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Down Deep

I posted this on the equipment index, but I figured the northern MN FM'ers would have some insight about snowshoes.

I've been researching snowshoes. I'm looking to hike around the woods in Northern MN. I'm only interested the metal frame styles. Atlas seems to be a quality shoe. Any information or recommendations you can provide would be appreciated. Also what type of boot, clothing and poles should I buy.

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Jackpine Rob

Poles for snowshoeing?

You've been reading a few too many articles written by folks who haven't done much tromping around in the northwoods.

The neoprene decked/aluminum framed things look pretty neat in the pictures of magazines, but might not get the job done in NE Minnesota in the dead of winter - unless you're using snowmobile trails or other established routes. If you're planning on using pre-existing trails, they will probably get you to where you're going.

The flotation of the Atlas and Tubbs and other high-tech shoes is vastly over-rated. Take the ratings with a bag (and not a grain) of salt.

Get yourself a decent pair of traditional snowshoes, log a few miles, and then start playing around with how you wish to change or upgrade things.

Back in college days I recall heading up Kenwood Avenue to the liquor store to lay in supplies on my wood and rawhide shoes, while Duluth was basically shut down due to a snowstorm. On one such run I was beating a trail through the drifts near Toledo so the police could get their snowmobiles through. I'll guarantee you that the "modern" snowshoes would have left me floundering, instead of moving along nicely.

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gunflint

Jackpine is absolutley right on as usual. I don't know what the poles would be for. We rent out metal snowshoes but I've never tried them. I've had a pair of wooden ones for 20 years and they work great. It's been so long, but I think they're called Bearpaws.(They have the neopreme(sp)webbing.) They don't have the long tail and they're more of a rounded off rectangle shape. I don't use them as much as I used to. But I still strap them on a few times a year in the early spring for hunting moose shed.

I wasn't aware that they made a special boot for snowshoeing . I would recommend getting the best pair of paks that you can afford. Then you can use them for everything else in the winter. The great thing about snowshoeing is being able to go anywhere in the woods and you don't need alot of extra equipment. For clothing I'm a big believer in wool but my kids tell me I'm stuck in the last century when it comes to fashion. Does anyone know where I can get a few pairs of Zubas? All mine are getting thread bare. blush.gif

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Steve Foss

Well, I tip the scale at about 250, so there's no shoe that really floats my boat well, if you know what I mean.

In one way, I'm with Rob. I have the ash/rawhide traditional Michigan or teardrop style with the latex rubber slip on binding. I'm on these shoes many days each winter up here, whether on photo excursions or just out to be out. They are a little cumbersome in the woods because of their length. Bearpaws are the traditional heavy-woods design, with the long narrow cross-country for open areas and my style for in-between.

I have, however, snowshoed extensively on Atlas and Sherpa shoes. I have had much better luck with them than Rob apparently has. They are simpler to use, and the integral binding systems are great if you like that sense of security because your bindings don't slip around all over the place like they do on traditional shoes when you come down on uneven ground. The cleats embedded in the bottom of the binding on the new styles also make it nice when you happen on a windblown, hilly stretch, where the snow is packed and the surface more slippery.

That being said, I always have to bump up a size from what the flotation ratings say, regardless of which style we're talking about. And that's a good piece of advice.

Pole are hard to use in the woods. They generally get in the way more than anything. However, if you're not experienced on snowshoes and are staying mostly on trails, they're great to have.

I stick with the wood/rawhide for two reasons: They're a lot less expensive than the aluminum/neoprene premium models, and I like the tradition and history of the wood/rawhide. And because the bindings lay perfectly flat on my shoes, I can stick them behind the seat in my pickup, where they stay all winter when I'm not using them.

I always snowshoe in my Steger mukluks. They are overrated in some categories, especially if you listen to the manufacturer's hype, but for a few applications there is no better footwear out there, and snowshoeing is one of those applications.

