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Milwaukee hikers purchase snowshoes for first snowfall of 2012

Milwaukee Winter Sports
Photography by Trisha Comardo

Purchasing snowshoes is similar to purchasing hiking shoes in that you need to know where you plan on snowshoeing, what other equipment you will be backpacking around during your adventure, how much you weigh, and the terrain you will be snowshoeing on. Snowshoes are measured in inches. The size you purchase normally depends on the type of snow you will be hiking in.

The float of a snowshoe is how much ground the shoe itself covers. The float of the snowshoes you purchase will depend on the type of snow that they will be used in and the weight they are intended on carrying. To determine the weight, consider the weight of the person plus clothing and anything else that person might be backpacking during their snowshoe adventure. Snowshoes can be long and tapered or shorter and rounder. The long tapered snowshoe is fitted more for a smaller, petite person while the shorter rounder ones which give more float should be used for the heavier loads. A general rule of thumb on what snowshoe to wear based on the texture of the snow is that if it is packed snow, any shoe will work but if it is a deep snow or the soft fluffy stuff where one will sink easier, you’ll need a shoe with more float. Wet or icy snow conditions will require smaller, more lightweight snowshoes with good gripping crampons or cleats.

Snowshoes today are made out of durable, lightweight, low maintenance plastics, aluminum and synthetic rubber. For the purpose of varying inclines of terrain and climbing, snowshoes also come with some sort of cleats or claws. Snowshoes are generally designed for three different types of activities and fall into categories of recreational, running and aerobic fitness or hiking and backpacking.

Snowshoes designed for the more leisurely hiking on packed or broken snow trails are generally more oval shaped and have crampons built into the snowshoe. Aerobic snowshoes will be smaller and lighter and made to be used on the groomed trails. The most durable snowshoes are those that have very supportive binding systems with built in toe and heel crampons for maximum traction. These can be used in a variety of snow textures and on all kinds of terrain.

Snowshoe bindings are the straps that hold your foot to the shoe. When purchasing snowshoes, be sure the bindings are durable and comfortable yet provide secure positioning of the foot. Bindings that have the easy released mechanism on the forefoot portion of the shoe make for ease of fastening and unfastening. The back binding strap normally is adjusted for the first wear and then not again unless the footwear changes drastically requiring it to be adjusted.

Footwear generally should be insulated, waterproof boots except when doing the aerobic activities. These snowshoers tend to wear footwear comparable to running shoes as they are normally snowshoeing in smaller layers of snow on more groomed trails. Some type of a waterproof covering for your lower legs should be used also when snowshoeing in the powdery snows where you might sink or the snow sprays more to decrease the amount that may get down into your boots.

Other equipment to purchase would be poles which help to maintain balance and rhythm and a great thing to have if there is a lot of up and down terrain and varying snow levels. Poles are collapsible and can be adjusted for height. They are made from various materials from fiberglass to aluminum to graphite. In addition to a great aerobic and endurance training, the use of poles will provide the snowshoer with a great upper body workout.

Overall, snowshoeing is a great stimulating, low expense winter sport that is now one of the fastest growing winter sports in the nation. Subscribe above to watch for my articles on great places to snowshoe as well as upcoming snowshoe events. Subscribe to my other articles at Milwaukee Nature Examiner and Milwaukee Photography Examiner.


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