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Snowshoes

These past few years, snowshoeing has become one of the most popular activity for those who like to venture out in the winter in Quebec. Nothing surprising there really... the cost for purchasing the equipment is reasonable, you can use regular winter boots and there is an almost unlimited number of sites, many of which are free.

BUYING

To choose the right snowshoe, you must think about how you are going to use them:

  • recreational trekking: for short trips or long hikes;
  • expedition or backcountry: for winter camping of several-day excursions under sometimes extreme conditions;
  • racing/fitness: for winter training.

Since there are many models in a variety of sizes, you must also think about the type of terrain you plan to be on.

In general, the shorter the snowshoe, the easier it is to manoeuvre, but has less flotation in powdery snow. For a powder snow environment, you should choose wide decking; however, the effort required will be greater and the shoes more cumbersome. To improve flotation, some manufacturers sometimes offer a type of removable tail that can be attached to the back of the snowshoe. During long expeditions, however, it is better to have wide-decking snowshoes to offset the weight of equipment (backpack, etc.)

Narrow, short snowshoes are also appropriate for mountain hikes where room to manoeuvre is limited, especially in wooded areas. However, it is preferable to use long, narrow snowshoes for hiking on flat, open plains or in the country, where the landscape is sparse and the snow is naturally packed down. On marked trails, which are often hard and well compacted, using a light-weight snowshoe is best.

Some manufacturers also make snowshoes especially adapted to womens bodies (knees and legs closer together, lighter weight, etc.): in this case, the snowshoes are smaller and streamlined.

Lastly, aerobic snowshoes are asymmetrical and smaller in size for high performance and to take long strides without kicking up a "snowstorm"!

Bindings and Crampons

Bindings must be easy to attach, especially when wearing gloves or mittens, but ideally must also be fitted for many different types of boots.

Rotating binding systems allow to be in constant contact with the snow, even on steep inclined slopes. To make it easier for the user and his calves on steep slopes, some models come with climbing wires, which reduce the incline of the foot.

Another highly useful component for snowshoeing is crampons. Installed at the front of the snowshoe, they allow to grip the snow when climbing; attached to the back, they dig in and allow better control when descending.

Materials

Wood and sinew snowshoes, although they are still of interest to some, have become obsolete. Nowadays, snowshoes are made primarily of aluminum (generally for the frame) and synthetic composites, which make them stronger, lighter and more resistant to very low temperatures.

Some more affordable models have a plastic frame, which could be find for people who only go snowshoeing a few days a year.

USE

You do not need special boots to go snowshoeing. Regular warm winter boots, preferably waterproof and roomy, are fine. These must be firmly attached to the bindings without ever being too tight.

Some snowshoers prefer to use walking sticks, whereas others do not. In this case, it is better to add a basket with a larger diameter for better support in the snow.

Cuffs are useful in powdery snow for keeping pants and boots dry.

In the winter, remember to watch for dehydration due to cold. And since snowshoeing is an aerobic sport, it is a good idea to bring enough water with you, either in a bottle, or, even better, in a backpack with a hydration system.

During long expeditions, it is also recommended that you carry replacement parts for components that might be damaged, but also a few dressings to take care of potential blisters.

To minimize the risk of blisters, wear a pair of very fine socks under regular socks; they will absorb part of the friction that the skin on the heels and ankles are subjected to.


MAINTENANCE

Make sure the snowshoes are completely dry before storing them.

From time to time, check whether the screws, bolts and straps need a turn of a screwdriver or monkey wrench.