The Yowie Company claims their radically-different Yowie snowshoes are the world's most agile. They use an injection-moulded flexible deck with an all-over grip, a fast binding and tough crampons. Yowie claims the shoes are used in the Iditasport Extreme in Alaska on snow, and by Army Commandos in Afghanistan on sand (no pictures unfortunately). They claim you can walk in them in any direction you like, just like walking without them. They also claim a very fast and reliable fastening system which is tailored to your shoes.
- Almost unbreakable
- Walk more naturally
- Simple webbing fastening system
- Single buckle fastening
What's Not So Good
- Tricky to get webbing system adjusted perfectly
- Can be difficult to get rear strap over heel
- Some icing up possible on webbing
- Some balling up possible around the crampons (happens to any crampons)
|2006 Yowie Snowshoe - Medium tested|
|Medium: 1.08 kg (38 oz) measured |
Large: 1.33kg (47 oz) quoted
Shoe Size Range
|Medium: 37-45 Euro (6-11 US)|
Large: 44-49 Euro (10-14 US)
User Weight Limit
|Medium: 86 kg (190 lb) |
Large: 125 kg (280 lb)
|Medium: Length 460 mm (18.1 in), Width 245 mm (9.7 in) |
Large: Length 510 mm (20.1 in), Width 260 mm (10.2 in)
|Medium: 940 cm2 (146 in2) |
Large: 1116 cm2 (173 in2)
|Injection moulded from a subzero engineering grade copolymer thermoplastic - manufacturer claims, 'will not break'|
|Tested to -30 C (-22 F), usable to at least -35 C (-31 F)|
|Hexagonal, across whole underside|
|3 mm (1/8 in) thick high tensile marine grade aluminium|
|Polyester webbing with PTFE ice/water repellent, Velcro tape with PTFE ice/water repellent, Duraflex buckles, elastomer O-rings|
Nuts and Bolts
|304 grade stainless steel, adjustable with a 2.5 mm hex key, wicking threadlocker applied|
|AU$299 (about US$230)|
Striding along past Bluff Tarn, Kosciusko National Park, Australia.
These Yowie snowshoes bear little resemblance to 'conventional' snowshoes: ones with a tubular aluminium frame and a synthetic fabric deck laced across the middle. They are however a bit like the 'Little Bear' children's snowshoes. Basically, they are like very large duck's feet (although my wife referred to them as tea trays).
The picture above shows the top and bottom of these snowshoes. The bottom has a very serious hexagonal pattern right across it, a bit like you find on pattern-base cross-country skis but far more aggressive. In addition there are sturdy aluminium crampons under the front and rear of the shoe. The intention is to provide a very serious amount of traction on all surfaces short of hard water ice. The top has an adjustable webbing binding which does up with a single side-release buckle. It looks almost too simple.
Once the Yowie snowshoes have been fastened to your shoes, and we will come to how that is done next, you walk - normally. The heels are fastened to your shoes, so you don't have to pick the snowshoes up and glide forward: you just walk. OK, you do usually lift you feet a little more than normal when wearing the Yowie snowshoes. With your heels secured, you can equally walk sideways or backwards - much easier than with snowshoes which have pivoting bindings. Yowie claims you can run and even kick steps with these snowshoes. The plastic deck is quite strong enough to take 'toeing-off.' In an interesting thought, Yowie points out that the solid deck means the front of your footwear does not come into repeated and often abrasive contact with the cold or wet snow at every step. Since there is no fabric deck laced to a surrounding tube there are no worries about abrasion on the lacing at the edges - a problem I have seen with quite a few conventional snowshoes in the hire trade.
What does make these Yowie snowshoes stand out is their light weight. At 1.08 kilograms (38 oz, measured) per Medium pair they weigh the same as our measured weight for the Northern Lites Elite, which are the lightest, conventional non-racing snowshoes that we know of. The Yowie snowshoes are manufacturer rated for 86 kilogram (190 lb) loads, while the Elites are rated to 79 kilogram (175 lb). This makes it fairly easy to justify carrying the Yowie snowshoes during the shoulder seasons.
Three steps to the "before-first-use" initial adjustment of the Yowie bindings. (Derived from manufacturer illustration.)
