I have seen lots of young parents snowshoeing with babies on their backs in specialized baby-backpacks. Snowshoeing makes for a perfect outing for getting babies and parents outside because it is a very safe sport. Falling on snowshoes with a fragile baby on your back is highly unlikely.
Modern snowshoes are equipped with crampons under the ball of the feet that greatly aid in traction on icy surfaces. Snowshoes also allow easy access to steep narrow trails where skis might get a little hairy.
Snowshoeing goes way back in time. Animals like snowshoe hare, bobcats, ptarmigan, and bear have oversized feet that enable them float on the snow. Native people likely mimicked the oversized feet by lashing boughs together to form a platform to spread their weight over the snow surface.
Modern snowshoes are pretty cool. Improvements from traditional wood designs are mainly in the lightweight metal frames and in the ergonomic bindings that pivot underfoot with a crampon. Otherwise the principals of snowshoe design remain largely the same; get traction, get floatation.
Consider that less than twenty years ago many local trails snowed in and remained largely untouched for the entire winter. Many high mountain valleys are steep and narrow and only a handful of highly skilled backcountry skiers could access the terrain.
Where cross-country skis are generally too squirrelly on tricky terrain, snowshoes fill the void. This especially appeals to the aging baby-boomers who increasingly do not want to take a fall, but of course want to remain active and fit while enjoying outdoor adventure.
If you are considering purchasing snowshoes, there are several brands out there, and several shapes and sizes. The smallest sized snowshoes really only work on packed trails where they provide sure-footed traction and comfort especially for fitness walking and running.
Medium-sized snowshoe are perfect for some on-trail, some off-trail hiking. Large-sized snowshoes are best for heavier men, or if you’re carrying a pack. Extra-large snowshoes become heavy and cumbersome but if you are an extra-large person, then they’re just the ticket.
When it comes to snowshoe shapes, some are teardrop, while others are oval. I personally prefer oval snowshoes because they provide more surface area to aid in flotation when making fresh tracks. However, if you plan to stick to packed trails, flotation is not a concern.
When choosing a snowshoe take a close look at the binding system and try it on in the store. Some systems are superior. For hiking, I use Tubbs snowshoes because they have developed a binding system that pivots on a rigid pin. Furthermore, Tubbs bindings have stiff plastic wings on each side of your boot that keep your foot centered on the snowshoe.
I think that systems that utilize ratcheting system and other gizmos spell trouble with lots of little moving parts. Also, you should choose a binding that has a toe cup that prevents your boot from sliding too far forward in the binding on steep descents.
As far as footwear goes, I like to wear a lightweight insulated hiking boot that’s made for winter hiking. Then I use gaiters to keep snow from going down into my boots. Another option is a running shoe with an over boot to provide warmth and dryness.
On packed trails its fine to go without poles. However, if you are venturing into the backcountry and especially if you’re going off trail, poles are really handy. I spend a lot of time looking around for birds, animals and pretty views so poles help if I occasionally trip over something.
An analogy for using poles is like when driving a car in adverse conditions. Do you want two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive? I like the stability of four points of contact especially since I carry an oversized pack for guiding.
Snowshoeing is here to stay, just like hiking is here to stay. It feels great to get out and take a walk into the pristine high country and breathe in a little of the local peace and quiet.