I have been fielding a lot of questions about snowshoe sizing recently, and wanted to put something down regarding getting the optimum size for your body weight. I am on the record as saying I don’t like modern snowshoes because they are usually too small, especially for bigger people. They come from the mountaineering tradition, where people are usually on alpine terrain with packed snow. Where we spend our time on our winter programs, the conditions can be dry, fine snow to crusty layers of ice. On crusty ice, you can sometimes get by without any snowshoes. In the deeper, dry snows of midwinter, getting around without adequate flotation is a challenge.
My experience has taught me to advise people to always get the biggest snowshoes they can walk on without having to walk bowlegged. This takes into account snowshoe frame style and the length of the legs. What we’re looking to do is optimize our ability to walk on snow and cover ground using the least amount of effort possible.
With this last point in mind, it is important to note that ANY snowshoe, regardless of style or size, is better than no snowshoe. If it spreads your bodyweight out over a larger area of snow and minimizes sinking, it is doing its job. But if the snow is dry and five feet deep, a small pair of the modern snowshoes that are slightly larger than your boots and are marketed with photos of spandex-clad people jogging on packed trails are not going to float you as well as a larger, traditional pair.
We have had people successfully complete the Boreal Snowshoe Expedition on modern snowshoes that were small. The downside was that they had to work harder than they needed to. But it is not a deal-breaker.
As I have heard from more people that traditional snowshoes are hard to source this year, maybe I’ll have to revisit my opinion on modern styles. I wrote them off 25 years ago and haven’t looked at them since. I’m sure there have been significant changes in that time.
To recap, if you are looking for snowshoes this year, maybe for one of our programs, and can’t find the optimal pair, remember that we can make anything work. The point in question is how well it will work for you.