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Best Snowshoes for Winter Hiking

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This is a gear review about the best snowshoes for winter hiking and backpacking.

If you like being out in the backcountry all year round and can’t stand being inside all the time then it is time to ‘gear up’ and get take your winter hiking to the next level with winter snowshoes.

I’ve spent many long days out in the backcountry hiking with snowshoes. For this winter gear review I’ve been checking out some of the best snowshoes for winter hiking. And, after much deliberation, I’ve been able to handpick a few of the top snowshoes to review for you.

But we totally get how tricky it can be to choose a pair, which is why I’ve also put together a handy buying guide that will walk you through all the key things to think about before you buy.

Then we’re going to top that off with a section where we answer some of your most frequently asked questions on the subject.

Best Snowshoes For Winter Hiking 2021

The Best Snowshoes For Winter Hiking in 2021 are:


Overall – Best Snowshoes 2021

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

Pros:
> Ultralight at just 4.33 pounds
> They’re 25 inches in length
> Durable steel DTX crampons
> Good Value
Cons:
> This is such a popular snowshoe that even the big online retailers sometimes run out of stock

TheMSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are ultralight snowshoes that weigh a mere 4.33 pounds, and once you get going, you’ll forget you’re wearing them.

They’re quite long at 25 inches, making them easier for hiking through powdery snow.

They offer great traction, thanks to the durable steel DTX crampons, which provide serious bite. And thanks to the 360 degree traction frames. With this in place, you get edge-to-edge grip, which is exactly what you need on traverses.

There’s a special Ergo Televator heel lift bar, which really helps with those uphill ascents, increasing your efficiency and at the same time reducing fatigue.

The bindings feel secure and effectively eliminate rigid pressure points for better, more aligned foot control.

It’s designed to fit around men’s shoe sizes from 4.5 up to 15. And it has a maximum recommended load of 220 pounds (more on that in our buying guide later).

And it’s made in the USA.

Overall, these are the best snowshoes for backpacking in winter.

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Best Budget Snowshoes 2021

MSR Evo Trail 22-Inch Hiking Snowshoes

Pros:
> Dependable and durable
> Not too long or too short
> Has carbon steel crampons
> Good Value for money
Cons:
> No heel lift
> Not designed for heavy hikers or people carrying heavy loads

Here’s another great pair of snowshoes from MSR! They’re dependable, durable, cheap and are great in all kinds of snowy conditions.

They’re quite long at 22 inches, which means they’re great for easy hiking through powdery snow. But they’re not too long, making going downhill that bit easier.

They feature carbon steel crampons, so you can be sure you get a good, secure grip, no matter how tricky the conditions.

And that’s not all, there are also brake bars and steel traction rails molded into the snowshoe decking to give you better grip all round.

It also features adjustable DuoFit bindings which can be secured in no time, and can be secured over a range of footwear types, even when you’re wearing gloves to secure them. And I can confirm that these bindings are freeze-proof.

They have a maximum recommended load of 180 pounds. So that means, if you’re carrying a 20 pound backpack, you have to weigh no more than 160 pounds to safely use these snowshoes.

They’re designed to fit around men’s shoe sizes from 4.5 up to 15. And they’re made right here in the USA, which is good to know.

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Best Snowshoes For Deep Snow 2021

Tubbs Mountaineer Backcountry Snowshoes

Pros:
> Aggressive traction at toe and heel
> Comfy, secure ActiveFit 2.0 bindings
> 19 degree lift at the heel for ascents
Cons:
> Premium product at a premium price (and I’m not kidding, click the check price buttons below!)

This tubular frame snowshoe is ready for anything!

It features aggressive traction at the toe, thanks to the eight teeth Anaconda toe crampon, which is further backed up with enhanced downhill braking thanks to the Python crampon at the heel.

It also features ActiveFit 2.0 bindings, which are a breeze to secure in place, ensuring both security and comfort as you hike. There’s a TPU cinch strap which reduces ice build up and friction. And for added security, there’s also an EZ heel buckle to go around the back of your footwear.

I also love how it features its ActiveLift heel lift, which provides a 19 degree lift at the heel. This helps reduce both tendon strain and calf fatigue when climbing those steep ascents.

One of the great things about these snowshoes is that they’re available in a range of different sizes. These are 25 inches, 30 inches, and a whopping 36 inches long. If going into the backcountry with heavy loads pick the large 36 inch model. Overall, the sizes are all very long, which makes them perfect for hikes in powdery textured snow.

