A hunting guide in Greenville, Maine explained to me his complaint about the modern snowshoes, like those from Tubbs, MSR or Atlas brands; even if they are rated properly for him based on his weight, he still sinks slightly in the snow. Granted, he did not sink more than an inch and a half – he admittedly did not have to put in the effort of high stepping it through deep snow post-holing!
Regardless, he blamed the contemporary-style snowshoes and preferred his old wood-frame and rawhide snowshoes. They were, after all, larger and provided more floatation. So is there something fundamentally wrong with the modern aluminum snowshoe?
Modern aluminum-framed snowshoes are popular items listed in the holiday and winter outfitters’ catalogues. These contemporary snowshoes are, for the most part (but not exclusively), the only snowshoes you can buy new today. I own an older pair of Tubbs Ventures; they are easy to put on and take off and maintain (mostly worry free). My uncle used a beaver tail-style wooden frame snowshoe he bought from an antique store. Both work to my satisfaction in the northeast.
The issue has to do with the snow walker’s tolerance for sinkage and demand for floatation. Floatation is the snowshoe’s ability to keep the walker atop the snow. This is accomplished by the size and shape of the snowshoe. Snowshoes are designed to spread the weight of the snowshoer out so that walking over deep piles of snowflakes can be done with less effort.
Gene Prater explains in Snowshoeing: From Novice to Master on page 38 of the fifth edition (yes, I buy and read these books), in different regions, different snowshoes are appropriate in different parts of the winter season. For instance, in the Cascades or Coast Range on the western part of the continent where snow often turns to a firm solid swiftly, a person the size of my uncle – around two-hundred pounds with his daypack – should do fine with a smaller type snowshoe, like the Tubbs Venture.
However, in Maine, the snow can be interchangeable fluffy and dry depending whether the moisture is coming from the north or the east. The fluffy stuff from the east may require the snow walker to want more float and therefore a bigger snowshoe.
In the end, snowshoeing today is mostly recreational and for day hikes. When it becomes miserable or difficult we tend to turn around. But if you plan to do more extensive work in the backcountry, including camping and heading to higher elevations, the larger aluminum snowshoes – rated above your weight – will serve you well and are still less maintenance than is required for the wooden-framed snowshoes.
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