Swept up in the one positive effect of the pandemic effect—the boost given to social distanced outdoor pursuits—snowshoeing is poised to follow suit as a wintertime substitute for hiking. If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and compared with just about every other outdoor recreation, gear is inexpensive and minimal: just snowshoes and, ideally, poles.
Unlike most other snow-related sports, you needn’t trek to the mountains or find groomed trails. As long as you have snow you can snowshoe, be it in city parks or on cycling and recreation paths, even on golf courses.
When you do travel to ski resorts, bring your snowshoes—many have extensive networks of trails—and skip the long lines for chairlifts.
Most modern snowshoes are either oval aluminum frames with a solid deck of flexible synthetic fabric or a single oval piece of rigid plastic. Their increased surface areas maximize flotation. A center hole and a hinged binding allow your heels to rise and toes to pivot below the surface of the deck and into the snow—vital for climbing hills. A crampon of metal spikes under the ball of the foot can keep you from sliding backwards on steep slopes. Better models have additional traction patterns on the bottom of the deck.
The binding is where great snowshoes distinguish themselves. The more secure and easier they are to put on and off with cold or gloved fingers the better. Most models come in sizes rated for
different weight ranges (your weight, plus clothing and pack).
Among the top brands are Tubbs, Atlas and Crescent Moon, but MSR (Mountain Safety Research) Lightning Ascent ($320) is the Rolls Royce of snowshoes. A revolutionary binding has a sleeve rather than straps to encapsulate the foot. The base has excellent traction. The removable flotation tails accommodate extra weight and deeper snow, so you can attack tundra as well as the park.