Snowshoe Buyer's Guide

Put on Some Snowshoes and Go!

Author: Mathew Brost

Snowshoeing has evolved from a necessary form of transportation in some areas of the world into a popular sport for many snow-loving outdoor adventurers. As it has gained popularity, the sport’s evolution has involved dramatic changes in technology. Investing in a pair of snowshoes can be overwhelming. Choosing the proper style for your needs can be difficult, and the terminology confusing.

  • Binding - Attached to the deck, bindings secure your feet to the snowshoes.
  • Crampons and cleats - Teeth on snowshoes that provide traction. All-terrain snowshoes offer more aggressive crampons and cleats for traction on ice and hard-packed snow.
  • Deck - The flat part of the snowshoe that stretches across the inside of the frame.
  • Side rails - Also known as traction bars, they reduce side slippage on uneven terrain.

Choosing the proper snowshoes

A general rule is the larger the wearer, the larger the snowshoes need to be. The environment you hike in may require a slightly different style as well. Longer, wider snowshoes are ideal for backpacking, while hikes in forests and on narrow trails require shorter, compact models.

  • Entry-level snowshoes generally include rotating bindings and are all you need for flat or gently rolling terrain.
  • General-purpose snowshoes are for steeper terrain. They utilize rotating bindings and more aggressive crampons along with deck cleats for added stability.
  • All-terrain snowshoes are for icy, steep terrain. They are ideal for the rugged hikes associated with hike-in snowboarding, and generally feature aggressive crampons, deck cleats and rail cleats for ultimate stability on treacherous terrain.  Fixed bindings are ideal on all-terrain snowshoes for added control.


  • Rotating bindings allow for a natural walking motion ideal for climbing hills. They don’t kick up snow. They can become awkward when climbing over objects or backing up.
  • Fixed bindings are easier to control when walking over obstacles such as rocks or logs. They are also easier for switching direction and backing up. They tend to kick up snow.


Poles are not essential for snowshoeing, however, they do add stability when travelling in steep or uneven terrain.  Aluminum poles are lightweight and rigid.  Adjustable-length poles provide maximum comfort.  Powder baskets are available with most poles for keeping them from sinking into soft snow.  Some snowshoe kits include poles.

Additional accessories

Although all you really need are snowshoes and bindings, snow gaiters are useful for keeping your legs dry. Standard hiking boots are suitable for wearing with snowshoes as well, although waterproof boots are ideal.