Snowshoe Running 101: Buy the Right Shoes

Running snowshoes are fairly similar, but subtle differences mean there is a best shoe for you

TSL 305.     Photo: Courtesy of TSL

Unlike mountaineering or backcountry snowshoes, which come in various sizes that correspond to your weight and snow conditions, all running snowshoes are fairly similar. Your body type doesn’t matter; all that matters is that you’re wearing a light, small snowshoe that allows you to maintain speed and normal running form.

Similarly, the type of snow you’re running on doesn’t really matter either. Snowshoe trails and race courses are typically groomed, or at least broken, so you don’t need massive decking to stay afloat or big, toothy crampons to dig into ice. Instead, opt for snowshoes with bindings that you find easy to use and that fit comfortably with the running shoes you’ll be wearing.

If possible, try on snowshoes before making a purchase. Many sporting goods stores and recreation parks rent snowshoes, which allows you to romp in the snow without spending hundreds of dollars. That being said, many stores only offer one (if any) type of running snowshoes, so don’t succumb to the first pair you see unless you’re truly in love with them.

If you’re training for a USSSA-sanctioned race, you’ll need to find a non-prototype that’s at least 120 square inches of functional surface area and no smaller than seven inches wide by 20 inches long. Check out the complete list of all 29 legal racing snowshoes on USSSA’s website.

Here are some of our favorites:

BEST FOR BEGINNERS: ATLAS
This Seattle-based company was founded in 1990 and was promoting snowshoe running on its 1022 trail snowshoes by 1993. The following year, Atlas produced a running-specific prototype that eventually developed into the popular Run snowshoes available today. At $210 and 2.6 pounds, these are a great, user-friendly introductory pair of racing shoes. Crisscross bindings cinch with one pull, lightweight aluminum crampons provide stability, and a v-tail helps maintain a natural stride. Spring-loaded suspension allows the binding to articulate independently from the frame and slope angle, which helps reduce ankle, knee, and hip fatigue while providing a lively energy return. For an even lighter ride, consider the 2.2-pound Atlas Race snowshoes ($320), which are similar to the Runs, but are decked out with titanium crampons.

BEST FOR VARIED CONDITIONS: DION
Dion
's made-in-Vermont racing snowshoes, which debuted in 2001, are now worn by many national-team members. The brand's Model 121 ($130 for frame; bindings and cleats extra) are the narrowest legal snowshoes, as well as the most adjustable. “All snowshoers, from beginner to advanced, prefer the smallest, lightest shoe,” founder Bob Dion says. “But if someone is just out for fun, they can choose a less expensive setup and later upgrade—parts can be chosen or changed for personal preference or style.” Small crampons, for example, can be changed out for larger ones in particularly icy conditions. The cleats are coated in Teflon to prevent snow and ice from clumping, and the QuickFit bindings are super-simple. The whole setup weighs in at 2.4 pounds per pair.

MOST RELIABLE: CRESCENT MOON
"The carbon fiber frame on the 2.2-pound Rocket ($449) is frankly the coolest thing on snow," says Crescent Moon co-founder Jake Thamm. "Somehow they feel even lighter when they're on your feet; they might be the 'Bugatti' of the running snowshoes." The single pull loop bindings are sturdy and easy to use, although direct mount is an option, too. The price tag is a little hefty, but the quality is good: certified, organic carbon fiber from wild techno trees that is stronger than steel but still lightweight.

MOST ADJUSTABLE BINDINGS: KAHTOOLA
Lambert races for Flagstaff-based Kahtoola, which makes their snowshoes by hand from the bending of the frames to the stamping of the decks. The 2.81-pound RNR22's ($239) incorporate WingSpan adjustable-width technology, which allows you to customize the fit of the binding for maximum support—perfect for folks who have small or large feet, or who want to train in a variety of footwear. While most other snowshoes are symmetrical, the Kahtoolas have distinct right and left shoes.

BEST MANEUVERABILITY: LOUIS GARNEAU
Louis Garneau has been making snowshoes for ten years, but the Course 721 ($250) is unlike anything else in their line. “Ergonomics and snowshoe racing rules were studied to precisely dial in what runners need,” says Marketing Coordinator Heidi Myers. Tapered sides and a bend in the front and rear facilitate running with a natural stride—don’t worry about banging up your ankles. And at only 1.6 pounds per pair, you’ll hardly know you’re wearing them.

BEST FOR SPEED: TSL
TSL
is the dominant snowshoe company in Europe, and it's quickly catching on in North America. The company specializes in hour-glass-shaped composite shoes like the 305 ($119-179), which are just 0.9 pounds each, even with six replaceable steel crampons. Unlike the other snowshoes mentioned here, these lightweight composite snowshoes use direct mount, which means you just snap your running shoe into the snowshoe, no bindings necessary. For an extra $50, TSL will put the mount in almost any pair of your favorite running shoes. The company also offers Nordic race boots—essentially running shoes encapsulated in a gaiter—which are great if you don’t mind a little extra weight or want the hassle of sending the company your own running shoes. With the boots, the whole setup weighs just 2.4 pounds per pair.

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