Hiking in deep snow is an unpleasant, if not miserable experience. Unless it is hard packed, you constantly punch through the snow crust and plunge several feet down – known as postholing (imagine your leg is a fence post going into the ground). Snowshoes prevent this by distributing your weight over a larger area of snow. If you plan to hike 14ers or other trails in the winter, a pair of snowshoes is essential. However, there are many options available and they each differ slightly. Here’s what to consider when buying showshoes for 14ers, along with some recommended options I like, and a few tips for using them.
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What to Consider When Buying Snowshoes for 14ers
Snowshoes come in a variety of styles and sizes depending on your specific conditions and needs. Here are a few of the most important factors to keep in mind when buying snowshoes for 14ers and other mountain adventures.
1. Type of Snowshoe
For mountain travel you should pick a pair of snowshoes designed for use in rugged terrain. These snowshoes have teeth, spikes, or crampons that help dig into snow and ice while you hike, providing greater traction for steep slopes and mountainsides. If you try to go up a steep hill in regular snowshoes designed for flat areas, you will literally slide back down. I don’t recommend that – it’s no fun at all!
2. Material and Weight
Snowshoes were traditionally built using wood frames and rawhide. Today, most models use metal, plastics, and synthetic materials that stand up better in cold temperatures and weigh down your feet less. The two most popular styles are either an aluminum frame with supportive decking material like plastic, coated nylon, or PVC-coated polyester, or a composite design that uses a single piece of hard plastic material. Composite style snowshoes are usually a bit noisier on the snow – otherwise either style will do for a 14er.
3. Heel Lift Bars
Some snowshoes feature a heel lift bar. This small attachments folds flat when not in use. However, when raised, it acts like a platform for your heel to rest on while climbing up steep floats, almost like a pair of high heel shoes. This relieves tension on your calves and saves energy as you work your way up a mountain. I would highly recommend picking snowshoes for 14ers that have this key features.
4. Binding System
There are many different binding systems that attach your foot to the snowshoe. Each year, new styles are introduced too, so things are constantly changing. Simple bindings are cheapest but are also the least flexible and quick to secure. The more expensive the binding option, the more secure it will be and the faster it will be to put on, but ultimately any binding system will work on snowshoes for 14ers.
5. Snowshoe Size and Support
The effectiveness of a snowshoe depends on your weight and the amount of surface area it has to spread it out over. In general, someone should have approximately 1 inch of snowshoe surface area for each pound of weight. When selecting a snowshoe, choose a size that will provide someone your weight enough support. Don’t forget to factor in the weight of your gear and clothing – you will probably have a lot of it with you during a winter 14er hike.
Some models feature module tails that add more surface area. These are great for situations where you need to travel through powder, which is less supportive, or when you have more gear with you than normal.
The Best Five Snowshoes for Fourteeners
If you keep these five factors top of mind, you will select a great pair of snowshoes to use for all your winter and spring 14er adventures. That said, I have picked out a few solid options to consider that meet all of these key criteria. Here are five of the best snowshoes for 14ers.
Best Overall: MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes
MSR has cornered the market when it comes to snowshoes. They’re Lightning Ascents are without a doubt the best snowshoes for 14ers available on the market. They are a lightweight option that does not sacrifice traction or aggressive grip for mountain terrain. With a heel lift bar, modular tail attachments, and the best bindings available today, there’s no better option out there. It is also the most expensive pair of snowshoes for 14ers – when it comes to these, you do get what you pay for. Check out the current price with the links below.
For Technical Terrain: MSR Revo Ascent Snowshoes
The Revo Ascent is a great choice for rugged, technical terrain. If you plan to do a lot of sketchy hikes and climbs in winter conditions, these are a good option to consider. They have the most aggressive crampons and traction of any of MSR’s snowshoes, and the composite decking is built extra tough to deal with hard ice and rock. They aren’t the lightest pair of snowshoes, but they are most aggressive and durable pair you will find. Check out the current price with the links below.
