What To Look For
Adding snowshoes to your backpacking gear will not only expand your horizons but your seasons as well. Snowshoes are designed for a variety of skill levels and there are features to keep in mind as you look for the pair that suits your needs.
When selecting snowshoes for your backpacking needs, consider the terrain you'll be crossing, the amount of climbing and the weight of your backpack. Lower-end snowshoes are unlikely to have crampons (teeth) on the bottom and will be better-suited to leisurely snowshoeing trips across mostly flat terrain. These recreational models typically have aluminum frames and lightweight bindings.
For hard-core backpackers and those interested in alpine adventures, snowshoe models with integrated crampons and possibly a heel lift should be your main focus. These are typically made out of a technical composite or plastic material and occasionally aluminum. Bindings are sturdier and designed to accommodate more rugged footwear like double boots if necessary.
Your pack weight should also be a factor in your final choice. More technical snowshoes will be rated with a weight maximum. The weight should include your full pack weight. Some manufacturers also make flotation tails to make snowshoes more versatile. The flotation tails extend the length of the snowshoe in the rear to accommodate heavy backpacking across snowy terrain. MSR, a manufacturer of technical snowshoes, is known for its models that have available flotation tails.
Snowshoes that are made for recreational snowshoeing should not be used for more technical backpacking trips. When looking to add snowshoes to your backpacking gear, you should only consider those models with sturdier bindings and at the minimum, some sort of integrated crampon on the bottom of the snowshoe. Failure to do so will find you slipping and sliding on snowy and icy terrain and could lead to a potentially dangerous fall.
Where To Buy
You can begin your research for snowshoes designed for backpacking online. It helps to read other purchaser's reviews. Once you have an idea of what you might like, grab your winter boots (the ones you will be wearing with the snowshoes) and head to your local outdoor retailer. While snowshoes are designed to accommodate a wide range of boots, bringing your boots with you or buying them at the same time can only help with a sound purchase.
If you have an idea of exactly the snowshoe you want to add to your backpacking gear, online retailers like Trails.com can help you shop quickly and efficiently.
In 2009, recreational snowshoes begin in the $60 to $70 range. More technically advanced models, such as those made of composite materials with integrated crampons and built-in heel lifts, are in the $200-plus range.
When shopping for snowshoes, compare different models based on the features you have identified as the most important. Many backpackers will not even consider a model that does not have integrated crampons and a heel lift feature. It may take you a few trips to different retailers to get your hands on all the models you want to try, but don't stop short with a pretty picture. The right snowshoe for your backpacking gear will make your overall winter backpacking experience more fun.
Flotation tails for snowshoes are designed to increase the carrying capacity for expedition snowshoe backpacking trips. Check with the snowshoe manufacturer's website to see if flotation tails are available for your chosen model and if you even need them.
Occasionally, the bindings on snowshoes will break and replacement bindings will be needed. It's common that your local outdoor retailer can order replacement straps or complete bindings for you. Replacement bindings are also readily available through online retailers for many snowshoe models.