View Full Version : Traditional vs. Modern Snowshoes

01-26-2011, 07:46 PM
I would like to querry the wisdom of the fellow members of the board regarding a question on snowshoes.
After tommorrow, we should have more than three feet of snow in the local area. Recently I have been spending a lot of time on snowhoes and I have been thinking of getting a newer pair. I will be honest in that I have no experience with modern snowshoes. All of the time I spent tramping through the winter landscape has been on traditional wood and babiche or wood and nylon cord snowshoes. In fact I still have a set of snowshoes that belonged to my grandfather. I did relace them unknowingly ruining their antique value. Anways, that is snow melted away.

So I was wondering what type do you prefer? Right now I have a used pair that is undersized for me ( traditional) that belonged to my friend's late father. I like them but I do realize that a pair that matches my size( 265 lbs out of the shower) would equate to better floating on the snow.

I did see a set of Faber that is a cross between a modern and traditional snowshoe. It has a wood frame but has a synthetic decking. Anyways I would appreciate any input.

01-26-2011, 07:53 PM
The only ones I've used are the magnesium Army surplus ones. So far so good for me at #225 in powder, and while they do ice when they get wet, they can be de-iced with a rock.

01-27-2011, 01:15 AM
I rented some Tubbs and Redfeather snow shoes from the MWR. Both were the entry level snow shoe, I don't remember the model names. Both sets were used on established trails and off-trail in heavily wooded, hilly areas. My son and I did break trail up a very steep hill, definitely more than both sets of shoes were designed to handle. Both pairs did pretty well in that situation. I liked the Tubbs over the Redfeather as the Tubbs had the rotating mounting system so one can walk more naturally, while the Redfeather boot mounts are attached directly to the deck so one has to walk more "flat-footed". Both models had good traction due to the cleats or crampons that are attached. The Tubb's had better traction due to the more natural walking stride and gate, especially going down hill. The Tubbs did tend to throw, or flip, more snow onto the back of my legs than the Redfeathers. Again, this was due to the rotating binding system that lets the end of the snow shoes flip-up when walking. On the other hand, the Redfeathers tended to collect snow on the deck that would have to be cleared off periodically. I enjoyed using them very much, so much so that I decided to order a set of the Tubbs Mountaineer model. Of course, all the snow has melted here now, but more is expected. I was using 30 inch models from both companies and had plenty of flotation, even through some deep powder while breaking trail up a hill. I was probably in the 220 pound range when wearing the snow shoes. The rating for both these 30 inch models is 250 pounds. I've seen some 36 inch long snow shoes that can carry significantly heavier loads. Definitely get a set of walking poles with snow baskets. They really help a lot, especially when breaking trail or going up or down hills.

Hope this helps.

William Clunie
01-27-2011, 07:06 AM
I like traditional wood snowshoes. The metal is really loud if you are hunting. I haven't tried them yet, but the shoes at this place look like they'll be perfect -- snowshoe.com

01-27-2011, 08:42 AM
One thing for sure, when it comes time for me to buy snow shoes, I will inquire to all the above members because they are in the know !

Thanks to all for good information.

01-27-2011, 08:52 AM
I have had a set of traditional (Huron style) for about 30 years and had, for the last 2-3 years been thinking about getting a set of modern snowshoes, because I had just assumed that they would be more efficient. So far, I have never personally tried using modern snowshoes, but my interest in them stopped very abruptly about 2 weeks ago when I went out hunting for snowshoe hares with a friend.

I brought my traditional snowshoes & he brought his fancy hi-tech snowshoes with the aluminum frame & latest-greatest quick bindings. My friend was explaining all of the benefits of these bindings, how quick they were to get in and out of and so on. When we went to put on our snowshoes, the first thing we noticed is that with my low-tech leather bindings were far quicker to get into (and out of) than these bindings. Next thing I noticed was how LOUD the modern snowshoes are! If you hope to see any animals at reasonable distances, well it's just not going to happen while using modern snowshoes.

The next thing is how much more effortlessly my traditional snowshoes glided while walking with a very slightly modified gait. The modern shoeshoes required a heavily modified gait. I had to stop and wait for my friend constantly. If we started at the same spot toegether, and I walked 100 yards, I'd stop because he'd be 40 yards behind me.

