How We Test And Review Snowshoes: Our Methodology Explained

Written by

There’s no substitute for first-hand experience: Here’s how we evaluate our snowshoes in the field to provide the best reviews in the business.
How We Test And Review Snowshoes - introduction
It’s hard work, but someone has to do it: Trying not to have too much fun during our recent snowshoe field test.

At the end of the day, our philosophy here at The Wise Adventure is simple: Provide honest reviews on the best outdoor gear in the business, and only recommend products we would buy ourselves. When it comes to snowshoes, our goal is to provide unbiased, objective information to our readers to better guide them on where to invest their hard-earned dollars. Here’s how we selected the best snowshoes.

  1. Our Method
  2. Why Don’t We “Grade” The Snowshoes In Our Reviews?
  3. What Happens To Our Snowshoes After Testing?
  4. Flotation
  5. Traction
  6. Walkability
  7. Bindings
  8. Durability
  9. Value

Our Method

Our field tests are quite an undertaking, but if we’re being honest, we probably spend just as much time online researching snowshoes as we do walking in them. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re probably taking the same approach: Reading all the existing reviews, digging into manufacturer’s websites, rifling through customer complaints, taking deep dives into spec sheets… The list goes on, and the hours add up quickly. 

Our goal is to get the most complete picture of the current market as possible, and from there we aim to select the widest range of products available including the latest and greatest snowshoes as well as the most unique and most affordable models. 

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Our Method
Once the research is done, the real work begins.

Once we’ve narrowed down the playing field, we order all of our snowshoes out of pocket. It’s a big investment upfront, but it allows us to deliver authentic and unbiased reviews to our readers, which is why we started this project in the first place. 

Once we have all our snowshoes in hand, the next step is to take them out into the field and start logging hands-on time with each product. Our test groups typically range between 4-6 people, as we want to capture as many first-hand experiences as possible. Each tester evaluates each pair of shoes based on the standardized factors listed below, and then we compare and contrast our notes to identify common themes or issues with each pair of shoes. 

Why Don’t We “Grade” The Snowshoes In Our Reviews?

You may have noticed that just like our tent reviews, we don’t assign specific grades or scores in any of our reviews. We do this intentionally for two reasons. 

The first is that because we purposefully select the widest range of products possible, we prefer to evaluate each snowshoe on its own merits rather than comparing apples to oranges. Some snowshoes perform much better than others, but we prefer to evaluate each pair on how well they fit their intended use and how well they live up to the manufacturer’s claims. 

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Why Dont We Grade
Budget-friendly snowshoes like the Atlas Helium Trail seen here aren’t meant for technical pursuits, but they’re still an outstanding shoe for the money.

Our second reason is that because outdoor gear is constantly improving year over year, there’s just no point in trying to pin a definitive value on a moving target. Every few years, something new comes along that truly breaks the mold, so we prefer to stick to detailed evaluations and first-hand accounts rather than handing out a set-in-stone value. 

What Happens To Our Snowshoes After Testing?

Outdoor gear is meant to be used and used often. For that reason, once we’ve concluded our testing for the year, we sell each pair of snowshoes back to the outdoor enthusiasts in our communities at a fraction of the original cost. We have two reasons for this as well.

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - What Happens After Testing
Can’t keep ‘em all. Our test shoes go back to our local community to live out their lives in the outdoors as intended.

First, while our aim here at The Wise Adventurer is to become the most well-known and trustworthy outdoor resource on the net, our team is still a small one. We’re all still working day jobs to keep the lights on, and by putting used gear back on the second-hand market, we’re able to generate some funds to support more high-quality content to come. 

Our second reason is a personal one: We want to keep quality gear in the hands of the good people who use it. By selling our snowshoes back to adventurers like you, we’re able to get more people out enjoying the outdoors at a significantly lower cost, and that’s a win-win situation if we’ve ever heard of one.

Ok, enough about that, let’s dig into the details of our testing process. 

Flotation

There was a point in time when you could learn just about everything you needed to know about a snowshoe’s flotation by simply looking at the spec sheet. Longer shoes with wider decks delivered better flotation, and that was that. 

That’s still partly true today, and we still factor in a shoe’s overall size when doing our research. A good example of this would be the traditional tubular snowshoes made by Atlas, which use an extra long and extra wide footprint to deliver oodles of flotation. 

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Flotation
Shoes like the Atlas Montane seen here deliver excellent flotation, and only sink a few inches into the deepest powder.

Of course as technology advances, we’re constantly finding new exceptions to the rule as well, which is why field testing is so important. To test for flotation, we take each of our shoes into the deepest, freshest snow we can find (we’ve got no shortage of that, btw). What we’re looking to evaluate here is how far the shoe digs down into the snow with each step, as well as how well the shoe supports overall walking stability on the softest surfaces.

High marks are given to snowshoes that limit the overall “post-holing” effect (where your legs sink deep into the snow, requiring extra effort with each step), as well as shoes that provide a reliable platform of support regardless of the depth of the snow underfoot. We expect a certain amount of sinking from even the best floating shoes, but it shouldn’t be so deep that prevents efficient hiking. 

Traction

Good traction is what allows a snowshoe to handle both easy hikes and more challenging backcountry trips over a variety of terrain. When researching snowshoes for our field tests, we look for a few main features to get an idea of how well they’ll grip. 

The first is traction rails, which are the long strips of teeth that run along the bottom of the shoe. We typically find that deeper rails with sharper teeth always provide better traction over slippery surfaces like ice and melt-freeze snow, so if a shoe doesn’t have them, it can be a red flag.

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Traction
The Atlas Range-MTN has all the right ingredients for outstanding traction.