They’re all designed to fit US shoe sizes from size 8 through to size 13.

Now, there’s no getting away from it – these beauties are way more expensive than most regular snowshoes. So, unless you have a budget of between $350 and $500, then these are not the snowshoes for you.

But judging from the customer ratings (which were coming in at a full 5 stars out of 5 on Amazon when this article was written), many customers are more than happy to pay this kind of price.

Overall, these are the best snowshoes for deep snow and the best snowshoes for soft powder snow.

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Best Snowshoes for Day Hiking 2021

Atlas Snowshoes Helium – Trail 23 Kit

Pros:
> Comes with bag and poles
> Available in a choice of sizes

>Features Helium Trail crampon
Cons:
> No heel crampon

Now, this isn’t just a pair of snowshoes, but an entire snow hiking kit. In addition to a great pair of snowshoes, you also get2 trail walking poles, a matching tote back to keep the snowshoes in (when you’re not wearing them).

The snowshoes themselves are available in two different sizes. You can either have them 23 inches long or 26 inches long. The longer size is slightly better for moving through powdery snow, while the shorter size is slightly easier for hiking on steep terrain.

You get great traction with these snowshoes. It features the Helium Trail crampon at the toe, which has tempered steel tangs for stability, and there are also teeth along the sides of the snowshoe as well, which really helps with traverses.

There’s also ribbing on the crampon, which helps it to shed snow better. And speaking of shedding snow, the Helium deck does this too.

There’s a heel lift in place, which makes it easier to climb steep ascents, and reduces fatigue when climbing.

The bindings are comfortable and secure, composed of forefoot webbing straps and a TPU heel strap.

It’s quite a lightweight snowshoe, at 4.95 pounds, that’s not too heavy to wear and hike in.

It’s a unisex design, suitable for both men and women. And it comes backed by a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Overall, the complete snowshoe kit are the best snowshoes for day hiking and if getting the larger sized model they make a great snowshoe for overnight backpacking trips.

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Backcountry
REI

Best Racing Snowshoes 2021

TSL Symbioz Racing Snowshoe with Hyperflex

Pros:
> Incredibly lightweight at 1.3 lbs
> Hyper flexible deck for racing

> Adjustable crampons at rear

> Great for groomed trails
Cons:
> It’s smaller than most other snow shows
> Not really suitable for soft snow or heavy loads

Now, if you like to race through the snow, these are the snowshoes for you! First off, they’re incredibly lightweight, coming in at a mere 1.3 pounds. So the weight of the shoe certainly won’t slow you down, if anything it will speed you up.

And the snowshoe is hyper flexible, designed to bend with your foot, whereas stiffer snowshoes would definitely slow you down.

It’s also a nice size for racing in, since it’s a mere 21.5 inches long, which makes racing downhill even more rapid.

They offer plenty of traction, with adjustable crampons positioned at the heel.

There’s adjustable binding that not only comes over the foot but also behind the heel to ensure that the snowshoe remains secure around your footwear.

The front of the deck rises slightly at the front to prevent snow getting on your footwear.

It also comes complete with its own carry case.

Amazon occasionally has a deal on these particular snowshoes, simply click on “Check price” to see if there happens to be a deal now.

Overall, these are the best racing snowshoes and the best ultralight snowshoes for groomed trails.

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TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Snowshoes

Pros:
> Flexible and light
> Hyperflex technology
> Good traction

Cons:
> Expensive

This top of the range shoe provides the perfect combination of performance and comfort. The TSL is flexible and light and benefits from Hyperflex technology which allows the foot to move naturally.

In addition, it provides carbon supports and crampons to give control and foot grip in different levels of snow. Energy is stored through the flex and is released at the end of the bend phase, which increases power in the stride. 

The shoe also offers boa fit system binding, which is a wheel system that distributes binding in an accurate and clear way that helps reduce any pressure that is exerted on the front of the foot. 

The Snowshoes offer fantastic traction in all weathers due to their blades, crampons, and grip which provide support up and downhill as well as strong drift control.

Furthermore, the frame is flexible which offers stability and safety, avoiding the danger of sliding in the snow. It also has an ascent lift, easily accessed by pushing with the trekking pole. 

The Snowshoes are easily adjustable and the crampons can be changed depending on snow conditions.

