Monday, January 20, 2020

Best Snowshoe for Deep Powder, New vs. Old Snowshoes


As I mentioned in one of the last posts, we've been doing a lot of snowshoeing recently. And as discussed, I have found modern style snowshoes to be pretty ineffective for actually moving through deep snow. I've pondered for several years if I needed a new-to-me pair of snowshoes and if so, what would best fit my needs. I have found over time, this is a good process to work through to be sure I am going to acquire an item I actually need or want and know I will use for sure. I don't have time or space in my life for things that don't fit that description, so I don't want to waste any money or energy on any of the trillions of items in the world that I do not need or want and know I will use for sure. 

 So, when I'm thinking through something I might want, unless it's something I already had that is totally worn out, broken, and unrepairable, and needs replacing with the same item, this is what I usually do. Think about, do I need this? Almost always the answer is
"no" unless it's food, firewood, water, vehicle repair or gas, or a handful of particular clothing items. 

The next question would be, "do I want this?" You might think that's obvious. If I'm thinking about getting an item, I must want it, right? Well not always. Because, just like any choice in life, when I choose one thing, I'm choosing to not a whole bunch of other things. If I want this item, I'm choosing to not have the space free that it is now going to occupy. Or to not have something else I get rid of to create space. To not have the money I spend on it. To not have the time free that I previously did not spend caring for, maintaining, or using that item. And so on. I make a physical list of things I am thinking about acquiring, look at it for a few months at least, since things that are not a need are obviously no emergency, and decide if everything on that list is actually important for me to have. And if so, what is most important so I can save up for and then buy the most important thing first. While I'm pondering that list, having decided that an item is actually something I want to add to my life, then I have to decide which particular item, like a snowshoe, do I want?


For a few years now I've been pondering snowshoes. I had a pair, pictured above. If I remember correctly, I picked them up many years ago at a garage sale for $10. They are a pretty standard modern aluminum framed model. I've used them a handful of times over the years but never really liked them. This is what happens when I buy something because it's there in front of me, a pretty good deal, and I think I might eventually want it sometime. Without thinking through the process I'm describing here. 

They are ok if you want to travel down a fairly packed trail of somewhat dense snow. Part of the reason I've not used them much is that under those conditions, I can almost always move just as fast in my boots. Because any extra bit of lift provided by the snowshoes is countered by the extra effort required to move a larger and heavier object attached to my feet. Making wearing them or not in those conditions kind of a wash. And if you try to travel through actual deep powdery untracked snow, they sink badly and you have to pull them up out of the snow to your knee height or more with each step. Which, if you've ever tried it, is pretty exhausting after only a few steps. :) 

So I've pondered getting a nicer, newer pair similar my current ones but slightly larger. As they are only make slightly larger than the 8 x 25 inch ones I already have. The max seems to be something like 10 x 34 inches in any modern brand I could find. But that never seemed like it would be enough of an improvement to be worth purchasing something new, so I never went further with that.

 Then I had an opportunity to borrow a friend's sixty something year old snowshoes. 54 x 10 inches of surface area of old wood and rawhide. And you can actually float on these things! They were such a huge change, it was hard to believe. The difference made me wander if anyone who's manufacturing snowshoes these days has ever encountered off trail travel through deep snow? You know, kind of the thing snowshoes were invented to do? Anyway, after a couple days of walks on these, I knew what I wanted for sure! They were such a pleasure to travel on.


I looked first for any company still manufacturing this kind of snowshoe. It seems https://iversonssnowshoes.com  is the main one. They do beautiful work, and are highly reviewed, but were more than I really had to spend. So I started searching for an old pair that were still in good condition. I prefer to use things already created but no longer wanted whenever possible anyway. Older ones seem to all be marketed as "beautiful for decorating your hunting lodge," "will look great above the mantel in your winter chalet," or something similar. So I must be one of the very few folks left who wants to use these for what they were made for. Oh well, that's not an unusual position to find myself in. :) After a bit of looking, I found this pair that were in excellent shape and are 12 x 60 inches of flotation beauty. They appeared to never have had bindings, so I found a set of those second hand as well, though they happened to be new in their package. 


That's 720 square inches of surface area to float on versus the 200 I had before. Check out the difference! And considering the massive size difference, the weight is not as different as you might think. Just over 5 pounds for the small ones and just shy of 7 pounds for the much larger ones. Now weight on your feet is always a big deal when you're walking for miles, but the hugely different flotation makes that trade off well worth it in effort saved. And if I wanted to purchase lighter bindings, I could make that weight even more similar. 


