Monday, November 2, 2009

Gearing Up: Snowshoe Season is Almost Here

Winter is nearly upon the Adirondacks and it’s time to blow the dust off your cold-weather gear including your snowshoes. Snowshoeing has increased in popularity and practicality in stride with technology. Gone are the days when the only choice was hand woven wood frame shoes. The framing, decking, cleats (crampons) and bindings are now made with high tech materials specialized for various conditions and preferences.

The first question becomes one of purpose. What environment will they be used for? Deep powder snow and packed trails are drastically different underfoot. Designs with increased length and width increase surface area and offer more stability and flotation in unpacked conditions. They are a bit less maneuverable, however, it tighter areas. They can also be used on packed trails in many instances. More compact models save weight and increase maneuverability when snow depth is minimal.

Specialized conditions sometimes require specialized shoes. Ascending to higher elevations via steep grades may require traverse through changing conditions: packed trail, unbroken powder, steep inclines with ice flows, summits with mixed conditions where, perhaps, crampons would be most valuable. Most models offer some crampons with varying degrees of aggressiveness for traction. MSR, for instance, offers a very specialized and maneuverable line of shoes that include aggressive crampons, metal “teeth” either around the circumference or in rows, a heel elevator to alleviate leg fatigue on inclines and an optional flotation tail to increase length and thus versatility across terrain.

No matter the environment, it’s also important to know which shoes perform best for your personal traits as well. Manufacturers usually have a weight chart to help choose between models or sizes of a particular model. Forums and product review sites can offer guidance on the positive and negative aspects of each.

As an aside, please remember that in the High Peaks Wilderness area, you “must possess and use skis or snowshoes when the terrain is snow-covered with eight or more inches of snow”. This helps reduce preventable rescues and protects both the wearer and other hikers alike.

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