The last thing that was interesting was when I picked up his snowshoes, I noticed that they were actually heavier than mine. Modern snowshoes have permanently disappeared from my wish list.

01-27-2011, 09:33 AM
My experience is limited. For some years I used a pair of snowshoes on a modified Huron pattern made here in the Adirondacks and well suited to the terrain. However, if I was buying new I would get a pir of Ojibwa shoes for the reasons cited here:


My observations are pretty much the same as Flatbow's - modern designs can be heavy and very noisy. The old guys who spent winters on their snowshoes did know what they were doing and it's hard to improve on their designs. Too often, I think, the modern makers are different just to be different rather than offering any real advantage. The best modern improvement IMO is the use of synthetic filler rather than rawhide that can wet through on wet snow.

At the moment, the only shoes I own are two pair of Swiss Army snowshoes, small shoes made from oak with studs on the bottom serving as ice creepers. I carry these in the truck for emergencies.

01-27-2011, 09:53 AM
I've owned and used in my life 3-4 pair of traditional ash and rawhide snowshoes, all of the modified bearpaw design (9-10" x 30-40"). One hybrid modified bearpaw style that had an ash frame and synthetic webbing, and now own three sets of "modern" shoes. A set of old gold anodized tubular framed Sherpas, 8x 25's, with lots of cleating that I use exclusively for lion tracking where a guy is as likely to be traversing rocks as he is snow. Very light, very durable, they have their niche. A set of anodized tubular framed Wilderness Tech 10x36's. These are an "offbrand", but I can find no quality problems with them. They are the solid PE decking with tubular anodized frames also. Both the Sherpa and this pair have bindings closer to traditional than not. My latest toys are the MSR Lightnings at 8x26. The binding on this shoe is light years faster to employ than any binding I've previously used.

Some observations:
1. A large part of the modern market is wrapped up in the high tech bindings with manufacturers playing leapfrog in R&D. I can only suggest that you try as many as you can. I think some of the newer high end bindings are light years ahead of the traditional binding. I like my MSR bindings.

2. Side by side comparisons of traditional vs modern shoes having similar dimensions and flotation, I believe the moderns come in lighter.

3. Durability with snow use is a wash. If getting used in rocks, like trapping around streams, lion hunting, etc. I would give the nod to moderns.

4. There is a bit more maintenance with traditional shoes, varnishing the rawhide and frame.

5. I would agree that traditional shoes are a bit quieter, not in snow contact, but in contact with each other. Technique plays its role here.

6. For climbing/descending in crusted, icy conditions, (Mt. Washington anyone?), hands down moderns get the nod.

7. For deep snow, long distances, heavy loads, traditionals hand down get the nod.

8. From an aesthetic point of view, duh?

Living in the desert now, my snowshoeing time is greatly diminished over years past. IF, I were to buy another pair again, I would go back to a traditional set, just 'cuz wood and rawhide is cool.

01-27-2011, 10:18 AM
For the last 9 years, I've mostly used the MSR Denali Ascent. They work well for me in the Sierras and Cascades, with our heavy wet snow. I have the tails that can be added if I'm carrying much of a pack (which gets my 200 lbs up to around 250). 3 things i like about them:
- they're narrow-ish so i don't find myself clanging the shoes together as much
- they have a good crampon-esque claw to them which is nice when going and up and down and it's icy
- the ascents have a riser bar at your heal so if you're going up a steep incline, you can flip this thing out and it's more like walking up stairs. i thought this was a gimic when i first got the shoes and we laughed about it. I would flip it out at the start of a climb as a showoff move, but then they actually did help save my calves so i could climb further without breaks.

01-27-2011, 12:43 PM
Well, I just got back from my lunchtime walk. We have a bunch of trails here at work. Its coastal Maine so its alot of up and down etc,no rolling hills. Snow is about knee deep give or take. Anyways I did the trail thing , bushwaked a bit to see whats overthere and because I am just a big kid went up a pretty steap embankment. I used Golden Cresent shoes with a set of treking poles. Its been 40 years since I used a set of traditional webs but I am pretty sure I wouldn't of went a few places. My point is I guess I like em. The crampons and bindings really shine. The only caviate I would make about the bindings are there is no way they would take Mikey Mouse boots. As far as noise I hear the woodpeckers, ducks,creaking ice ,cracking trees etc. I "think" the squeking noise goes away as you use them. I thought I noticed it when I first got them last year . But do to the lack of snow last year I didn't use em much.I made a point today but couldn't really hear anything but the compressing of snow. Hopefully there will be some snow at the ECR and we can get a discusion or at least some decent drinking going over the pluses and minesues of traditional vs mordern.Happy trails and take care Robbie

01-27-2011, 02:13 PM
I solicited some input from my good friend, renowned world champion snowshoe racer and all-around groovy mountain man, Tom Sobal. Here's what he had to say...