Just a note, a lot of snowshoes are sold with a rating for how many pounds of person they will carry, but I find this not to be very helpful. Your weight does make a little difference. But what makes much more of a difference is the condition of the snow. How soft, dry, deep, wet, chunky, etc it might be that day. So that is something to keep in mind. While I found a review from a fellow who said he'd used my exact model and size of aluminum framed snowshoes for more than 15 years to carry his 200 pound (more than I weigh) frame around, loved them, and highly recommended them, he mentioned nothing about where he lived or the kind of snow he was using them to walk on. I think you'll find the kind of snow common in your area to be far more important to consider than a body weight rating when looking for a snowshoe. 



The company that made these, like most others, is no longer operational and they appear to have been made sometime in the 1970's.  The bindings are actually from the above mentioned Iverson company, but an older model. 


After reading the instructions a few times and starting to lace them up wrong once, I had both attached firmly to the snowshoes. It's actually quite simple if you're paying attention and look at their helpful diagram. :) They are easy to fit to pretty much any boot, hold your foot snuggly, and are quick to get on and off. 




Looking at where the bindings attach to the snowshoe, you'll also notice the lack of any kind of crampon or teeth that grip ice. This is totally fine for my area where I am walking on 100-600 inches of powdery snowfall. If you have ice or very packed snow you'll be traveling across, that is something you might want to consider though. 


A note on the lacing. The main ways snowshoes like these are laced are with either rawhide or neoprene. Both materials have pros and cons. Rawhide is currently more expensive, a little heavier, and requires occasional varnish coats to preserve it. Also it softens and can wear much more rapidly if you walk through wet conditions like crossing a creek or lake surface. And mice and other small rodents enjoy chewing on it given the chance. Neoprene is a little lighter, wet snow doesn't adhere to the lacing quite as much, rodents seem less attracted to it (though I'd never count on a rodent not to chew on anything) but if kept dry, rawhide will last longer. I wasn't sure which I wanted, but having found a reasonable deal on this particular pair, I went with it. And it's currently laced with neoprene laces. 


And then my new-to-me fiftyish year old snowshoes were ready to go! 




And they are a dream to travel on! That post I'm holding, when dropped lightly, sank into the snow up to where my thumb is. If I wouldn't have become nearly impossibly stuck, I would have tried to get a photo of me sunk into the snow in just my boots. And you can see how my new snowshoes are only sinking an inch or two into that fluff.

 If you topple over in the deep snow however (and this would be true with any size snowshoe), like because you are trying to back up quickly from your camera to pose for a photo with your dog for instance, it's a good idea to land on top of your snowshoes like I happened to here. Burley always wants to "help" which is no help at all when trying to extricate yourself from this situation. I don't have a photo, but I had a much more comical situation when I was looking at my camera and caught my toe on a partially buried branch tripping myself and burying myself up to my neck in soft powder. That took a while to work my way out of. 



We have now gone on several long walks with them. And they are just exactly what I wanted! I think I have already traveled as many miles on these in the past week as the first pair I'd had for more than a decade. And I fully anticipate many many more miles on them for the rest of my life. Well maintained, these should last me pretty much forever and I am totally happy with them.

 This I have found more than once to be the result of working through the process to be sure something is exactly what I want or need. Avoiding wasting my money, space, and time to deal with something I don't really use or that doesn't fit my needs. Which also helps keep whatever tiny fraction of things I can influence on this planet from including any more waste than I can help. And I really like to have a useful item I can expect to benefit from for a lifetime without replacement! 





Whatever your favorite winter activity is, I hope you're outside getting fresh air, exercise, and enjoying the winter like we are! 




40 comments:

  1. I suspect that the little aluminum shoes are designed primarily for well-used and well-packed trails such as you find in parks and such. I tried a pair once and was totally unimpressed. I've never tried the old-fashioned kind, as I decided that I really didn't have that much use for snowshoes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah I don't find them really useful either as they mostly work well in conditions where you would generally be fine without snowshoes too.

      Delete
  2. The bindings look like they allow the heal to move up and down like cross country skis so you could all most glide over the snow if there was not so much friction from the webbing. I like the wooden frame. It looks much nicer than the aluminum ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is very easy to move in them and I've really been enjoying many miles on them.

      Delete
  3. Thank you Ariel, I can understand why you were unhappy with your old pair of snowshoes. The difference in size is unbelievable, the wooden ones are nearly as big as you are. I am going to have to check my military snowshoes and and see how big they are. I know they are bigger than your old ones but smaller than your wooden ones are. I remember watching a youtube video sometime back where someone was making the wooden snowshoes I think I will try and find that video again and maybe try making a pair sometime. You made a lot of good sense on what type of snowshoes to use that I did not even think about. Like wet bindings, wet and dry snow hard pack versus powder and ice among other things that a person is bond to come across while out and about during winter in the snow and ice, and should not I forget the horrible little fur balls of destruction like you mention that goes out of their way to nibble on anything and everything imaginable if they can figure out a way to get to it. Thank you again Ariel for sharing a lot of very good information about snowshoes. dd

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think someone sells re-lacing kits you can use if you still have a frame you want to use.

