I am not to confident in the fact that anyone knows where the first snowshoes were developed. I have heard many opinions as to their origin. But none of that speculation really matters. The design of the snowshoe is pretty much the same today as it was countless years ago. The major difference is in their size and the materials used. Early snowshoes were very large in comparison to the models of today. Many of the older types would often reach seven feet in length. These shoes were designed for large open spaces and fast travel. these were called,Alaska’s, Yukon’s, and Pickerels. These shoes were quite long and not very maneuverable in wooded areas. Today’s snowshoes are made mostly with very high tech plastics, aluminum and composite materials. The overall length has shrunk considerably. These new models are very lightweight and offer tremendous strength. The sole purpose of a snow is to offer floatation on snow. All snowshoes will sink somewhat into the snow. The depth of this penetration will be determined by the snows texture, the overall size of the shoes and the total weight the shoe must support.
The above photos show three different types of snowshoes. The far left is the more traditional wood and rawhide lace. These shoes are considered by many to be the best and the most attractive. Middle photo shows a pair of U.S.military magnesium framed snowshoes. These snowshoes have plastic coated stainless steel cable for lacing. I like these shoes. The far right are aluminum tube frames with synthetic decks. These snowshoes are very lightweight and offer great strength and floatation. This is pretty much the current trend and style being manufactured today. Many different manufactures offer similar models. Prices vary according to bindings, materials and size.
This set of shoes are constructed with a solid deck being molded around aluminum tubing. This type of shoe is a little heavier but extremely strong. They also come in varying sizes. This type of shoe is also becoming more popular each year. s. This set happens to be a little shorter than the top right pair. Never wear a shoe that is larger than what is needed. Always keeping in mind that a backpack or any equipment other than yourself will require a larger shoe. On the far right are the small Swiss army snowshoes. These work well with limited weight and on hard packed snow. And they are very cost effective, generally under twenty dollars a pair. snowshoes are worthless unless they can be fastened firmly to the foot. It seems every manufacture claims to have the best bindings. I have used many different bindings, The all seem to work pretty well. The new synthetic bindings are easily fastened even while wearing gloves or mittens. A note on wooden and rawhide snowshoes is in order. When winter ends and it is time to retire your snowshoes until the next year. Consider giving the a thorough cleaning and coat them with 2 layers of shellac or clear varnish. I have used the new polyurethane coating with success.
There are many good books on the market that offer substantial information concerning this winter sport. Read a few. They all offer good tips. If you have never walked on snowshoes then by all means try the sport. It is very hard work, but the rewards of going into places no other can with them is a lot of fun. The winter sights are awesome. Try it, you may just love it.