How to choose snowshoes in 5 points


December 12, 2023


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How to choose snowshoes

A fresh blanket of snow covers the ground and the air is still and calm. You would love to walk on this fresh, white-powder paradise without postholing? Try snowshoeing, a unique activity that will allow you to enjoy the marvels of winter. Size, materials, budget – let’s review some of the factors to consider in order to know how to choose snowshoes and find the best pair of snowshoes for your needs.

In this article, you will learn how to choose your new pair of snowshoes:

  1. What do you want to do with your snowshoes?
  2. Choosing the right snowshoe size
  3. Which snowshoe materials to choose?
  4. Must-haves for hiking with snowshoes
  5. The cost of snowshoes

What do you want to do with your snowshoes?

You can do all sorts of things with snowshoes. And to choose the right snowshoes, you must first know what kinds of activities you want to do with them. Some people prefer mountain biking, while others swear by road bikes; it’s exactly the same with snowshoes. Do you want to wear them to run for hours on end? For some leisurely excursions on groomed trails?
Each snowshoe model offers a different experience. For the best possible outings, practise your walking (or running!) technique and don’t forget your essentials: hiking poles, mittens, etc.

Snowshoeing is more than just putting one foot in front of the other! Getting to grips with the free heel design and the rigidity of snowshoes can take a little time. Here are a few simple tips you can follow:

  • Look straight ahead,
  • Keep your legs slightly apart,
  • Try to keep your feet flat as much as possible,
  • Remember to use the heel lift when climbing,
  • Plant your heel first on steep descents

Leisurely hikes

You plan on taking mellow winter walks in the fields behind your home or cabin? Walking along the groomed trails in your neighbourhood park? Hiking on mostly flat terrain? Recreational snowshoes are your best bet.
These versatile snowshoes are well suited for flat surfaces, groomed paths, and easy trails, with a pretty wide deck and simple crampons. Their bindings provide limited adjustability, and they may not offer the most optimal grip on steep hills, but that’s not what they’re designed for anyway.
These types of models are ideal for beginners or for those who only snowshoe a few times a year.

Off-trail and uphill hikes

If your aim is to tackle challenging, less-frequented trails with steep ascents and descents, you will need snowshoes that are built for that.
Expedition and off-trail snowshoes allow you to explore hills, mountains and remote areas covered in fresh powder. They offer superior traction, which is exactly what you want when you’re trying to move towards harder-to-reach areas.
Several crampons are built into their underside, and “claws” are sometimes fixed parallel to the frame for maximum grip. They are also lightweight, allowing you to rack up the kilometres when setting off on a long winter hike.
Additionally, these types of snowshoes come with a number of useful options for tackling ascents and descents:

  • A “climbing claw” at the front of the foot to ensure a good bite on the snow with every step,
  • Traction bars under the deck,
  • A “climbing bar”, which you can place under your heel to reduce fatigue when climbing. This prevents your feet from sinking too low with each step – a great way to spare your calves!

Trail running

Curved running snowshoes are your best option if you plan on running through a snow-covered winter wonderland. Although they can be used on all types of terrain, it’s on groomed trails that they will be most at home!
Trail running snowshoe models are narrower and have less flotation than regular ones. They’re also lightweight, and their shape is designed to help preserve a natural stride. When you set your sights on a particular model, remember to check that it is compatible with your pair of men’s or women’s trail running shoes before you buy it.

Choosing the right snowshoe size

what size snowshoes do i need

Choosing the ideal snowshoe size depends on your weight – or more precisely, the total weight the snowshoes will have to bear. Everything must be factored in: you, your clothes, your backpack and its contents… Depending on whether you intend to carry a tent, mat and sleeping bag, or just a few snacks and a bottle of water, your snowshoes will need to have a different load-bearing capacity. The heavier the load, the more snowshoe surface area is required to ensure adequate flotation.

The type of terrain also comes into play when figuring out the size of your snowshoes. Off-trail adventures on soft snow require wider snowshoes than leisurely hikes on groomed trails.

If you wear snowshoes that are too small for your total weight, you will sink into the snow as if you were wearing boots; if you wear snowshoes that are too wide, it will feel as though you are being bogged down by lead weights.

Snowshoes come in a range of sizes from about 20 to 36 inches in length. To give you a general idea of the snowshoe length you need, take a look at the chart below.

Snowshoe length
Total weight 20–23 inches 24–27 inches 30 inches 36 inches
80 lbs. Good Okay
100 lbs. Good Okay
120 lbs. Good Good Okay
140 lbs. Good Good Okay
160 lbs. Okay Good Good
180 lbs. Okay Good Good
200 lbs. Okay Good Okay
220 lbs. Okay Good Good
240 lbs. Good Good
260 lbs. Okay Good
280 lbs. Good
300 lbs. Good


The right size for your needs

The best length and width for your pair of snowshoes depend on your practice. If you’re sticking to groomed trails, you don’t need the same flotation as if you’re moving through fresh powder.
The further you venture from the trails, the wider your snowshoes should be to ensure maximum flotation. On the contrary, on trails of packed snow, it’s preferable to use narrower models (think trail running snowshoes).

The right fit for your snowshoes

Snowshoes can be adjusted to the size of your feet. There are several types of bindings. Here are the main ones:

  • Straps
  • BOA® system
  • Buckles
  • Ratchet bindings

If you try on snowshoes at a SAIL store, make sure to bring the winter boots you plan to wear during your excursions.

