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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive
Get up close and personal with all those snowshoe parts.
Made of wood, plastic or lightweight aluminum tubing, frames come in a variety of shapes. The differences are simple. Oval shoes offer optimal flotation. Shoes with tapered tails and asymmetrical shoes allow a more natural gait.
There are two general types of attachments-let's call them "soft" and "hard."
A "soft" attachment is when the binding is mounted to a rubbery, resilient band of material that stretches across the frame. "Soft" attachments have fixed or limited rotation, which means that as you take a step, your heel lifts and the band snaps the tail of the snowshoe up off the snow, limiting the rotation of your foot in the shoe. Runners and trail walkers often prefer "soft" attachments.
- The shoe feels lighter, except in deep, wet snow, where you'll be forced to lift the weight of the snow rather than letting the shoe slide out from under it.
- Dry, loose snow doesn't pile up on the back of the decking and weigh the shoe down.
- The shoes are more maneuverable, especially when backing out of a tight spot, because the entire shoe lifts with your foot.
- You can almost feel a spring in your step as your weight settles across this trampoline-like band.
- In deep powder, snow is flipped up against the back of your legs and rear.
- Making kick-steps up steep terrain is more difficult because the nose doesn't fully clear to allow crampons to engage.
A "hard" attachment is when the binding rotates around a metal rod that runs from one side of the frame to the other. The binding pivots freely around the ball of the foot, giving you more lateral support and your crampons better purchase in the snow on steep inclines. (Note: Sherpa brand snowshoes have an adjustable attachment that can be tweaked toward either hard or soft.)
- Because the shoe itself rotates around the binding, it's easier to slide out from under heavy, deep snow, rather than lifting the load with each step.
- Crampons engage more easily on steep ascents, because the nose of the snowshoe rotates out of the way.
- Hard attachments can make for more difficult climbing when you need to kick deep steps up a slope. You have to flip the tail up, which often means whacking the tip into your shin.
- The tail of the shoe drops down awkwardly when you're backing out of tight spots.