Most Affordable: MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes
If you aren’t even sure you’ll do much snowshoeing, or you are just testing it out, you might want to pick a more affordable alternative like the Evo Ascent snowshoes. These composite deck snowshoes still have great traction, with aggressive traction, a heel bar, and modular tail attachments, but at a much lower price than the Lightning or Revo alternatives. As a result, the bindings are a bit less easy to use, and the snowshoes weigh more than the other options on this list. However, for a first-time snowshoer testing out the mountains, they are a good way to go. Click the link below to see the current price.
Best Lightweight: Atlas Helium MTN Snowshoes
Atlas has the lightest snowshoes for 14er available: The Helium MTN Snowshoes. They include their most aggressive crampons and a lightweight decking that saves a lot of weight. Special grips on the snowshoe bottom help shed snow and prevent build-up to keep these light as you go. A heel lift helps with uphill travel, and there are great, easy-to-use bindings. The only two downsides are the lack of modular tail attachments and some questions about durability – a few reviewers reported damage within a few uses – but Atlas will replace your pair if this is the case. You can find the price by clicking below.
Honorable Mention: Atlas Montane Snowshoes
All the options on this last have been composite decking, so I wanted to include an aluminum frame option in case you prefer quieter snowshoes. The Montane option from Atlas is a bit more clunky than the other snowshoes on this list, but they boast a large surface area that provides great flotation, along with robust traction and crampons, and a heel lift bar for steep slopes. This is a fantastic pair of traditional snowshoes, even if they fall short in one or two areas. Check out the price online below at REI.
Consider Optional Add-Ons Like Flotation Tails
Once you have a good pair of snowshoes, consider if you need anything else to make the most of them. For example, snowshoeing is much easier with trekking or ski poles, especially if you’re just getting started. If you’re on the heavier side, you may also want to buy a flotation tail. These are small plastic sections you can add to the end of your snowshoes to increase their surface area, providing you even more flotation in especially loose snow. There are also storage bags and systems for securing your snowshoes to your backpack.
How to Use Snowshoes: Tips and Tricks
Snowshoeing is easy for most people to learn, however they are a few things you should know to make the most of your first time. Here are some tips and advice for using your new snowshoes for 14ers and other winter hiking adventures in the mountains.
Tip 1: Wear Thick Socks, Winter Hiking Boots and Gaiters
Snow is cold and it eventually melts. Without the right pair of socks, hiking boots, and gaiters, snow will inevitably get in your shoes or boots and get your feet wet. Gaiters cover the gap between your pant legs and shoes to keep snow out. Insulated hiking boots also keep out water and insulate your feet, while warm socks lock in heat for your toes.
Tip 2: Practice Snowshoeing on Flat Terrain Before Heading to the Mountains
It is easier to snowshoe on flat terrain than on steep, icy slopes common in the mountains. The first time you use your snowshoes, try them out on flat terrain where there is less risk of an accident. Every pair of snowshoes is a bit different, so take the time to get used to the feel of wearing them. This will make it less likely that you trip and fall when you head out to use your snowshoes for 14ers and other mountain adventures.
Tip 3: Trekking Poles are Helpful for Snowshoeing
Using trek poles with your snowshoes is a great idea for a couple reasons. They provide extra stability and make it less likely you fall over – which is a good thing when you are still getting used to a new pair. They also allow you to use your upper body to help push you forward, saving energy over a long period of time. In mountain terrain, poles help you maintain your balance while ascending or traverse slopes, which are common on 14ers.
Tip 4: Remember that Snowshoe Crampons Do Not Replace Real Crampons
Snowshoe crampons provide extra traction for rugged slopes, but that does not mean they can replace actual mountaineering crampons. These provide much more traction with larger spikes and more secure bindings than snowshoes. If you enter terrain where you would normally use your crampons, take the time to swap them with your snowshoes. This is why you should make sure you wear crampon-compatible boots and bring your crampons when traveling through rugged winter terrain.