Regarding snowshoes, I think in adequate snow (more than a foot) the possible increased noise from metal snowshoes is more due to poor technique than the metal frame. Yes metal banging on rocks will make a metallic noise, but this tends to be muffled by the snow. You have to learn spread your feet apart a little more when using snowshoes so you do not bang the frames together and/or step on one snowshoe with the other.
I like the modern snowshoes due to lack of required maintenance, increased durability and traction, ease of binding use (again, its technique and one should practice putting them on and taking them off), price (lacing rawhide takes time and time requires money), lighter weight etc.
Selecting the proper size of snowshoe depends more on snow conditions than your weight. Here in high altitude CO, we have cold fluffy powder snow so nothing will give you total flotation. You would literally need something the size of a car door on each foot to float on some powder snow.
And bigger snowshoes weigh more and more snow falls onto the deck, so they are harder to use. Also in steep terrain it is hard to use longer snowshoes, esp when going down hill. Bigger snowshoes are harder to maneuver in brush. In places like the Sierra, where they normally get wetter snow, smaller snowshoes normally float well. (I have had great floatation in 40" of Sierra snow with 8x25 size shoes). Another variable is if you will be using snowshoes on semi packed snow trails or always breaking trail. Anything that helps consolidate deeper snow (sun exposure, wind loading, animal or other tracks, snow sloughing off tree branches will help you float on the snow better. (There are techniques you can use to maximize floatation).
So heavier people need bigger snowshoes everywhere but the type of snow is more important in picking snowshoe size than your weight.
For efficiency and ease of use, you want to try to get by with the smallest snowshoe possible that will work well in the conditions you will encounter most of the time, realizing that
you will have to live with the snowshoes being too big or too small at other times.
Another idea is for couples or good friends to get two pairs in 2 different sizes. If going out together, who ever is leading breaking trail can wear the bigger pair and the person following can use the smaller pair(following in tracks) You can switch snowshoes after a while. And if going out alone, you can pick which size will work best for expected conditions.
In CO, if you plan on breaking your own trail most of the time, try the 9x30" size.

01-27-2011, 03:11 PM
I also use the US military magnesium snowshoes. They are a traditional Algonquin style, obviously magnesium frame and nylon-coated cable webbing.


Lightweight and pretty much bomb-proof. I can't imagine them really ever needing any sort of maintenance. Best of all cheap, I got mine used off ebay for around $40 shipped. They are pretty quiet, never really compared them to anything as far as noise goes, but all I hear is compressing snow. I have used modern style snowshoes, admittedly cheap ones, and I thought they were garbage. I'm not a big guy, 165 lb out of the shower, and those snowshoes, rated at 275 lbs had me post-holing all day. Plus it was a noticeably modified gait walking around in them. The military ones I have, like traditionals, nest well and it's a pretty much natural step.

In the extremely cold, dry and fluffy snow we get up here, they still sink a little, although as Sawtooth, or rather Tom said, pretty much anything will. For hard pack or ice, they have a bit of tooth built into the frame, so they grip well.

Being essentially all metal (although the webbing is nylon coated), you want to make sure you either store them out in the cold, or at minimum leave them outside for a couple of hours prior to using them, or your legs will get a hell of a workout as they frost up and hold snow. But like bark-eater said, you can de-ice them with a rock.

01-27-2011, 06:18 PM
To my knowledge, there is nothing lighter per size than Northern Lites.


I've got the Tundras and they are really something. I see no need to ever wear traditionals again.