Crampons are an equally important feature to look for, as they provide the initial “bite” for each step, and also typically articulate with the binding for a more direct and precise application of grip. All good snowshoes include crampons, but more aggressive teeth typically handle challenging surfaces much better, and crampons with spikes in multiple locations (front, sides, back, etc.) generally do the best of the bunch. 

There are other unique designs out there that we’ve found work just as well, which is yet another reason why field testing is so important. TSL is a great example, and their latest “crampon-only” design found on the Hyperflex line of snowshoes delivers insane traction without the need for dedicated traction rails. New designs drive innovation, so we’re always on the lookout for new approaches to traction.

Walkability

Walkability is the metric we use to describe the overall walking experience of a given pair of snowshoes. This includes both the overall effort required to walk in snowshoes over different types of terrain as well as how “natural” a snowshoe feels to hike in compared to traditional footwear like boots or trail runners. 

Walkability is a difficult thing to predict with preliminary research, but as a general rule of thumb, we expect snowshoes with shorter and/or more narrow footprints to perform better than larger models. The same goes for shoes with more flexible construction, which can come from a variety of factors including composite decking or suspension on a binding. 

Atlas Range-MTN Review - Walkability
The compact and flexible decking of the TSL Symbioz Elite provides excellent walkability, especially on hard-packed surfaces.

For this reason, walkability is typically at odds with flotation. This is why larger shoes tend to perform better in deeper snow, but can feel awkward and clunky on packed snow and groomed trails where more compact designs excel. 

The only way we know to test this is to take each shoe through as many different conditions as possible, and that’s just what we do. Shoes that deliver a pleasant walking experience over packed snow, powder, and icy surfaces score the highest in this metric, and we’re particularly fond of any pair that delivers across the board without compromising in deep snow flotation.

Bindings

Your bindings are your connection to your snowshoe, and as such, they should be as secure and reliable as possible. A good binding gives a hiker the confidence they need to traverse slippery surfaces or deep snow without worrying about losing their footing, or worse, losing their shoe. 

The main challenge in engineering a good binding is delivering a fit that’s tight enough to keep your snowshoe firmly attached to your boot while also distributing pressure evenly enough to prevent any major discomfort or pressure points along the foot. This is important because just like any good pair of hiking boots, snowshoes that pinch or constrict your feet can create blisters and get you very cold, in short order, which is the quickest way we know of to ruin your day in the snow. 

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Bindings
TSL knows their bindings: The three-way adjustability of the BOA system here is one of the best-fitting models in the business.

In our research, the main thing we look for to avoid binding issues is adjustability. The more points of adjustability a binding has, the better it’s going to be able to comfortably conform to whatever type of footwear you prefer, be it burly mountaineering boots or streamlined trail runners. 

We’ve found the folks at TSL score particularly high marks in this regard because their patented binding systems include adjustments for tightness over the heel and toe as well as overall length and width to better suit a wider variety of footwear. We’re also fans of the BOA system for the same reason, and while all BOA bindings don’t include three-way adjustability, their ratcheting dial system allows for a nearly infinite level of adjustment, so you’re never stuck choosing between a fit that’s a bit too loose or a bit too tight. 

Out in the field, we evaluate each binding both on fit and walking comfort by having multiple testers wearing different types and sizes of shoes walk several miles in each model. We note any discomfort, pressure points, or security issues, and then compare notes between testers to identify common complaints. 

We also include ease-of-use in this area of testing, as bindings that are easy to get into, tighten, and then remove after a full day of snowshoeing make the entire ownership experience that much better. Bindings that require minimal effort and function well without overly complicated designs score highest in this department.

Durability

Durability is a difficult thing to assess secondhand, so much of our research on perceived durability comes from combing through existing customer feedback. Overbuilt designs with rugged hardware, burly rivets, and rebuildable features are always a plus, but there’s really no way of knowing until you’ve got a snowshoe in hand. 

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Durability
Tough decking, thick rivets, and a virtually indestructible aluminum frame: The MSR Lightning Ascent is a hallmark of durability. 

The good news here is that if our testing has taught us anything, it’s that most modern snowshoes from reputable brands have zero short-term durability concerns. Design, construction, and material quality have come a long way from the flimsy plastic designs of the 1980s, and even budget-friendly composite shoes benefit from trickle-down technology. 

Our main concern in testing is long-term durability, and while one season of use can only tell us so much about how a given snowshoe will look ten years from now, it’s a great way to identify potential problem areas down the road. Overstressed straps, thin decking materials, and non-rebuildable components are all potential red flags we look for out in the field. 

Value

At risk of stating the obvious here, the value of any one snowshoe differs widely depending on the end user. Big mountain climbers and hardcore backcountry explorers need different things from a shoe than your average hiker out enjoying winter weather, and both should spend accordingly. 

With that being said, our goal both in research and hands-on testing is to evaluate how well a snowshoe delivers on the claims from the manufacturer. If we’re testing an affordable beginner-friendly shoe, we expect it to be reasonably comfortable and secure, and to deliver enough traction, flotation, and walkability to handle the easy-to-moderate conditions new hikers cut their teeth on. 

How We Test And Review Snowshoes - Value
The Atlas Range-MTN sells for over $300, but their best-in-class performance and durability are worth every penny.

Top-tier shoes, on the other hand, we hold to a much higher standard. These snowshoes are designed to handle any and every terrain out there from steep hills of deep powder to treacherous and icy melt-freeze snow. There’s a reason the best shoes in the business cost upwards of $300+, but in order for these models to deliver good value, they should leave us wanting for nothing (within reason) on all the metrics described above. 

Leave a Comment