Backpacking and Winter ClimbingMultiday treks into the heart of winter produce unique problemslike the need to carry hefty packs through deep, unconsolidated snow. Which is why you want a 40-acre shoe underfoot for flotation. Notable among the big paws is the aluminum-framed, nylon-decked Sherpa Pembu Mountain (9 by 30 in.; 5 lb., 11 oz.; $269), the zenith product from the company that brought snowshoeing out of the stick-and-rawhide era. An ideal shoe for Alaskan meter readers, the Pembu's urethane-coated deck is extremely durable, and because it's laced to the frame with a tough rubbery plastic material (instead of being riveted to the top), it also enhances traction. The big crampon claws underfoot are among the best available for hard snow.
With an aircraft-grade aluminum frame and an incredibly rugged mesh-coated urethane deck, the Atlas 1033 (9 by 30 in.; 5 lb., 4 oz.; $249) is a high-flotation, heavyweight shoe that's earned the respect of both the climbing community and the Navy SEALs (who use it for winter operations and could probably wield it as a deadly weapon to boot). The spring-loaded bindingtension on a strap of webbing across the heel brings the back of the shoe up and out of the snow, reducing dragsaves energy on long hauls and clamps to any boot with a unique one-pull cord system. And while the 1033 once had a reputation for skittering slightly on icy descents, the new serrated traverse tracksrows of stainless-steel teeth running lengthwise and parallel to the center of the framecombine with the old cleats up front to provide pit-bull bite.
A Step Beyond SnowshoeingMany winter walkers reach the top of a hill and wonder, "Why doesn't someone make a snowshoe that glides?" Well, finally, someone does. The Yupi Snowspider 28 (6 by 28 in.; 5 lb., 3 oz.; $180) is a hardened sheet of aluminum covered below in an edge-to-edge climbing skin. Strap a hiking, climbing, or snowboarding boot into the hinged nylon binding, and the base bristles to provide uphill grip. In anything other than hardpack snow and ice (conditions where the Yupis flail), you can walk straight up 35-degree slopes. Steeper slopes are tackled by zigzagging, or by kicking the tip into the slope and stairstepping. Once you've summited, simply point the boards downhill and, with the skins still on, ride the glide back down.
Salomon's new Raid Snowshoe (8 by 24 in.; 4 lb., 1 oz.; $200) is a molded polycarbonate shoe with good (not fabulous) grip. The binding centers the boot on a contoured plate and cinches the foot with snowboard-style ratcheting straps. A mechanical pivot lets your foot remain on a level plane when the shoe is canted on a traverse. The most interesting feature on the Raid, however, is a special toe adapter that lets it mate with cross-country ski boots using the Salomon Nordic System. Step out of the snowshoe and into the Raid Blade (not shown, $400), a 145-centimeter, wide-body cross-country ski with a fish-scale base and sharp metal edges that's perfect for downhills, adequate for gentle climbs, and a lot more fun than plodding along when the trees open up to a never-ending series of undulating hills.
Where To Find It
Atlas, 888-482-8527, www.atlassnowshoe.com; Crescent Moon, 800-587-7655, www.crescentmoonsnowshoes.com; Da Kine, 541-386-3166, www.dakine.com; K2, 800-972-4038, www.k2snowboarding.com; MSR Snowshoes, 800-877-9677, www.msrcorp.com; Northern Lites, 800-360-5483, www.northernlites.com; Redfeather, 800-525-0081, www.redfeather.com; Salomon, 800-225-6850, www.salomon-sports.com; Sherpa Snowshoes, 800-621-2277, www.sherpasnowshoes.com; Tubbs Snowshoes, 800-882-2748, www.tubbssnowshoes.com; Verts Snowshoes, 801-281-1331, www.verts.com; Yupi Skishoes, 604-905-4874, www.yupiskishoes.com.