Fitting the snowshoes - According to Yowie
Most of the adjustment of the binding can be done at home before you use the Yowies - not that much is needed. The top of the deck is marked with a simple 1-2-3 position scale at the front and the back. You stand on the snowshoe so your boot or shoe is in the middle of the deck and positioned so as to have the same amount of the scale showing at the front and the back. Then you make several once-off adjustments to the webbing, as illustrated in the diagrams to the right (courtesy of Yowie). Once you start doing this you realise that the 'simple' webbing arrangement is slightly more complex (and cunning) than it looks. With size 42 light approach shoes I seemed to have plenty of room for adjustment; with heavier (bigger) boots I would still have had plenty of room in the binding.
In diagram A the user is shown adjusting the front webbing. This webbing is looped through slots through the deck on either side of your shoe. First you separate all the Velcro connections. The inner short bit of the webbing on one side is laid tightly against your shoe, then the outer longer bit of the webbing pressed down over it and secured by Velcro (shown in green). This is done on both sides of your shoe and then the outer long bits of the webbing are adjusted (tightened) over the top of your shoe using a ladder-lock buckle, to be a neat fit. The result is a very solid multi-layer webbing loop which fits over and around the toe of your shoes securely, and should prevent your shoe from moving sideways.
There are another two anchor points beside the heel of your shoe, and these operate in a similar manner. They are adjusted in the same way as shown at B, to locate the heel correctly. Then the strap over the ankle is done up using a side-release buckle (shown in red) to make a snug fit. It isn't necessary to do this buckle up really tight. According to Yowie, this buckle should go on the outside.
Finally, the heel strap is tightened around the heel of your shoe through another ladder-lock buckle as shown at C and the free end is anchored with Velcro (shown in green). Once this has been done the side-release buckle can be undone to allow your shoe to be removed from the webbing. There are no bits of rigid plastic or metal to adjust.
What is interesting about this method of fitting is that you are adjusting (and relying on) the webbing to grip the sides of your shoe sole quite closely. This means that you don't have to wear heavy boots with these snowshoes: approach shoes with a good sole are just as effective. (That's what I wear.) It also means there are no hard bits to rub against the sides your shoes.
Walking along in the Australian Alps on Yowies.
To get into the binding in the field you open the central webbing with the side release buckle as far as possible, then slip your shoe in place into the front loop. Then you pull the rear loop up over the heel of your shoe, and finally you tighten the middle strap over your shoe by doing up the side release buckle. In theory, all the adjustments can stay as they were set beforehand.
Field Performance - Putting Them On
My wife and I have previously used conventional snowshoes (two sorts of Northern Lites) in the Australian Alps as an alternative to long narrow back-country skis when our snow was poor. (This seems to be happening rather a lot these days.) So we have had some experience with 'conventional' snowshoes. These Yowie snowshoes were taken on an extended week-long backpacking trip over our Alps in the winter of 2006 in the hopes of finding out whether they would let us travel over more difficult terrain and over more variable snow conditions. Well, we certainly had the more difficult terrain and more variable snow conditions. Not everywhere was as nice as shown to the left.
Webbing that sits under the shoe.
What we did notice immediately was the difference in weight between the Yowie snowshoes and cross-country (XC) skis plus XC ski boots. As I was wearing medium-weight approach shoes with the snowshoes rather than big heavy ski boots, the difference really was significant! We also noticed that on easy terrain it was very easy to walk with the Yowies without using poles at all. This too was vastly different from using XC skis! My wife ended up carrying her XC ski stocks bundled up in her hand a lot of the time, while I had my single collapsible trekking pole on my pack sometimes as well. But then, we don't carry trekking poles at all for normal walking, so your preferences may differ.
We found that getting one of our shoes into the Yowie binding is not quite as simple as the above instructions make out. Pushing the front of our shoe into the front loop requires some shoving, and this is probably due to the lugs on the bottom of our shoe interacting with the raised webbing at the edges, as pointed to by the green lines in the picture to the right. This wasn't really serious, although when the webbing iced up as indicated by the pink lines it was a little more noticeable. My first reaction was to wonder whether the design could be altered to conceal this webbing below the surface, but then I realised that it is this very bit of webbing which grips the sides of my shoes to keep them in place. However, I do think a little recessing around that webbing would be possible without interfering with the gripping mechanism.
