Trekking and traversing snow on the trails and off, we tested our lineup of snowshoes in the Rockies, Tetons, Sierra Nevada, and even the Alaska Range. Winter was off to a slow start in our testing areas but came in strong later. We traveled through the woods, on groomed trails, on steep mountainsides, and over glaciers.
Our testers included avid hikers, skiers, mountaineers, and snowboarders. Some were trying out snowshoes for the first time, and some for their hundredth time. Our lead test editor has snowshoed thousands of miles over decades of winter travel across North America.
Our repeatable, reasonably accurate, and simple formula for calculating surface area is overall length multiplied by average width. We calculated the average width with three width measurements along the snowshoe length. We measured at 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 of the length and averaged that value before multiplying by length. This is, of course, an estimate of surface area and does not account for a rounded shape at tip and tail, but it does allow for easy comparison and repeatable testing. At GearLab, we value comparison and repeatability in our testing.
When evaluating traction, we look closely at the bottom of each model for teeth, rails, brake bars, and any other feature which could enhance grip. Then we take to the steepest and iciest terrain we can find to see which models keep us upright and moving.
Out starting point in examining stride ergonomics is how the binding is attached to the deck of the snowshoe. A more flexible attachment offers a natural stride for moderate hiking; when the going gets rough, a hinged attachment is more stable and precise. After noting each model's configuration, we headed outside to see if the snowshoe made winter hiking easier or forced us to learn a new way to walk, sometimes wearing a different model on each foot.
Ease Of Use
Our prime test for ease of use is to take the snowshoes out of the box and put them on without looking at the directions. We also closely observe first-time snowshoers when strapping them on. Every pair of bindings is slightly different and has different advantages; some are simple, others take a bit of fiddling to set them up. Others take some setup initially but are easy later (at least if you're wearing the same pair of boots).
We look at bindings both for security — snowshoes have to stay on — as well as comfort. Some bindings have parts that can hang up on underbrush or the other snowshoe and cause the snowshoe to loosen; others loosen with time or on rough ground. Rigid winter boots can sometimes protect our foot from a binding's pinch points; we made sure to test each pair with a softer boot when evaluating comfort.