The evolution of the snowshoe: Traveling on top of the snow
Growing up in a rural area with long winters, for whatever reason I was never subjected to snowshoes until I got out of college. When I met the girl who eventually became my wife, I found she owned a pair of snowshoes for recreational purposes.
I still remember the first time I tried them out. I took my dog Smokey, a beagle mix who was just a puppy at the time, out for a winter small game hunt. I quickly learned the importance of quality bindings, having the right size snowshoes, and that snowshoeing would tire leg muscles I never knew I had. They also didn’t support the additional weight of even a small dog trying to stay on your heels.
Recreational snowshoeing is more popular than ever, but snowshoes remain not a only a device used to take a walk in the winter woods, or enjoy a small game hunt – they are a tool. I’ve used snowshoes around the house when raking snow off the roof, and turn to them regularly during the late winter when I’m setting out and checking my maple sap taps.
Snowshoeing evolved quickly a few decades ago thanks to modernization. The old wood and rawhide models, of which I still own two operational pairs, are now a wall decoration for most. They’ve been replaced by aluminum-framed models with simpler bindings. They’re also a tad narrower than their wooden counterparts, and therefore a little easier on those unknown leg muscles.
Sportsmen in snow country certainly appreciate the value of snowshoes. I know several Adirondack deer hunters who employed their use during the past two seasons in order to trek deep into the backcountry. This was especially the case during the latter part of the 2018 Northern Zone deer season when a pair storms combined to drop over two feet of snow on the region.
Anglers too use snowshoes more often than we might realize. I’ve seen ice fishermen use them after big snowstorms, and I even know of a few trout fishermen who’ve hiked on snowshoes to their favorite fishing holes when deep snow conditions persisted into early April.
Picking out the right snowshoe is simple. The first thing to consider is one’s weight and matching that to the rating of the snowshoes. The next is the reality of the intended use. For example, if you’re going to regularly hike long distances, such as bagging Adirondack peaks, or even running a trap line, you’ll want to invest in rugged, high-quality snowshoes with reliable bindings.
For the rest of us, simplicity is the answer and there are many affordable options available for more casual use. The modern pair my wife and I regularly use were acquired over a decade ago, and just this year I’ve replaced the bindings, a simple process.
As for traditional models, an entire story could be written about wooden snowshoes. They’re fun, nostalgic and attractive. The key, at least in this writer’s experience, is having a quality binding – something I struggled with for years with my own wooden snowshoes.
Whether it’s taps, traps or just a walk in the winter woods, snowshoeing is great exercise and a viable cure for cabin fever. Recent snowstorms have finally created the right conditions, at least in my region, and we plan to enjoy them while they last.