Snowshoe Terminology

Snowshoe Terminology

There is an old saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate gear. Unless, of course, you're wearing snowshoes and plenty of layers. When the thermometer drops and the snow starts falling, one of the best ways to get outdoors is to go snowshoeing. Like many other hobbies, though, it comes with a language all its own.

Snowshoe Terms & What They Mean

If you're planning to go snowshoeing this winter, it's important to know the lingo. Here are some of the most common terms you'll encounter: 


Metal-toothed snowshoes, or those with crampons, are designed for backcountry use and provide better footing when you’re climbing, crossing icy ponds, or trekking over crusty ridges. Toe crampons, which extend below the ball of your foot and offer traction with each step, are the most straightforward systems. Also common are metal teeth placed under the heel.

Some shoes can attach mountaineering crampons, the teeth of which act as your cleats. With this feature, climbers can easily switch between crampons and snowshoes on different terrain without having to leave their crampons behind.


Without bindings, your boots would have no attachment to the snowshoe and they could slip out of alignment. This would not only make it difficult for the snowshoes to track in a straight path, but you would also be constantly readjusting the fit. Therefore, bindings play a pivotal role in ensuring that the snowshoe works well with your boots under any condition.

Snowboard bindings have come a long way from the rubber straps of yore. These days, you can find everything from simple rubber straps to complex plastic cuffs and ratcheting devices that were inspired by snowboard binding designs.

Asymmetric bindings

Asymmetric bindings are specialty bindings designed to follow the curves of your left and right feet for a more comfortable stride. The shoes often have asymmetric frame shapes too, which can save weight for snowshoe racers.

Spring-loaded bindings

Spring-loaded bindings are a life-saver when kicking steps uphill; they ease tension on your calf with each forward step. By making each kick easier, smoother, and more energy-efficient, these bindings will help you save time and conserve energy while hiking.

The best way to test a binding before buying it is to rent it for a weekend. Try using it in different conditions and settings, such as packed trails or icy slopes, to get a feel for how well it will work for you.

Heel lifts

Most snowshoes nowadays come with a small, flat bar under the heel of the boot. If you're ever faced with a strenuous uphill journey, simply flip up the bar for more support. Your foot will lie in a flatter and more comfortable position while still being able to grip ascent. By using heel lifts, you'll reduce any strain or fatigue on your Achilles tendon and calf muscles.

Reinforced heel

The reinforced heel is an extra layer of material (often a thin rubber slab) on the snowshoe decking where your heel strikes. This reinforcement protects against wear and tear, prevents slippage from side to side, and transfers the force of your step directly to the heel cleat below.


The decking is the synthetic fabric that helps distribute your weight evenly, so you don't sink into the snow.

Pivot point

The pivot point is the point at which the snowshoe attaches to the boot. It is typically located at the ball of the foot.


Frames come in three materials--wood, plastic, or lightweight aluminum tubing. They also differ in shapes, with oval offering optimal flotation while shoes with tapered tails and asymmetrical shoes allow a more natural gait.

Length adjustments

With the capability to lengthen or shorten the shoe via telescoping decking or add-on tails, this feature is excellent for people who want one shoe that can work in a variety of snow conditions. It's also perfect if you're wanting one shoe to cover both short hikes and longer excursions. Moreover, it comes in handy for families where everyone from kids to adults can use the same pair of shoes.

Now that you know more about the various parts of a snowshoe, you will be better able to select the gear that is right for you. And, with the right gear, you will have a lot more fun with your webbed feet while out on the snow this winter. Happy snowshoeing!

If you're looking for the best in ultralight, innovative snowshoes, then look no further than Northern Lites selection of snowshoes available in all sizes and award winning styles!

Check out all of our snowshoes and snowshoe accessories.

Day Hiking / Beginner Snowshoes - Ultralight Trekking Series Snowshoes - Snowshoe Carry Bags

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