While we think the most important factor in choosing and enjoying a snowshoe is finding a binding that will hold your foot squarely in place, we’ve come across a few design innovations that can improve your performance on snow. Consider these features when comparing shoes.
Toe crampons: These are small teeth placed just under the front tip your boot sole, forward of and in addition to the standard crampon under the ball of your foot. They come in handy when climbing straight up slick sections of trail, but by themselves, they’re no substitute for aggressive full crampons.
Asymmetric bindings: Angled to match the curves of your left and right feet, these bindings offer enhanced fit and more comfortable striding. The shoes often have asymmetric frame shapes, too, which in their most radical configurations save weight for snowshoe racers.
Spring-loaded bindings: They lift up the tail of the shoe with every forward step to ease strain on your calf. Of considerable help when kicking steps on an uphill, such bindings make each kick easier, smoother, and more energy-efficient.
Reinforced heel: Extra material (often a small slab of grippy rubber) is placed on the snowshoe decking where the heel strikes. Reinforcing lengthens the life of the shoe, prevents side-to-side slippage, and directs the force of your step to the heel cleat underneath.
Length adjustments: Some shoes get shorter or longer by virtue of telescoping decking or add-on tails. This is a nice feature when you’re facing variable snow conditions, or if you want one shoe that handles both short, lightly loaded trips and weeklong winter hikes. It’s also very handy for families wanting one shoe that works for everyone from the kids to 200-pound Dad.
Crampon compatibility: Some shoes accept mountaineering crampons, the teeth of which then serve as your cleats. This feature enables climbers, depending on snow conditions, to switch back and forth between crampons and snowshoes without having to forgo their crampons on potentially dicey terrain.
Heel lifts: Some shoes now feature as a standard or add-on feature a small bar that lays flat under your boot heel. When faced with a long ascent, flip up the bar, and your foot is supported in a more natural, flat position while the shoe continues to grip the steeply angled incline. The lifts reduce Achilles tendon and calf strain and fatigue.