Think about the places where you’ll be snowshoeing most often. What kind of terrain will you cover? Will you be on packed, groomed trails, or are you planning on laying your own tracks? Are you out for a leisurely stroll, maybe doing some winter birdwatching, or are you hoping to really get the heart pumping? All these, along with your height and weight need to be considered when choosing snowshoes.
Snowshoes are typically categorized by the type of terrain you plan to cover: flat, rolling, or mountain. Most beginners start with flat terrain snowshoes and then step up to rolling or mountain—or even running or climbing—models once they develop some skills.
Snowshoe sizing can also be an important consideration. If you’re thinking of snowshoes with an aluminum frame, you should choose a bigger size if you’re a heftier person or live in an area where snow tends to be light and dry. The greater surface area prevents the shoes from sinking in soft snow. Because smaller snowshoes are easier to manage, don’t get a pair that’s bigger than you need. Pick the smallest appropriate size for your body type and the terrain you plan to use them on.
Composite models tend to come in one size, but you can add tails to the back of the snowshoes to help increase the surface area on lighter and drier snow.
Bindings are another thing to keep in mind when picking a pair of snowshoes. There are two basic types of bindings: fixed and floating.
Fixed bindings attach your snowshoes to your boots with heavy-duty bands. Because they lift the snowshoe’s tail with each step, the stride is smooth and comfortable, enabling you to navigate obstacles and back up easily. But they also kick snow up onto the backs of your legs.
Floating bindings (often called “rotating” bindings) pivot under the balls of your feet, which enables a more natural stride. This can be especially useful for rolling terrain where you’re walking up and down hills. They’re not so good for backing up, but you won’t have as much snow on your behind, either.
Before buying snowshoes, talk to a specialty retailer that knows how to help you pick a pair. Some retailers even offer classes to help you learn more about the sport and how to choose snowshoes. If you’re near a park or outfitter that rents snowshoes, try out a couple different models and bindings to help you decide what’s most comfortable for you and your needs.