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Backcountry
REI

Buyer’s Guide

As promised, here’s your buying guide. It makes for a handy checklist to run through before you buy.

Snowshoes for hiking

Hiking snowshoes have specific features and are used for walking over different terrains. They will usually include a traction system and bindings that use a web system.  Hiking Snowshoes can also be used on flat surfaces or slight inclines.

When going backpacking you will use snowshoes that have better grip for inclines and are usually larger to deal with softer powder snow. Refer to information on technical snowshoes a little further along.

Fitness snowshoes

These snowshoes are designed to support a fitness regime on the snow. Running Snowshoes are designed for packed snow and smooth terrains.

The fitness shoes are shorter and narrower and used for extra speed in the snow and increased movement. The fact they are shorter helps when running.

Racing Snowshoes

If you intend to use your snowshoes for racing, you need entirely different gear to regular shoes. You will need snowshoes that are mostly foam and rubber for flex.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Check out our number 5 pick, the TSL Symbioz Racing Snowshoe with Hyperflex.

Technical Snowshoes

These types of snowshoes have been built to navigate terrain that is unpredictable and offer many features not available with the other shoes. 

They offer immense durability and will contain words such as “mountain”, “incline”, “ascent” and such like. They are designed for hikers to walk through ice and deep snow relatively easily.

Furthermore, they offer good-sized bindings that enable ease of wear. In addition, they contain crampons, which are used for traction and attached to footwear for increased control on the ice.

There are usually several crampons placed under the heel and toe of the snowshoe, providing advanced grip on the frame. 

Still confused about what ones to choose ? What terrain will you be most frequently hiking in? 

If you will primarily be hiking in deep snow, it’s best to avoid snowshoes with a smaller surface, and they won’t perform well, especially snow that is dry and light. You will need to purchase wide surfaced shoes.

A longer length can also help, so wide and long is the best way forward. The word backcountry on the product description will generally refer to areas of deep snow, so look out for this if it is your requirement. 

As well as more modern style snowshoes, traditional wooden shoes are also very effective if snow is deep. Be sure to take good care of wooden shoes, or they will wear out quickly. 

It’s likely if you live in an area of high humidity that snow will be wet.  Wet snow tends to sink less than dry snow, but you still need good flotation.

With wet snow it’s easy for it to pile on top of the snowshoe and stick underneath, so it’s wise to apply some spray or wax to the crampons.

Features

You can find different frames depending on the shoe. Tubular frames are ideal if you hike on smooth surfaces. Be careful that snow doesn’t build on the frame. 

Serrated frames are good for extra traction, so ideal for the ice. They can be heavy but most offer extra grip which is useful for mountaineering. 

Pointed tails or V-tails have a tubular frame at the toe and tail that is pointed at the back. They tend to help movement in deep snow.

Plastic frames are quite common and are good if you prefer a lightweight shoe. They offer a good grip but aren’t always the most comfortable. They also don’t offer the best grip, so not great for ice hiking.

Maximum Recommended Load

One of the key specs of a snowshoe is the maximum recommended load.

Your snowshoe needs to be able to take both your body weight and the weight of whatever you have to be carrying. And that could be an extra 20 to 60 pounds (depending on whether it’s a day trip or a weekender).

Snowshoe Length

You may have noticed that snowshoes tend to be quite long. This is because the longer it is, the easier it is to travel through powdery snow.

On the flip side, however, longer snowshoes are more difficult to hike in when you’re on steep terrain (whether you’re going uphill or downhill).

Very small and very light snowshoes are only used for groomed trails or for racing. These ultralight racing snowshoes are not suitable for backcountry hiking trips.

Bindings

Bindings are the part of the snowshoe that locks your foot in place. It’s the most important part of a snowshoe, and there are several materials used. 

Nylon is the most common used on cheaper snowshoes and usually have adjustable straps that allow you to wear different footwear. 

Rubber are the most common straps on all snowshoes and are more durable than nylon under weather pressure. 

A BOA closure has a wire that you can tighten and is an easy binding to use. It works well when wearing gloves. 

Some bindings have foot closures or boxes that secure the feet. The most important part of a binding is that it supports your foot correctly and is so comfortable when tightened.

For larger feet 2 or 3 strap nylon straps are best, and bigger feet benefit from toe boxes or enclosures.

On the one hand, you certainly need your snowshoes to provide a snug and secure fit. But on the other hand, you also need them to be easy to get in and out of.