Yowie snowshoe fitted to boot.
Having got the front of my shoe into the front loop, the next step is to get the rear loop up over the heel of my shoe as shown in picture C above. Well, that is not so easy with mitts on. After all, the rear strap is meant to keep my shoe in the binding, so it does not have any slack when properly adjusted. I managed, but usually by taking my gloves off to do the fitting. My wife found it easiest to let me fix this for her. I have to admit that sometimes I undid the Velcro to slacken the rear strap off before I could get it around my shoe. But then, it was easy enough to pull the rear strap tight again and hook up the Velcro. The best solution in my opinion would be to add some sort of pull-tab to the webbing at the heel, very much along the lines of the pull-tabs found on the rear of shoes. Same idea, same assistance. It would not have to be the same heavy webbing - almost anything would probably do.
With my shoe fitted into the front and rear straps, it is usually pretty easy to pull up the middle strap over my shoe and do up the side-release buckle. That part was not difficult in the field. Neither that strap nor the side release buckle seemed to get iced up at all. The picture to the left shows a Yowie fitted to my approach shoe. You will notice that my shoe has a white overboot covering it, under the gaiter: that helps to keep most of the snow off my non-waterproof approach shoe.
The Yowie company claims that 'Efficient PTFE ice/water repellent is chemically bonded to the webbing.' Well, as you can see we did get a little ice collecting under the shoes, but in general the rest of the webbing stayed free of ice. Knocking those little bits of ice off was not too easy though, so I rarely bothered. However, knocking the ice off did make it slightly easier to get my shoes into the front webbing.
Crossing a snow bridge - carefully.
Field Performance - Use
As some of the pictures suggest, walking with the Yowie snowshoes is very simple. But it is different from walking with the more common pivoting snowshoes because my heels are tied down to the deck. You could shuffle along flat-footed with these things on your feet, but we found that you could also just walk 'normally,' with a normal toe-off. The plastic deck flexes a bit as you lift your heel, but it seems to be extremely robust stuff and it took a lot of punishment over the rougher terrain. Shuffling is not necessary. Having the heel tied down securely meant I could move sideways and backwards with no trouble at all. I could walk around camp while setting up the tent without thinking about managing my snowshoes. This is seriously different from the shuffles I have to do with other snowshoes with pivoting bindings.
Another major difference which results from my heel being tied down is that in some conditions you can get a lot of snow being flung upwards from the heel region of the snowshoe. How much depends on exactly how you walk - whether you 'glide forward' or 'walk' or 'stomp.' I noticed that I was lifting less snow after a while as I got used to the Yowies. But wearing some full-length light gaiters does help stop the backs of your trousers from getting damp.
I mentioned above that I sometimes found it difficult to get the bindings really snug. So I let the bindings be loose a few times to see whether that would make the Yowie snowshoes difficult to manage. I have to report that a little bit of slack at the toes or the rear did not really make a lot of difference - at least not on fairly easy surfaces. Having a snug binding was helpful when going up or down steep slopes and especially when running down them. At one stage I noticed that one snowshoe seemed to be splayed outwards at the front. This was corrected by readjusting the front straps. But it didn't seem to affect my walking at all.
On the other hand, 'snug' was quite sufficient for the bindings. I did not need the bindings to be so tight that blood flow through my feet was in any way limited. This is very good, because limiting the blood flow through your feet means you get very cold and very tired feet - not a good thing in the snow. In fact, with thick socks and the approach shoes, my feet were warm pretty much all the time - even when a bit damp.
Traveling off snow, on mud and gravel.
A concern expressed by my wife was that she would have to walk with her feet a lot further apart than normal, due to the width of the Yowies. At the start I think we did tend to walk with our feet further apart, but after a day or so we forgot about the perceived width and seemed to be walking quite normally. Maybe I swung my lifted foot just a fraction wider and higher as it went past my stationary foot, but the marks on the snow didn't seem to be especially separated.
A serious concern we had was whether the smaller deck area of snowshoes (compared to XC skis) would give us problems when crossing doubtful snow bridges. Well, we crossed a few such snow bridges and didn't have much of a problem. There were a few places where we did fall right through the snow, but that was usually on thinner snow over bushes, and we were pushing our luck there anyhow. Well, I did say the winter season had been very poor. Extricating ourselves from such holes was not that difficult: the snow was so light it didn't seem to hold the snowshoes down very much. We didn't get a chance to try them out in real 'powder snow,' but we rarely get that in Australia.