      Delete
  4. Replies
    1. We've covered many many miles on them so far now and I am really enjoying them.

      Delete
  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to create such a detailed post about this! Incredibly helpful, just great. And wonderful pictures, a lot of fun. As usual, you are awesome :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I bet you‘re getting quite a workout with your new pair of snowshoes, even if they don‘t sink in very far. And Burley must be the happiest, healthiest Pup in those parts. You both probably sleep like babies after so much fresh air & exercise! Actually you may wanna consider having a 2nd pair for a guest 😃 oops, sorry for planting that seed of an idea.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah we've covered many dozens of miles in the so far and I am really enjoying them!

      Delete
  7. Dear Wonderful Ariel!!! Your post's are such a delight to read. Your life style is fabulous and it fits you to a "T" lol I hadn't subscribed to a blog in quite some time. I'm so glad I did to yours. I LOVE IT. Real Reality. Every stage in life offers opportunities. As we age some of us forget that. I'll be 66 in March and my hubby recently turned 77. Inspired by your love of life and knowing first hand the importance of staying active...we are in deep discussions what our next adventure will be. Much affection, Cathy Miller (north central PA)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice! Best wises in whatever adventure you choose next!

      Delete
  8. My husband and I have the old style snowshoes too. We bought them years ago at a farm supply store. Like you, our preference is to go where regular boots or even cross country skis can't take you and these snowshoes are far superior to the newer kinds - I've tried those as well. Ours are rawhide and I didn't realize that we should be varnishing them. Must get on that - thanks for the info. Incidentally, though this is my first time posting, I've read every single one of your blogs and watched all of your videos. I'm a big fan and have a lot of admiration for you - love Burley too!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post. I plan on moving North next year. Glad to know these shoes are still available. I'll be hunting for a good pair. How does Burley do in the deep snow? I have a dog too. Thank you,Doug

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seems like there's a handful of old ones for sale on ebay that are still in decent shape if you don't live in the kind of area that might have them in thrift stores etc. Burley loves the deep snow! But the English Shepherd breed is well designed for cold and snowy locations with a dense double coat, huge paws protected with lots of fur that are close to four times the size of most domestic dogs his size, and more energy the lower the temperature falls. I'm sure not all dogs would be quite as happy as he is. :) Best wishes with your move!

      Delete
  10. Wow! Interesting and informative. Snowshoeing makes sense to me now. I'm going to share this with my favourites. 🍀

    ReplyDelete
  11. i have a pair of ash snowshoes and was using them for a job i had, i walked out to a l.p. tank through powder sinking in 4", forgot to turn on the pto on truck, took them off and sunk up to my waist.HUGE DIFFERENCE!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Ariel , i have not seen any new videos for awhile and i kinda worried about you being okay.. Looks like you are out snowshoeing and having fun.. I have snowshoed all my life , ski's just didn't work out .. My snowshoes are made by Sherpa that is no longer building their excellent snowshoes .. All the years i have owned them they are great , remind me of the old wood snowshoes which i also liked too for deep powder the 54" length and 10" width were great but as i got older i moved over to Sherpa and never looked back.. Great you and Burley are out there in the wild .. I just haven't seen a video come up in a long time.. take care

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you found your way over here. Yeah we are enjoying our winter for sure!

      Delete
  13. I've done a ton of shoeing in the past, my grandfathers hand me downs were a smaller version of your wooden with a tighter weaving(smaller holes)which also helps hold you up on top of the snow.
    I too bought a pair like yours at a garage sale, and a broken web had been repaired with a heavy ice skate lace and re-varnished, and tho I always intended to replace with leather or gut, I never did and it lasted for years!

    Coming from the Great Lakes region, Aluminum frames would build up with ice if the air was colder than the moisture laden snow.

    Thumbs up, Ariel!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice. Yeah with a repair even old ones can last quite a long time.

      Delete
  14. Those old fashioned snow shoes look like they were made just for you darlin. Seeing you and Burley again smiling and having fun in the snow puts a smile in my heart. Thanks for the link to Iver Sons, I'll be buying a pair for myself with next winter in mind, I wonder if they make'em to carry my very heavy weight. As for all that beautiful Wyoming snow, I'm jealous hahahaa. Be well darlin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Enjoy if you get your own pair! If you have deep dry fluffy snow, they are pretty amazing.