Tip 5: Take Turns and Rest Often While Breaking Trail in Deep Snow
Snowshoes are the least effective in deep, undisturbed powder. Even with modular tails and a light load, it is common to sink a bit into the snow, depending on the specific snow conditions you come across. This can become incredibly tiring, especially doing it uphill. To avoid burning out, take turns with others in your group. If you are snowshoeing alone, make sure you take regular breaks and stop to drink water. Remember while planning your trip that deep powder will significantly slow you down.
Tip 6: Always Check Avalanche Conditions and Mitigate Your Risk When Possible
Avalanches are a major concern in the winter mountains. Always check the forecast before you go at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website. Take note of any warning signs or problem areas the forecast mentions, and consider staying home entirely when the risk is considerable. If you wish to enter avalanche terrain, bring a partner, avalanche rescue gear, and get formally trained so you know how to assess a slope and rescue someone in a worst-case scenario.
Frequently Asked Questions About Snowshoes for 14ers
Here are some commonly asked questions online about snowshoes for 14ers, along with my answers.
Q: Is snowshoeing harder than hiking?
A: Yes, snowshoeing is harder than hiking. Moving through snow, even on a packed trail, involves more energy when wearing the added weight of snowshoes. This is why you shouldn’t bother wearing snowshoes on a packed trail that can support you in boots. Snowshoeing is unnecessarily tiring when lightweight microspikes are more than enough traction to make hiking practical.
Q: Do you wear your own shoes when snowshoeing?
A: Yes, snowshoes are compatible with almost all types of hiking shoes and boots. I recommend wearing a pair of insulated, waterproof hiking boots. These will ensure that snow doesn’t melt and get your socks wet while keeping in the heat in your boots to ensure your toes stay warm.
Q: Is snowshoeing harder than skiing?
A: No, snowshoeing is not harder than skiing, it is much easier to learn. Skiing involves more technique and involves a greater risk of injury than snowshoeing, by several factors. Skiing generally also requires more strength and cardiovascular performance than snowshoeing, which makes it harder overall in several ways.
Q: Can you hike uphill in snowshoes?
A: Yes, you can hike uphill in snowshoes, but it requires a particular type designed for rolling hills or mountain terrain. These snowshoes come with crampons or teeth to provide traction on steep slopes, along with features like a heel lift bar to save fatigue on your calves while going uphill. Snowshoeing uphill isn’t necessarily easy, but you can definitely do it with grit and determination.
Q: How do I know what size snowshoe I need?
A: Most snowshoes come in several sizes depending on your weight. Look for a sizing guide on the product website page that shows which size is for which weight range. Remember to add weight for the gear you will be wearing, including food and water (it can add a good bit of weight). If you find you are too heavy, look for a pair with modular tails to increase the surface area even more.
Q: What can I use instead of snowshoes?
A: If trails are well packed down and can support you wearing boots, you can hike using microspikes to provide traction on the slippery surface. These are much cheaper than snowshoes and it is easier to move in them. If you need traction in rugged terrain, you can use mountaineering crampons which provide more aggressive traction than snowshoes or microspikes. Keep in mind that many crampons require a stiff-soled boot to attach properly.
Snowshoes for 14ers: Now You Know!
In conclusion, snowshoes are an essential piece of equipment for hiking 14ers and other trails in the winter. There are several factors to consider when choosing a pair of snowshoes, including the type of snowshoe, the material and weight, the heel lift bar, the binding system, and the size and support. The five options we shared from MSR and Atlas are all excellent options when picking snowshoes for 14ers. By keeping these factors in mind and selecting a reliable pair of snowshoes, hikers can safely and comfortably explore the mountains during the winter season. Safe travels on the trail
More Resources Related to Snowshoes for 14ers
There are a ton of great resources out there related to the best snowshoes for 14ers. I included some of the websites and articles that helped me put together this article. If you have any suggestions or articles you think we should add to our list, please leave a comment below. We love to share the wisdom of our community with our readers. Thanks for reading – safe travels on the trail!