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SALT LAKE CITY — When I first started snowshoeing — without yet knowing what I was doing — I bought a pair of snowshoes that were a little too big for me. I was thinking of deep powder on unmarked trails in Utah’s backcountry.
Reality set in and I discovered that most of my outings were on popular trails in the Wasatch Mountains, and because of that, my snowshoes were bigger than I needed at the time. If you take your time and answer a few questions, you can avoid my mistake and easily find the right pair for you.
What type of snowshoeing do you plan on doing?
First thing to consider when looking for a pair of snowshoes is what type of snowshoeing you plan to do. There are basically three types of snowshoes available: Recreational, Backcountry, and Fitness/Running.
Recreational snowshoes are perfect for most first-time users. They usually have basic binding systems that are easy to use and work well for easy hikes on or off the trail.
Backcountry snowshoes are perfect for people who are looking to go off trail into deep powder. These snowshoes are built with maximum traction, flotation and durability.
Fitness/Running snowshoes are perfect for the individual who want to run or compete in races. These snowshoes — designed with a runners’ gait in mind — are narrower and generally more lightweight and durable.
How much do you weigh?
After deciding what type of activities you plan on doing, you should next consider your weight. Each snowshoe will have a recommended load or weight capacity. When selecting the proper size snowshoe, you need to take into consideration your body weight, plus any gear that you will be carrying.
Most manufacturers label their snowshoes with the recommended load for a specific model. The pair of snowshoes that I originally bought were too big for just me, but when I had my first kid and was carrying him on my back, the bigger size worked great.
Another thing to keep in mind is your gender. Snowshoe shapes and sizes differ for men, women and children. Men’s snowshoes are usually designed to carry heavier weights and women’s specific models tend to be narrower.
What are the snow conditions like where you plan on snowshoeing?
The whole purpose of snowshoes is to keep you from sinking in the snow. This is done by spreading your body weight across a wide surface. But the snow type will determine just how much you will sink. If you are planning on using your snowshoes in deep powder, you will want to consider a larger size. But if your usual plan is to follow trails or packed snow you can get a smaller pair.
There are some advantages to a smaller or larger pair snowshoes. A larger pair gives you more flotation on top of the snow but limits maneuverability. A smaller pair is a lot easier to maneuver and control, but in powder you will sink deeper. Remember that snowshoes help keep you on top of the snow, but with any size snowshoe you will sink a little. When picking a pair of snowshoes you must decide whether more flotation or greater maneuverability is more important to you.
After determining which snowshoes you'd like, consider picking up some poles. Ski poles or a set of trekking poles with snow baskets work great. Poles give you additional balance and stability when climbing or descending. Adjustable poles make it convenient to customize the length depending on the terrain.
Jeremiah Breeze is an outdoor enthusiast, and father of three adventurous kids. Follow him on Twitter at @openairlife or visit http://openairlife.com