01-27-2011, 06:25 PM
I had the army surplus shoes as well, there great for flat land when in hills there kinda slippery, I even did 15 miles up in picture rocks on the surplus shoes and my legs hurt cause they are too wide for the trails. I got the MSR lightning ascents 25" with the 5" tails the traction is beyond belief there just as quiet at the surplus and less than half the weight. They are EXPENSIVE but well worth it. I live near a river valley on the Manistee river the hills are steep and about 300 foot high sometimes strait up, the ascenders are the best, also these shoes are like crampons for mountaineering and work really well for ice fishing with snow on the slick ice, with no snow I use boot creepers, perfectly suited for trails not too wide. Well the MSR's are my choice check them out online and stuff like I said there EXPENSIVE but worth it IMO.

01-27-2011, 06:27 PM
Roger that, Ken. The Elites and Elite Racers both look REALLY good. NL's will be my next pair of snowshoes.

01-27-2011, 06:37 PM
Fur sure ski's have there advantages, but if I were forced to pick one method over the other, it'd be NL's and trekking poles for me. I can go up, down...anywhere I want, and be in total control.

01-27-2011, 11:00 PM
Consider GV Snowshoes out of Canada.

I have been using these for several years in snow conditions from Northern Rockies powder to Northern Rockies packed trails to Northern Rockies sludge(wet, melting snow).

12" x 42" modern, called a GV Wide Trail. Rated up to 280#.

Here's the link to get to the GV website: http://www.gvsnowshoes.com/eng/index.html

They have worked well for me in all conditions.

Here's why.

My goal was a general purpose showshoe. Works in all conditions, for my load(see above rating). These are too much shoe under some conditions(packed trails), and just right, very functional shoes, under the most demanding conditions I use them in(NR powder, up and down slope, loaded, breaking trail).

They are built tough.

They have a life time warranty(not tested, so far).

They are reasonable to get in and out of.

They work well enough to over come my bias toward traditional shoes.

They are very low maintenance.

For their flotation with my load, they are compact enough to work well in the timber.

Their binding system and traction system are effective in all conditions, and work well in the flat open, too.

I have been able to adjust my gate to be effective with these shoes, and not wreck nor experience unreasonable wear and tear(pain) on me.

They are easy to navigate. Skies, for me, were a nonstop train wreck. I do not have the ability to be coordinated enough to make skis work. These shoes are very stabile. Note to contact Evan or Scot Hill, as they have the most up to date skis, and ski experiences, which I am now considering.

Also, I concur with the remarks about MSR shoes, especially with extensions. In my case the folks who pack lighter loads have very good experiences with the MSR shoes. They were simple too small for my load.

Please let us know what you decide, and how what you choose works.

Under my conditions, load, graceful (in)ability, they work for me. YMMV(of course).

Thanks for a very informative question generating informing responses.


01-27-2011, 11:49 PM
This is a few years old, but I found the BPL snowshoe comparison enlightening and the winners were: MSR Denali Ascent and NL Quicksilver 30. Thumbs up went to the Ascents for their heel lifter, and metal insole. These two features make them superior for steep ascents/descents and traversing. Best ice performer with steel crampons too.
Thumbs up went to NL for their lightweight. Not the best choice for ice with their aluminum crampons, not so good for traversing without a stiffening insole underfoot and they didn't like the nylon heel strap. Maybe NL's has changed these out, I dunno. Looks like for general use in the Rockies, the NL's would be my pick. If i were climbing and/or in the Pac NW, I think the MSR's would be my choice.


01-28-2011, 08:18 AM
For me, another advantage of the traditional styled military shoe is the width of float they produce. This makes life easier when dragging a pulk, or in my case a Paris sled.

William Clunie
01-28-2011, 08:40 AM
If all I had to do was walk, I'd choose modern snowshoes. No yearly varnishing, lightweight, cleats for incline, etc. Hunting is different. I only use snowshoes when I'm hunting wabbits in the dead of winter, with a good base and crust on top. Metal shoes grind that crust and make an aweful racket when clicking their way through the underbrush. And then if you clank them against each other...
Metalic sounds in the woods carry farther than wood sounds. I've heard the tink of my beagles dog collar way off, or someone's keys or change jingling in their pocket.
Still, if I'm just out for a stroll in the winter woods, I'll take modern metal shoes any day.
Another thing...I'll never own another set of wood shoes that sport rawhide webbing. The newer synthetic tube webbing material is so much lighter, doesn't hold wet snow or ice buildup, and when finished with varnish looks just as good as rawhide. I'm sold on it.