For a proper fit, make sure your foot touches both the front and back of the snowshoe. Tighten the binding points securely, particularly around the ankle. The BOA® system is one of the best binding options, as it distributes tightening evenly and is very practical when wearing gloves (you won’t have to take them off). You can find this system on models like the TSL Highlander Original 2 or the Tubbs Flex VRT.

When your snowshoes have the proper fit, you shouldn’t feel any compression on your ankles or the front of your feet.

It’s also worth knowing that there are snowshoes designed specifically for women. They are shorter and narrower, since the need for load-bearing capacity differs between men and women. These snowshoes’ bindings are also adapted to women’s feet. The same goes for the little ones: there are snowshoe models designed for kids, calibrated for their weight.

Which snowshoe materials to choose?

Materials for snowshoe

Although some manufacturers still offer wooden snowshoes that please the nostalgics, the days of their widespread use are gone. Materials have come a long way over the years. Nowadays, snowshoes can be made from a variety of materials, including aluminum, plastic, high-end fabrics, and composite materials.
Regardless of their composition, good snowshoes should be lightweight, ergonomic and robust. To make the right choice, don’t hesitate to visit one of our stores to test out a few pairs and ask any questions you might have to our specialists.

Aluminum snowshoes

These types of snowshoes are constructed with an aluminum frame, known for being lightweight and durable. As for the deck, it can be made of moulded plastic, composite materials, nylon… The choice of materials depends on the pair and the manufacturer’s preferences.

What’s great about these types of snowshoes is that they allow you to keep a fairly natural stride, and traction is usually very good. On the downside, the deck on certain models may wear out prematurely due to repeated abrasion against the ground. Of course, this is less true of top-of-the-range models which incorporate more resistant materials.

If you’re in the market for aluminum snowshoes, take a look at brands like GV and SAIL.

Plastic snowshoes

Snowshoes with no outer frame and a plastic or composite deck also have their advantages. They are lightweight, highly resistant and shock-absorbent. They also provide excellent protection from rough terrain – perfect for hiking on challenging trails or in the backcountry. The underside of their deck is covered with metal or plastic studs or claws to ensure the best possible traction. These solid snowshoes can also incorporate lateral grips for even greater traction.

However, they are noisier and stiffer, which makes for a less natural stride.

If you’re looking for one-piece plastic snowshoes, check out brands like Tubbs and MSR.

Must-haves for hiking with snowshoes

Must Have Snowshoes

The list of essential equipment for snowshoeing varies depending on whether you’re going on a short hike near your home or a multi-day trek in Western Canada. Still, a few of the essentials are the same in both cases.

Snowshoe poles

Hiking poles are essential if you want to move easily on groomed trails, and even more so if you’re tackling uneven ground or going off the beaten path.
Make sure the poles are the correct size for you by checking that each of your elbows forms an angle of approximately 90 degrees when you hold them. Check out our article to learn how to choose the right poles.

It’s also advisable to select poles with a basket that prevents them from sinking too deep into the snow, especially in powdery conditions. Those will help you maintain your balance in the more difficult sections. They will also come in handy on uphill and downhill stretches.

Boots adapted to your snowshoes

You can use a wide variety of boots with your snowshoes. If you want to run with them, you can wear your trail running shoes. If you’re more into hiking, your hiking boots will do just as well. The only requirement is that your pair must be compatible with your chosen snowshoes. This is usually not a problem if the snowshoes are the right size for you.
If you only own hiking shoes, you might want to consider shopping for boots or investing in gaiters to keep the snow out.
In the middle of winter, make sure the shoes you wear are waterproof and warm, especially if you’re going to be out on the trails for several hours. Get your hands on a pair that has a Gore-Tex membrane (or something similar) to keep your feet dry throughout your outing.

Suitable clothing

Naturally, everyone can choose their own pace when snowshoeing, but it is indeed a physically demanding activity. Even more so if you’re venturing into fresh powder or tackling steep inclines!
Choose your clothing accordingly. Opt for winter clothing that is breathable and allows for comfortable movement. This is equally true for your men’s or women’s winter jacket and pants. Look for ski touring or cross-country ski clothing, as it has been designed specifically to support your winter activities. And to make sure you can always adapt your clothing to the weather and your activity level, remember to use the multi-layer technique!

The cost of snowshoes

How to choose snowshoes

Choosing the right pair of snowshoes also means choosing according to your budget. The good news is that snowshoeing is not the most expensive winter activity. Apart from the snowshoes, it requires very little equipment if you already own a good pair of hiking boots and winter clothing that’s fit for Canadian winters.
If you’re just getting started or only plan on going on a few short excursions each year, you can find models from brands such as SAIL, GV, or MSR for less than $200.
If you’re already an avid snowshoer and want to step up your game to explore more distant and elevated terrain, you may have to shell out a few hundred dollars for an ultra-high-performance model designed for steep inclines and backcountry adventures. You can expect to pay between $300 and $450 for the most technically advanced pairs of snowshoes.
As for hiking poles, you will find models with snow baskets for under $100, perfect for beginners. If you want lightweight, sturdy poles, go for higher-end models, which range from $150 to $300.


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