Snowshoes are those funny-looking, webbed contraptions that historically were strapped to the bottom of the feet of trappers, hunters and explorers so they could walk on top of deep snow. Today, snowshoes most often are associated with outdoorsmen of all types, and the shoes often are made from plastic and aluminum instead of traditional wood and rawhide.
The frame of a snowshoe is made from wood or metal. The original method was to steam small strips of wood that were flexible until the wood was pliable and could be built up and put together to form a solid frame. The shape of the frame determined the type of snowshoe. Some snowshoes were very long and acted like skis, while other snowshoes were round or oval-shaped and were built to use in the forest, where the snow cover was often quite deep.
Today, aluminum tubing--or sometimes a built-up plywood frame--has replaced the old-time wooden shoes. The shape of the snowshoe is more standardized, and because of the aluminum composition, the snowshoes are lightweight and do not rot. Often the toe of the frame is turned up.
Also called the decking, "webbing" refers to the the material that is stretched across the frame to give the snowshoe body and a place to attach the bindings. Older snowshoes were made with rawhide or leather, causing a finished snowshoe to appear a bit like a tennis racket in the way it is strung. Today, a plastic substance called neoprene is used because of its durability, resistance to rot, and because it does not shrink when wet.
The binding attaches the toe of your winter boot to the webbing, allowing the heel to separate from the decking, which it does whenever you take a step. Again, neoprene often is used here because this material does not shrink when wet. The binding wraps tightly around the toe of the boot, while a long leather or plastic strap is pulled tight around the heel of the boot to hold the foot in place.
Many current styles of snowshoes have a small, metal cleat permanently attached to the snowshoe right below the ball of the foot. This piece of metal is sometimes referred to as a crampon, even though it is very different from the crampons that ice climbers use. It is a metal claw that gives the snowshoe better traction on packed snow surfaces and steep hiking trails.
Article Written By Henri Bauholz
Henri Bauholz is a professional writer covering a variety of topics, including hiking, camping, foreign travel and nature. He has written travel articles for several online publications and his travels have taken him all over the world, from Mexico to Latin America and across the Atlantic to Europe.