How to choose snowshoes: a guide for the first time

Whether you’re looking for an affordable way to enjoy the snow, want to keep your running muscles in shape in the winter, or need another tool for your summit adventures, the Perfect Snowshoes can be a versatile addition to your wardrobe.

I used my rackets to stay sane at first confinements, walking tours in my local prairie. Last season they took me up the hill on my first round of backcountry snowboarding before I got my splitboard. And when I first moved to Sierra Nevada, I even borrowed a pair from a friend to go on a first date!

Bottom Line: Snowshoeing is a fun and versatile activity that you can do on your own or in a group.

This guide details the different options for choosing the perfect pair of snowshoes and the right equipment to go with them. With a focus on size, bindings, and the best types of boots and poles, we’ll walk you through how to choose snowshoes.

Photo credit: Natasha Buffo

How to choose snowshoes


For a good racquet size you need to consider both the maximum load on your racquets (your body weight plus the equipment you are carrying) and the type of terrain you will be riding on.

Check the specs of the rackets you are looking at. They will list a “recommended maximum load” and the recommended terrain type. If you are only doing day trips, the maximum load should be around 20 pounds above your body weight. For overnight trips or mountaineering, that would be 30 to 60 pounds more than your body weight.

For length, a longer racquet makes it easier to move around in powder because there is more surface area. However, a longer snowshoe is more difficult to go up and down on steep terrain. If you plan to travel on packed snow on mostly flat terrain, a shorter snowshoe will do just fine.

Sizing snowshoes
Photo credit: Kate MacVicar


When snowshoe bindings are difficult to put on and take off, or don’t stay tight in place, a peaceful adventure can quickly turn into a frustrating experience. Most racket bindings are a rotating or floating model, which means they move separately from the frame of your racket. Snowshoes tend to have a only one side to reduce the flapping of the shoe and increase cushioning and silence.

The three main strap materials are nylon, rubber, or cord lace. They are formatted in a system of straight straps, ratchet straps, pull straps or a BOA system. i prefer one pull the strap which fits a wide range of shoe sizes.

The traction strap and BOA twisted lace the bindings provide both a snug and secure fit, as well as quick and easy entry and removal of your racquets. (Snowshoes themselves are also made of different materials, but the most common are made of some kind of plastic hardened with carbon, steel, or aluminum.)

snowshoe binding
Photo credit: Natasha Buffo

Traction and heel risers

Under the snowshoes, you’ll see traction that ranges from a winter hiking shoe-like to the sharp teeth of a mountaineering crampon. Snowshoes are mostly foam and rubber with some metal studs for traction. All others will have steel studs under the foot (toe and heel), some with the addition of lateral traction along the frame.

This traction is crucial for any icy conditions or any slope. I did well with just the toe and heel crampons, but the lateral traction is especially vital for the crossing.

Heel risers are a key feature if you plan to make climbs over steep terrain. Trying to snowshoe without heel risers will cause immediate calf fatigue. You might think going sideways up a slope to create switchbacks is a solution, but trust me, it’s inconvenient unless there is an established flat trail of switchbacks.

walk on steep terrain
Photo credit: Daniel Deemer


You don’t need a specific pair of snowshoe boots, but there are a few important factors to consider when choose which shoes you wear snowshoes. First of all, make sure your boots fit on you – no heel slipping on the way up or trapping your toes on the way down. If you’ve hiked there comfortably, great! Then make sure they fit into your snowshoe bindings.

Third, make sure your feet will stay dry. It is better to have a waterproof boot, like these Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX Hiking Boots. In addition, you need high boots (calf or higher), hiking gaiters Where running gaiters, or long, water-resistant pants that will cover the top of your boots and stay in place.

As you walk, the snow lifted by the snowshoes may melt into the top of your boots if they are left unprotected. This leads to discomfort that may force you to end your adventure early or take the pleasure out of the racket. So waterproofing or a higher boot height is key.

waterproof boots


Snowshoeing without poles is possible but inconvenient, especially in deep powder or on a steep slope. The most important feature of racquet sticks is the basket – the circular piece about two inches above the tip that sinks into the ground. Many trekking poles used for hiking come with baskets, but they are often not designed for light, fluffy, thick snow.

Ski poles will have a basket that is large enough, but the poles you use for skiing may not be the correct height for snowshoeing. The best option is to buy trekking poles to use while hiking or backpacking. You can also purchase the extra snow basket to swap it out on the pole during the winter.

My Leki posts have withstood the test of long-term, multi-week trips to New Zealand, backcountry snowboarding and endless snowshoe hikes. Buy it Leki snowflake baskets for the greatest stability.

snowshoes with poles

How to choose snowshoes: conclusion

Snowshoes can give you access to places that are not otherwise accessible on foot, or even on skis with skins on. For example, that first date I went to was in a cave on a cliff in the middle of winter! Snowshoes were the key to getting us there.

They also give those who aren’t interested in fast downhill (or those who can’t invest in more equipment) access to a snow sport. Aside from optional (but useful) equipment like poles and snowshoes themselves, the investment is next to zero.

You don’t need much to get above the snow for a safe ride. By following this guide on how to choose the perfect rackets for you, you can make it the best possible experience for years to come.

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