And, ideally, you should look for bindings that can be fastened up even when you’re wearing gloves.

The best bindings will not only go over the foot, but also wrap around the heel of your footwear to properly secure the snowshoe in place.

Best Snowshoes have easy to use bindings

Traction

Traction describes the grip of your snowshoes on the ground. And good traction is crucial when you’re in icy conditions or on an incline.

Good traction will take the form of sharp looking teeth on what’s called a crampon, under the snowshoe. Most snowshoes will have crampons under the toe and heel. But when traversing, it can be especially helpful to have side traction along the frame of the snowshoe, too.

Good traction is crucial for safety, so you must consider the crampons and serrated edges. It will depend on what type of hiking you’re doing and the type of shoe you buy as to what the crampons are made of.

Some are steel or aluminum. Most shoes have a couple of crampons per toe. They can also be situated under the foot to assist when descending. 

Some crampons are provided with a coating to help prevent snow building up underneath.

Gear Testing Snowshoes and testing the traction while backpacking the CDT

Heel Risers / Heel Lifts

The heel riser in a snowshoe is designed to prevent any calf fatigue that you would undoubtedly get if you were hiking uphill without them.

Boots for Snowshoes

You need to wear a good pair of waterproof hiking boots inside your snowshoe. It has to fit perfectly in order to avoid any accidents, it has to be well insulated, to help keep you warm, waterproof, and it has to be at least calf high for decent ankle support.

When hiking in snow, snow will get kicked up onto your boots, so it’s important to bear that in mind. This is why the water resistance of your hiking boots is so important. A good set of gaiters is a good idea to prevent snow from getting inside the boots.

Value For Money

In our view, “cheaper” does not necessarily mean better value for money.

If you do have a budget you need to stick to, be sure to check prices as you go along.

The cheapest snowshoes cost at least $60-$70, but you can expect to pay more than that for a quality pair.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need Snowshoes For Winter Hiking?

When hiking in urban areas, regular snow boots will suffice. However, when you are hiking in the great outdoors and going uphill, snowshoes are an essential piece of equipment.
Unlike snow or hiking boots, snowshoes have incredible traction, made possible by their crampons which will dig into the ground underneath to give your feet a much better grip on both powdery and packed snow. They are also better for traction on icy ground, too.
You can often pick up a good pair of snowshoes for less than $100. So it’s an affordable investment for most hikers. And you can simply wear them over your favorite winter hiking boots.

Are Longer Or Shorter Snowshoes Better?

Different snow conditions call for different lengths of snowshoe…
Powdery snow is best faced with longer snowshoes that will help you to stay afloat. But wet or compact snow can be tackled with shorter length snowshoes.
Shorter snowshoes are also better for traveling through narrow trails.
The length of the snowshoe also affects its price, with longer snowshoes generally costing a little more money than their shorter counterparts.
So, there’s no short answer to this question. If in any doubt, simply go for a mid-length snowshoe of about 25 inches in length.

What is the difference between a snowshoe for men and women?

Women’s shoes are lighter than men’s. They are also narrower, as women tend to have a smaller gait. Some model are unisex and depends on the design. 

What does heel lift do?

Heel lift helps alleviate any calf pain and muscle strain on steep inclines. Usually you just simply pull up a rubber tab and click into place. The foot can rest as the heel lifts. 

Do I need poles with my snow shoes?

This depends on the type of hiking. They can be very useful on rugged terrain and will provide more stability. Poles also help reduce pressure on the joints and increase upper body fitness. 

What shoes should I wear alongside the snowshoe?

Most snowshoes will accommodate any footwear but if out hiking in snow it’s best to use dry and insulated shoes as well as good quality and stable especially if hiking on rugged terrain. 

What weight shoe is right for me?

This will depend on what type of terrain you’ll be hiking in but as a general rule of thumb:
– Young people 20-100 lbs 7×16
– Women 100lbs-160lbs 8×2, 160lns-200lbs 8 x25 
– Men 100lbs-150lbs 8×2, 151lbs-200lbs 8x 25, over 200lbs 9×30 or 10×36 

Hopefully this handy guide has helped provide some information about choosing the right snowshoe. Staying fit is really important for a healthy mind and body.

And snow hiking gives the body a good workout as well as brightening up the gloomy winter months. Choosing the right snowshoes will make the experience an exhilarating and warm one.


Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Sydney, Australia.

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