Clothing is the same for any kind of active winter activity. Layers are the key, because you'll be starting and stopping, working and resting, and you may have add/shed as you go. Long underwear in synthetics like polypropylene and wool blends, as well as silk, will keep moisture away from your body. If you're going to sweat, never wear cotton next to your skin in the cold weather, because it holds the moisture against your skin, chilling you. Fleece is great as a layer, but not as the layer by your skin. I typically use long underwear like I've described, then a layer of wool, then fleece, then a lightweight outer shell. All depends on how cold it is.

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Surface Tension

Snow Travel. Consider snowshoes like a fishing pole. Lots of different sizes and styles. There isn't one that will best cover all conditions but if I had to pick only one it be a wood/leather Yukon or Beavertail. Why because I want enough flotation in deep snow to stay on top. If I'm busting though to my knees I'm using the wrong tool and I might as well take a smaller shoe off.

So why do they make the smaller shoes if they can't hold you up? I'll use our trip into Trout lake for an example. Snow depth maybe 10" of packed wind blown snow. Didn't need any flotation, what I needed was traction. You know what I mean, you take a step and your foot sinks in a few inchs. As you continue your stride your foot peels in the hard pack. Couple that with pulling a sled over 5 miles and it gets annoying. A smaller shoe, in this case my 8x 20" aluminum/synthetic shoes would have been the perfect tool for the job. In deep powder forget it, I'd take my Beaver tails.

Footwear depends on temps, how far your trekking, and what you'll be doing when you get there. Muks would be nice if its cold and you'll be spending time on the ice fishing. I've got a pair of Muck Boots.

and they are perfect for snowshoeing. Lightweight and warm enough to sit on the lake in temps above 0.

Pack style boots work fine too.

Don't forget about x-country skies and hybreds. Hybreds being shorter and wider version of a x-country ski.

I've got the two styles of shoes, x-country skies and if I can't get there with those I'll jump on the snowmobile.

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fishane

I snowshoe alot, and own several pairs of traditional alaskan style shoes that I have been very pleased with, although some of the new aluminum ones look very interesting. On the subject of poles though, I use them almost all of the time. If you are snowshoeing for exercise you will get a much better workout, and on hilly terrain they are invaluable for maintaining your balance. If you are pulling a sled (say, for instance into Trout Lake) they really help. About the only time that I don't use them is when carrying a shotgun in thick woods. I just bought a couple of pairs of old cross country ski poles and they work fine. As we age and the potential bad consequences of a nasty fall increase the poles really help to keep that from happening. On a side note, what do some of you guys use for oiling the rawhide of your shoes to keep them supple. I blew out a shoe last winter and I am pretty sure it was because the rawhide was dry and hard. Thanks.

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Jackpine Rob

My snowshoe maintenance is pretty simple. When I start to see wear on the edges/tail area, I'll run some fine grit sandpaper over any rough areas in the wood, hang them up in the garage and apply a light coat or two of marine varnish. My current pair of modified Alaskans is over 30 years old and going strong.

Another possibility and one that several of my friends and family have gone to is the military surplus shoes. These things have a white metal frame (Michigan style) and the webbing is coated aircraft cable. They look to be pretty much indestructible, and I've not heard any complaints about flotation. One of the benefits of this particular shoe appears to be in slush conditions - you can knock the frozen slush off pretty easily without damage to the shoe, and the smooth cables come clean quickly.

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spivak

You should at least look into a Minnesota company (Wilcox and Williams who offer ash frame snowshoes with flat nylon webbing. When the webbing is varnished/urethaned it looks much like the tradional rawhide lacing but is much more durable. They offer several models but their flagship is the Ojibwa with a pointed toe. They are great for going through brush and over open lakes. They have kits too. They are pleasing and functional.

Please read posting rules. Thanks, Northlander

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Steve Foss

Hey spivak:

Welcome to FM. Good to have you here. grin.gif

I remember those snowshoes you mentioned. I haven't used them but I did a story years ago on a group who bought the kits and was using them. They looked good. I also hear the Ojibwes go through the brush better than the Michigans, which I have. My fronts are rounded, and I've read the pointed fronts on the Ojibwe make them easier to go through the undergrowth than any other style of shoe.

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