowshoe (25-inches or less) provides more maneuverability and is designed for running and hiking in technical terrain where being able to scramble over rocks, logs and other obstacles is important. Longer snowshoes (over 25-inches) provide extra float and are ideal for activities that require you to walk in deep snow, such as hunting, following animal tracks, or collecting maple syrup.
Weight: Once you decide whether you need a longer or shorter snowshoe, then you can factor in your hiking weight, which includes both your winter clothing and your backpack. The higher your final weight, the longer the snowshoe you will need. Manufacturers usually provide a recommended weight range or maximum weight for each snowshoe, so be sure to consult these charts before finalizing your purchase. You also can use our table below to help you choose the correct snowshoe size for your backcountry adventures.
Hike in the winter and chances are good you'll see snowshoes strapped to the backpack of people you meet on the trail. Why do they carry that extra weight? The reason is a good one - it’s called postholing.
Postholing happens when the snow is so soft that your foot, ankle and sometimes even your entire leg plunges deep into the snow. With each step, you sink into the snow, leaving behind a trail of holes instead of boot prints. Not only do these holes ruin a trail, but post holes also make hiking very difficult for the person who is postholing. It is exhausting to have to lift your leg up and out of the snow with each and every step.
How Can Snowshoes Help?
Most people carry snowshoes so they can walk on top of the snow and not posthole with every step. Snowshoes avoid postholing by distributing your weight so you don’t sink down deeply into the snow. You may make a small indentation in the snow, but that only helps to pack down the snow. The first person who hikes a trail after a snowstorm should use snowshoes so they can pack down the snow and break trail which makes it easier for people who follow you to walk on the trail.
Snowshoes not only allow you to float on the snow and pack it down, but they also provide traction. Almost all snowshoes have built-in crampons under the footbed and some even have metal rails that help you when you encounter slippery hard-packed snow and ice. This extra grip is especially useful when you are descending a steep incline. It lets you wear your snowshoes the entire hike so you don’t to switch between crampons in the icy areas and snowshoes when the snow gets deep.
Are Snowshoes Unisex?
Most snowshoes are unisex, but some manufacturers like MSR are making versions of its snowshoes specifically for women. Performance-wise, women-specific snowshoes match the men’s version but are sized for women’s feet and smaller body frames. Women’s snowshoes tend to be shorter, lighter and have a binding that fits a smaller foot. They also may be available in brighter colors.
How to Walk in Snowshoes?
Walking in snowshoes is awkward at first and takes some practice so you don’t fall. The most important tip is to walk with your legs slightly apart so you don’t trip over your own two feet. It’s not quite a waddle, but it is close. You can walk normally on hard-packed snow, but in deep snow, you have to lift up your legs higher than normal. When ascending or descending on hard-packed areas, you may have to dig in your toe to use the crampons or side rails for added grip. Trekking poles are not required with snowshoes, but they help to maintain balance and can prevent a fall.
You also have to be aware of how you place your feet. Don’t accidentally step on your snowshoes, especially going downhill, as you will fall flat on your face. This also applies to walking with a dog. Dogs have a tendency to walk too close behind you and may step on your snowshoes. Not only can you fall, but you also can hurt your dog if you accidentally step on their paws with the crampon or rails.
What Do You Wear with Snowshoes?
The biggest mistake people make when snowshoeing is wearing the wrong footwear. Snowshoes need to strap firmly to your feet so don’t wear sneakers or soft-sided boots like dress boots or bog boots. When secured snugly, you’ll be able to feel the straps through the soft boots which can be uncomfortable. The straps could cause hot spots as you walk or restrict circulation making your feet cold. You should wear a rugged hiking boot or a hard rubber boot that lets you securely attach the snowshoes to your feet without feeling the pressure of the strap. The only exception is a running snowshoe, which is designed for sneakers.
If you are hiking in deep snow, gaiters help to keep snow from going down the sides of your boots. It also helps to wear a waterproof jacket and pants as some snowshoes throw snow backward towards your back as you walk. Dress in layers as snowshoeing is hard work and will heat you up quickly. Take off layers before you start to sweat and add them back on as you cool down. Carrying a small backpack is helpful for stashing layers. It also lets you bring some food and water to fuel your trip. You also can attach your snowshoes to your pack when you don’t need them. Just make sure your pack has straps secure enough to hold your snowshoes.
By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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