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Snowshoe floatation question
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Nathan V
(Junk) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lake State
Snowshoe floatation question on 02/07/2011 06:52:03 MST Print View

This year is my first time snowshoeing. I bought some Atlas 925's on sale to try, they work pretty well, but they seem to sink pretty far into the snow. The snow is about 12" - 24" deep and pretty soft, I sink in about 8" to 10" most of the time. My weight with clothes and gear is under the recommended weight limit on the snowshoes. My question is: would longer snowshoes, like Northern Lite Backcountries, make a big difference in how much you sink in, or is it just the soft snow conditions ?

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
Re: Snowshoe floatation question on 02/07/2011 08:08:26 MST Print View

I think that many first time snowshoe users are surprised how far they sink into the snow. Last weekend, I was out with a "first-timer," my friend, Emily. She was borrowing a pair of my snowshoes and she made the exact same comment. I think most people imagine you just float on top of the snow with snowshoes, but in reality, it doesn't really work that way.

If there's powder, you're going to sink down a few inches. A larger snowshoe with more flotation may help, but you're still going to sink a few inches and may lose some maneuverability. Also, if you're wearing snowshoes and you don't sink at all, the snow may be packed enough that you don't even need to wear them anyway.

The real test is to take your snowshoes off and see how deep you would sink without anything on your feet. I did just that to demonstrate to my friend and I sank down to my crotch.

So, overall, longer snowshoes may help a bit, but the question will be how much will they help and is more flotation even really necessary? In my estimation, as long as you're sinking less than a foot, you're doing alright.

Edited by vinovampire on 02/07/2011 08:09:11 MST.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Snowshoe floatation question on 02/07/2011 08:09:30 MST Print View

Chances are, it is both. Your weight, the size of the snow shoes and the condition of the snow all effect your "sinking".

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
floatation on 02/07/2011 08:27:32 MST Print View

light powdery snow your going to sink some, no way around it

I had 25" shoes the previous two winters and if the snow was firmish I was fine, if it was on the dry side I sank a little too much- I went w/ 30" shoes this winter and they are a better "fit" for my weight and prevailing snow conditions

the tail system that MSR uses is pretty useful, throw in a pair of 5" tails- if you need more floatation, simply add the tails

even 20" shoes are going to be better than no shoe at all, but could still be far from ideal for someone's weight and snow condition

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Snowshoe floatation question on 02/07/2011 08:59:01 MST Print View

The weight limit recommendations are usually for packed trails. Larger shoes will provide a little more floatation, but they'll still sink, and will be heavier to lift with each step. That's the balance between snowshoe weight and floatation.

Unless you need maneuverability due to steep mountains or brush, or are always on packed trails, I don't see any reason for an average person to use a shoe less than 30". If you're often in deep, unpacked powder, use a 36" shoe. Canadian companies like Faber and GV make shoes even larger.

For even more efficient travel in terrain which allows it, use backcountry skis. :)

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
snowshoe flotation. on 02/07/2011 09:09:18 MST Print View

Native people's snowshoes varied in design and size from place to place. For example, in Eastern Canada they were relatively short and wide for maneuverability in the woods, with a very small mesh size for cold powdery snow.
Link with pics:
I had a pair of 36" snowshoes and they were good when on soft powder unpacked snow. On trails in New England and NY, you want a width that fits into the packed trails up the mountains.

Nathan V
(Junk) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lake State
Re: Snowshoe floatation question on 02/07/2011 10:54:45 MST Print View

Thanks for the info, I figured my experience was pretty normal, and that bigger shoes would probably help some with floatation in soft snow. I just didn't know how much more they would help.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Snowshoe floatation question on 02/07/2011 11:54:41 MST Print View

Light powdery snow you will sink with snowshoes AND skis. Packed, icy snow, now that is a different story.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
HA! on 02/07/2011 18:02:35 MST Print View

The "snowshoe revelation" hath been made clear to you. Repent ye and buy backcountry skis. Then realize how much easier they travel in deep snow.

I recall how my buddy Chuck's first winter camping trip showed him the difference between skis and snowshoes. I let him break trail on my loaned 30" Atlas 'shoes but only after I had broken trail with my Rossi Randonee skis for half an hour.

