Have you ever tried walking in deep snow? If so, you know what it is like to sink in up to your knees or even your waist. Imagine if you had to walk for miles like that! You would use up a lot of energy and you wouldn’t get very far. Thousands of years ago, people who lived in snowy places solved this problem by inventing snowshoes.
A snowshoe is much larger than a person’s foot, so the wearer’s body weight is spread out over a larger area. As a result, a person wearing snowshoes sinks much less in the snow than he or she would without them. Snowshoes have been made and used by indigenous people in Europe, Asia, and North America. Snowshoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each suited to the place where they originated.
Factors influencing snowshoe design include the type of snow typical of the place where they originated, the natural materials available in those places, and landscape features such as whether the area was forested or open, flat or hilly. Large snowshoes – often equal in length to a person’s height – with upturned tips are ideal for walking in fluffy, soft snow because they provide the most “float.” In places where snow tends to be more compacted from wind or where it is denser, smaller snowshoes are more commonly found.
In the past, snowshoes were an essential tool for carrying out day to day activities. Today, some people – such as park rangers, trappers, and even scientists – still use snowshoes for work, but for most people, snowshoeing is a recreational activity. Some people still wear the traditional wooden snowshoes, but most people prefer the modern style of snowshoes, which are made of aluminum or plastic and have a metal “claw” under the toe that allows for traction on hard, icy, and uphill surfaces.