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How We Tested Snowshoes

Thursday September 30, 2021
Our 2017 Mens Snowshoe award winners. Left to right: Symbioz Elite...
Our 2017 Mens Snowshoe award winners. Left to right: Symbioz Elite, MSR Evo, MSR Lightning Ascent, and Louis Garneau Blizzard II.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Where We Tested

Trekking and traversing snow on trail and off, we tested 12 pairs of snowshoes in Colorado's Rockies, Wyoming's Tetons, California's Sierra Nevada, and even the Alaska Range. Winter storms brought stacks of snow for us to tromp through. We traversed rolling hillsides, steep embankments, gullies, deep woods, alpine slopes, and glaciers. Groomed trails not far from town offered an opportunity to assess the sizes of each pair and the stability on level terrain.

Our Testers

Our testers included avid hikers, skiers, mountaineers, snowboarders, and individuals trying out snowshoes for their first time, and some for their hundredth time. In groups, we traveled miles into the backcountry, trading models along the way, for an incredible side-by-side comparison. Our lead test editor has snowshoed thousands of miles, over decades of winter travel across North America.

Testing Metrics

As spring conditions softened, wet snow tested traction and the clumping of snow on the crampons. When snow begins to weaken under the top layer from mid-day warmth, it offers unstable snow conditions perfect for testing the boundaries of each pair. We experimented with the compatibility of different footwear options from waterproof hiking boots to winter boots to mountaineering boots. We even walked in snowboard boots to get a feel for the range of options suitable to pair with snowshoe bindings. Some days we used trekking poles, and other days we relied on the stability offered by the shoes themselves and our personal balance. In varying conditions, some shoes kicked up snow while others floated along.

We weighed each snowshoe on our own scales and measured them for actual surface area dimensions. Our repeatable, reasonably accurate, and simple formula for calculating surface area is overall length times average width, and we calculated average width with three width measurements along the length of the snowshoe. 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 rounded shape at tip and tail, but it does allow for easy comparison and repeatable testing. At OGL, we value comparison and repeatability in our testing. pole basket art! pole basket art!
Photo: Briana Valorosi