01-28-2011, 09:43 AM
What William just said were my observations exactly. The weight good set of traditional wood frames is surprising light, I'm sure they'd compare favorably to any aluminum frames of similar size. If I were to replace the rawhide on my traditional shoes (though they are in fine condition), I would consider using artificial sinew in a very fine mesh pattern.

Ed T
01-31-2011, 09:29 PM
Northern Lites are my choice and I have used them all. Wood/rawhide, wood/synthetic/,Sherpa's both original and the later version, Red Feather's, Lots of Atlas, Yuba, Dion,Crescent Moon, Ramer, several MSR and I am sure I am forgeting some.

I have had years where I have snowshoed over 600 miles. I have trapped off 'shoes, hunted everything from small game & coyotes to elk and mulies, climbed, winter camped and just ued them for daily transportation.

The weight on the NL's is so much less than others it is had to imagine until you try them. They aren't as agressive as the MSR's and they sure aren't as cool looking as a nice pair of wood 'shoes but they flat out work. The bindings are simple, easy to adjust from a running shoe to an insulated boot.

Right now I have the Racer Elite, and the Backcountry Rescue. The Backcountry or the Elite would be my recomendations for most people. The Tundra is a great choice for bigger guys and/or deep snow and more level terrain. I will be adding a Tundra to my quiver soon.

The advise Sawtooth posted from Tom Sobal is spot on. Don't get too big of a snowshoe.

02-01-2011, 10:22 AM

Save yourself some money and find a shop/store/outfitter in your area that will let you rent or try out some snowshoes you might be interested in. Then head out into the conditions YOU will be using them in. Chances are your needs will be different then someone else needs.

Now for my opinion on snowshoes(coming from a place where we get over 100"'s of snow a year). I haven't tried them all but you couldn't give me a pair of the "Modern" Yuppi, wear 100 feet from the lodge on a packed trail snowshoes. The one's I have tried didn't float as well as "old" snowshoes. Seem's I was sinking up to my crotch with every step.

The ones I'm using now are Iverson's Alaskans 10X46 and sometimes I wish I would have bought the 10x56's. They have plenty of flotation, narrow enough that I can walk normal, and still can get through the brush on them.

As far as maint. goes I don't see the problem. I think it takes me all of 20 minutes to put some new Sikkens on them every couple of years. When and if the webbing wears out I will send them somewhere local and have them re-webbed in the summer. I also don't leave mine sitting out in the elements. I hang them in the dark garage when not in use.

Also, when snowshoeing a pair of ski-poles comes in handy.

Just my 2 cents

Ed T
02-01-2011, 11:45 AM
Where you are does make a difference.
I used to use 10 x 56 wood shoes and they do float well. I wore out the webbing on two pairs back in the '70s. One advantage the wood/webbing shoes have is the snow falls through as you pick the snowshoe up, at least in powder. With a modern solid deck snowshoe you have to lift it up eack step. I still love the old style snowshoes they just aren't nearly as effecient for me. Now they hang on the wall behind the wood stove.

There is a SNOTEL site near my cabin and in checking it yesterday there was 105" on the ground. So there is a fair amount of snow with around 60% of the winter snowpack yet to come. This country is however ranges from steep to very steep. Wooden snowshoes are very dangerous when climbing the ridges due to a lack of traction (even with a cleat) The problem here is even when sticking to the ridges, the snowpack will vary from bottomless fluff to icy boilerplate to 100 yard sections of bare rock.

06-22-2012, 08:11 AM
Where you are does make a difference.
I used to use 10 x 56 wood shoes and they do float well. I wore out the webbing on two pairs back in the '70s. One advantage the wood/webbing shoes have is the snow falls through as you pick the snowshoe up, at least in powder. With a modern solid deck snowshoe you have to lift it up eack step.

The right kind of traditional snowshoe can be a better choice than metal frame/hypalon models in wet snow, too. I was in Québec last month for a few days and I picked up a pair a wide-laced pair for mushy days.

http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4142/5433522695_59decc40fc.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtbradley/5433522695/)

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5344/7396919922_669bc388dc.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtbradley/7396919922/)