      Delete
  15. Nice! The size would certainly be worth it in powder. Usually, I'm using snowshoes in denser, crusty snow that will often exhaust a person quickly by turning flat land into stairs. For this scenario, small shoes do well. Personally, my favorite is the MSR Evo snowshoe. But I've also made the Roycroft snowshoe from overcrowded young fir trees, which is interesting. Also, the common old-time snowshoe binding is a relatively simple affair that used to be made from lamp wick material. And yes, snowshoes do not have "Reverse" on the gear-shift. They are one-way travel. Backing up rarely succeeds in anything besides involuntary sitting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah with that kind of snow, I can see something this size would not be necessary. Sounds like you have a good fit for your area.

      Delete
  16. Great post! Love your description of your reflection and decision making process, and what more unique than contemplating buying snowshoes! They look like they were made for you, what a great find. Enjoy your snow trailing. You are lucky to live in an area where there is still snow. Here in southern Scandinavia our winter this year has been replaced with one long semi warm rainy season. We miss the white powder and the light it produces during our short winter days. Great to see how you and Burley enjoy your snow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry to hear that and I hope you get a little bit of real winter!

      Delete
  17. I love it when you find something that works well. I've had a multipurpose tool for 20 plus years that I use all the time.

    ReplyDelete
  18. GOES TO PROVE MUCH PONDERING AND PATIENCE REALLY DOES PAY OFF IN THE END, ARIEL, YOU GOT YOURSELF A GREAT DEAL AND THEY LOOK JUST BEAUTIFUL,JUST WHAT REAL FUNCTIONAL SNOW SHOES SHOULD LOOK LIKE. NO STOPPING YOU NOW, HOPE BURLEY WILL BE ABLE TO KEEP UP.AS USUAL PERFECT PHOTOS AND BEAUTIFUL WINTER SCENCES, THANK YOU. REGARDS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With all his energy, Burley can still pass me up with no problem. :) But we've covered many miles together across snow now and are both enjoying the winter for sure.

      Delete
  19. About 50 years ago when I was 21 I went snowshoeing in the Berkshires of Mass. around 1969 and I had snowshoes much like yours though not quite as long. I used to remember what they called that style; my husband at that time had the oval ones but I did much better on mine than he did on his. The snow was not as dry as it is out here in Montana though. I think you are amazing Ariel to go off on your own into the wild wooded yonder. What do you do when you come across a grizzly beat that has cubs? Likely not in the Winter as they are sleeping/hibernating but the rest of the year? I have heard that if you come across them that the mother bear gets really protective of her cubs yet you have great photos of the mama bear and the cubs so I am assuming you are taking the photos with a telephoto lens from a distance. I just wouldn't have the courage that you have to go off like that with just your dog; you amaze me and I envy your courage and your trust in God and in nature and in yourself. When I was young I went spelunking in a 1/4 mile long cave (Elden French Cave) in the Berkshires near Ball Mt. and the entrance was behind a farmer's house ...we have to go down in a crevice in the ground that was on the edge of a huge boulder and then we were down inside the cave under the boulder in a marble cavern that was quite small and I crawled through that thing with just a candle and some matches and no flashlight; I would never do that now at my age due to having had many things go wrong in all my many adventures through life. I am glad I did those things I did when I was young and I have the memories but I wish now I could have your trust in going out alone into the woods. Personally I would carry my gun; do you carry a gun? You hunt I assume as you mentioned harvesting an elk once. Do you ever worry about being attacked by any wild animal? If so, which ones and how do you plan to deal with it? Please share as I am totally awed by you going out alone as you do. Also, how do you keep wildlife from eating your garden of wonderful foods? We live on the outskirts of a small town in Montana and we have deer always eating in our garden unless we put up a tall chicken wire fence. Please share...thanks so much! It's great learning from your experiences! Thank you again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes photos of things like bears tend to be through a long lens. :) I wouldn't say I worry about being attacted, but realize I live around potentially dangerous creatures and am always alert and take steps to avoid possible confrontations. See this video for lots of discussion on safety and living with big critters - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6ODwyDYM9o I don't think I've have the guts to crawl into a cave like that though!

      My whole clearing is fenced in the summer or I wouldn't have anything in my garden I'm sure! You can see how that setup works here if that's helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lObjYjchdgw

      Delete
  20. I would never need Snowshoes (I live in the Pacific Northwest), but I love your process. I can't tell you how many times I have wanted something, but didn't want to pay a premium price for the brand I wanted-because it was perfect for my needs, but pricey. Then, I end up with an off brand that doesn't last or doesn't meet my needs. In the end I get the one I wanted after wasting money on one/two things that were not great. Moral of the story: Listen to yourself, do your research and be happy! MISS YOU ON YOUTUBE!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah the process can apply well to most things. It certainly doesn't have to be snowshoes. :)

      Delete