Snowshoes keep you above the snow… to an extent.
They increase the surface area under your feet, which helps you “float” or stay higher in the snow than a regular shoe.
This increase in surface area also provides greater stability.
And that makes it easier to maintain balance in landscapes that may be uneven.
These are the main points of using snowshoes instead of regular hiking footwear to traverse deeper snows (those above ~6 inches).
But, while flotation and stability were the reasons snowshoes were originally invented (and you can add traction to the purpose of snowshoes today), they are not the point of snowshoeing.
In these modern times, snowshoeing has three main purposes, and they all go hand in hand.
The three main points of snowshoeing are:
- Access to areas that might be otherwise inaccessible during winter.
Getting around was why snowshoes were invented.
The earliest known predecessors of today’s snowshoes were invented way back in 4000 BC, where they provided means of traversing impassable landscapes for people who depended on the land for their survival.
Today, in some areas of the world, where heavy snowfalls are the norm, snowshoes remain necessary equipment.
While these areas are some of the least populated in the world, plenty of people do live, and need to get around, in them.
Access to Areas That Might Be Otherwise Inaccessible During Winter
Accessibility is closely related to both transportation and recreation/exercise.
Since snowshoes make deep snows traversable, they open up spaces that would be otherwise inaccessible during the winter months.
Today, this accessibility ties largely to recreation. Hiking trails that would be nearly impossible to hike in snow boots alone become passable with snow shoes.
Due to the increased stability and traction with snowshoes, deep-snow hiking also becomes safer.
This combination of accessibility and safety puts a lot of areas that would be off-limits during winter back on the map.
And those two things, the transportation and accessibility, get us to this, the main point of snowshoeing today – recreation/exercise.
While there are a few areas of the world where snowshoeing does remain necessary, in most of the world snowshoeing has morphed into a recreational/fitness activity.
And it’s a darn good one too. Just how good? Check out the benefits of snowshoeing in our beginner’s guide – Getting Started With Snowshoeing.
Snowshoeing opens up the natural world during the winter months, allowing outdoor enthusiasts to keep hitting those trails, even as snows get deep.
And, for fitness buffs, snowshoeing is a powerhouse exercise that puts the lower body to the test (upper body too, if you use poles) and burns tons of calories.
It started from a place necessity, but has become an activity worth doing in its own right, today providing access to nature during the winter (most snowshoers’ favorite part) and offering some seriously high-quality exercise.
And there you have it, the main points of snowshoeing. To finish things off, here are a couple of questions that drive the point of snowshoeing home.
Do snowshoes keep you above the snow?
While floating is the best term for it, because that’s roughly what it is, snowshoes don’t really “float” atop the snow.
What they do is distribute your weight over a larger area, preventing you from sinking as much as you would sink in a regular shoe.
For a more in-depth explanation (and our favorite boat analogy), check out How Much Snow Do You Need To Snowshoe?
How deep do snowshoes sink?
Roughly 6 to 12 inches.
How deep a snowshoe sinks is dependent on several factors – the conditions of the snow (powdery or hard-packed), the dimensions of the snowshoe, the weight of the wearer, etc.
A properly-sized snowshoe will typically sink about 6 inches, but conditions can make it sink more or less.
Just remember, however far you sink in a snowshoe, you would sink further without it.
Snowshoe For You
There are plenty of solid points in favor of snowshoeing – flotation, stability, better traction – but in the end, snowshoeing is really about getting outside in those winter months.
It’s about strapping a tool to your foot and still being able to hit the trails.
It’s about accessibility and fun in the snow. And it really doesn’t need much more point than that.