Within 15 minutes Chuck was really tired and I had to take over breaking trail again. He was simply amazed at how easy the 210 cm. backcountry skis "floated" on the snow. He was griping at how inefficient snowshoes were so I had him take off the snowshoes and walk. After postholing for a few yards he quickly put his 'shoes back on and was happy with them. Later he got some Tubbs 30" 'shoes and was hooked on snowshoeing. He was not ready to take the time to learn basic skiing turns and maneuvers. Too bad.

Mark Hudson
(vesteroid) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Sierras
first time on 02/07/2011 20:41:59 MST Print View

I freely admit I have been on snow shoes one time. I can say that 3 miles and around 700 feet of climb on those equals 20 miles and 4000 feet of climb on dry trails in the tired factor.

Those things kicked my butt.

I think I learned a few things that next weekend will help that go to 5-6 miles without wanting to die, but who knows.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: HA! on 02/07/2011 22:44:50 MST Print View

I have snowshoes that are a bit small for what is recommended for my weight. They work out great. If the snow is really light and fluffy, then I go skiing. If it is bad snow, then I don't sink in that much, and smaller snow shoes are fine. Really light, fluffy snow makes skiing much easier. Bad snow can be very hard to ski, so switching to snowshoes can save a lot of frustration.

Richard Fischel
while i don't currently have a pair on 02/08/2011 14:52:30 MST Print View

i'm surprised nobody has mentioned approach skis. i like them in a lot of situations better than snowshoes and the short length makes them less of a pia then full-length skis if you are not looking for the *full* downhill experience.

approach skis

Chad Miller

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: HA! on 02/08/2011 14:54:45 MST Print View

Depending on the terrain ski's and snowshoes each have their place

To over-generalize and say that ski's are overwhelming 'better' than snow shoes shows a profound lack of experience winter backpacking and / or rather limited trail experience when it comes to a variety of locations.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Approach skis on 02/08/2011 21:59:11 MST Print View

I like your idea of using approach skis (& skins) instead of snowshoes. Good suggestion for covering ground with less effort.

Chad, I only can wish for your level of experience...

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Shoes vs skis on 02/09/2011 15:53:38 MST Print View

I don't have a lot of experience in varying locations but here in Colorado where we get a lot of powder snow, I'd much rather have skis than snowshoes going thru deep powder. I just did a trip where I took both snowshoes and AT gear to do a comparison. On the way in the trail was semi-packed and the snowshoes with 40below LE boots felt like feathers on my feet and were awesome. Much better way to travel than the heavy AT gear under those conditions. We got 18" of powder that night and the next day and I climbed and skied with the AT gear. Worked great. On the way out the 3rd day I decided to use the snowshoes again to compare and contrast with the 7 AT and Tele skiers in the group. I generously decided to let them break trail. There were quite a bit of open terrain where the real trail was obscured so being just a foot or two off meant you were in 18" of fresh powder on top of more un-packed powder. The skiers all cruised along at a depth of maybe a foot while I, even going last, postholed quite a bit with my 25" snowshoes with 5" tails. Of course, 30" with tails would have been better but I don't think it would have come close to the float the skiers were getting. When we were in the trees where the trail was more obvious, the snowshoes were fine. Next time I'm in that situation, I'll go with the skis. But the snowshoes/LE boots are really great when not in powder. Really light. That's my view. YMMV, of course.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
shoes and skis on 02/09/2011 18:08:05 MST Print View

LOL Randy, were you 'shoing along with skis and boots on your back?! Good comparison.

IMO in deep winter skis are better in almost all circumstances. Snowshoes are better for bushwacking, and early season trips where there's snow up high, and dry dirt down low.

Gotta have both.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
skie and shoes on 02/09/2011 20:06:26 MST Print View

Actually Dave, it was an even better comparison because I was pulling a pulk so the additional weight of the skis/boots wasn't on my back to affect the snowshoes. And they are heavy! This will shock everyone on here but I weighed them. I don't have the numbers handy but they are something like 12.5 lbs per foot! Compared to the snowshoes/trailrunners/overboots at 3.5 lbs. I told my buddies about that difference. "For this segment we'll take approximately 10,000 steps and you'll be lifting an extra 9 lbs each step, each of which is uphill, or 90,000 lbs extra for the segment." For some reason, they didn't want to hear it.

But I'll keep my options open depending on the weather and the conditions. The skis definitely rule in deep powder. And it's awfully nice to strap on skis for the decent, and if the conditions are right, take no steps on the way back.