Traveling over rock on Mt Jagungal.
The hexagonal pattern spread all over underneath the Yowie snowshoes shows up very clearly on the snow under a lot of conditions. It seemed to give a very good distributed grip too - a lot more than the smoother 'conventional' snowshoes offer. On softer snow, when the crampons under the deck would be expected to offer little traction, I found the pattern seemed to be gripping very well. Since the far thinner and finer pattern on the base of some XC skis will often grip going up hill, I was not at all surprised by this. I don't think I ever sensed any slipping with the Yowie snowshoes - either going up and down a hill or traversing across a hill. I was even able to kick the side of the deck into the snow sometimes while traversing: doing so didn't worry the plastic or the bindings at all.
The aluminium crampons underneath gave a fairly good grip on all sorts of harder snow, included some light crusty boilerplate ice I met while climbing up a short-cut at about 50 degrees to the summit of Mt Jagungal. I just stomped the front of the snowshoe into the snow and walked up. In fact, I was able to kick the front of the Yowie snowshoe into the snow a bit while climbing, a bit like kicking steps. I am not sure whether they are significantly better than many other types of snowshoes at climbing, but at least the Yowie snowshoes worked fine for the simple climbing I was doing on the light boilerplate and crusty stuff. Later on I found myself running down the steep side of Mt Jagungal on very hard icy snow, even boilerplate, with a pack on. Sure, there was snow flying everywhere behind me (really!), but I felt as though I had very reliable traction. I haven't been able to try real glissading in them: we don't have those sorts of conditions very often in Australia.
The crampons underneath balled up a little at times, despite a little layer of black ice-rejecting plastic inside the aluminium, but the ice could usually be kicked off on a bit of rock or hard ice. I found that the lump of snow/ice surrounding the crampons gripped just as well as the crampons themselves on a lot of surfaces anyhow. However, I have not been able to try the crampons out on 'real ice.' I found that with just a little concentration I could also travel over the iced-up boulders on Mt Jagungal quite happily, as shown to the right. The aluminium crampons seem to grip on this stuff without doing much damage to the rock. I was also able to do a little rock-hopping across creeks with the crampons giving me a good grip.
Given the worsening quality of our Australian snow each year, it is inevitable that we would end up walking off the snow with the Yowie snowshoes. As you can see in several pictures here, we did. They suffered a few minor scrapes to the plastic on the underside but these were very minor surface blemishes, despite the mud and the rocks we sometimes climbed over as well. The webbing does go under the deck, but it is surrounded underneath by some big walls which keep it from contacting anything hard. I didn't notice any wear on the webbing itself. I suspect that there might be a bit more wear on the webbing underneath if you were to use them on sand, but I have not tried that.
Later on when we were traveling out in some pretty bad weather we were crossing mixed patches of snow, grass and burnt scrub. This is where I had my only accident with the snowshoes: I had become a little too confident and didn't lift them over the scrub. The toe of one snowshoe hooked under a rather stiff bit of scrub and I tripped. However, that accident would probably have happened with any design of snowshoe.
As the snow patches shrank I found that wearing the Yowie snowshoes became less useful - of course. Eventually I took them off and hung one on each side of my pack, crampons outwards, with a simple bit of bungee cord around my pack where the upper cinch strap is placed. Each snowshoe being fairly light, they rode there quite happily and didn't get in my way at all. The slight extra weight was no problem - especially compared to carrying XC skis! When we reached our car all I had to do was remove a few bits of grass before throwing the snowshoes in the back of the car. They didn't seem to collect mud or other debris at all.
- The whole 'duck foot' design
- The simple webbing fitting
- The very light weight
- The very high mobility in all directions
- The immunity to damage to deck edge bindings
Recommendations for Improvement
- Make it a bit easier to get the front of the shoe into the front webbing.
Possibly recess some of the front webbing on the top of the deck a little.
- Make it a little easier to get the rear webbing up over the heel of a shoe.
Add some pull-tabs to the rear webbing maybe.