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Build Snowshoes

A snowshoe is an oval wooden frame strung with thongs and attached to the foot. It enables a person to walk across a snowfield without sinking by distributing the person's weight over a large area. It looks something like a big tennis racket without the long handle.

Eskimos and other native people of North America made snowshoes by forming a frame from wood and weaving animal hide or sinew into the center, making a strong net.  The frames were tied to boots with leather straps. 

To construct a simple snowshoe, bend a long green sapling back on itself to form a loop and secure the ends firmly. Add crosspieces and twine across the face of the looped sapling. The more crosspieces and twine, the more support the shoe will provide, but take care not to make the shoes too heavy.

A person who weighs from 125 to 150 pounds will need a snowshoe at least 4 feet long and from 12 inches wide at the point of greatest width. The heavier the person, the larger the snowshoe.

The shoe should be fastened to the foot with thongs so that the heel rises and falls  freely. The tail of the snowshoe drags and is not raised when a step is taken.

Building Simple Wooden Snowshoes

Ben Hunt offers plans for snowshoes that are easy to make in a few hours. With occasional oiling, they will  remain in good condition for a long time. This type of snowshoe will not take the rough usage that  webbed ones will, however. 

Building Snowshoes and Snowshoe Furniture
Building Snowshoes and Snowshoe Furniture by Gil Gilpattrick.

Since it was first invented over 6,000 years ago, the snowshoe has evolved into many shapes and styles, each designed to fit the needs of a specific environment or snow condition. They range from the long and relatively narrow Alaskan snowshoe to the nearly round bearpaw.

The Maine showshoe, which is neither as narrow as the Alaskan or as round as the bearpaw, is a design well suited to  the woods and field terrain of central Maine. The Alaskan showshoe is best suited to open country, while the bearpaw allows for the twisting and turning necessary in brushy terrain.

Gil Gilpatrick's guide explains in detail, from bending wood to lacing, how to construct traditional hand-made wood frame snowshoes.

Complete plans for three sizes of Maine snowshoes are included along with a couple bearpaw and Alaskan (Ojibway) designs.

In addition, Gilpatrick offers plans for six different pieces of snowshoe furniture: two rocking chairs, a coffee table, an end table, a footstool and a wood holder.

How to Make Your Own Snow-Shoes

Dan Beard  offers a set of plans and instructions for "Pioneer Wooden Stick Snow Shoes" and some advice on learnin how to use them: "There is only one way to learn to walk on snow-shoes, and that is to put them on and try. After stumbling around and falling down, standing on the heel of one shoe with the other shoe, so that it is impossible for you to lift your first foot, and getting into all manner of ridiculous scrapes, you will learn the knack of shuffling along as a person does in slipshod slippers, and after this it will be only a short time before you become an expert snow-shoer". 

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The Snowshoe Experience
The Snowshoe Experience
A Beginner's Guide to Gearin Up & Enjoying Winter Fitness 
by Claire Walter
Storey Publishing, 2004

Freelance journalist and author Claire Walter, a frequent contributor to  snowsports and adventure travel magazines, penned this introduction to "the perfect winter sport," as she puts it, and an activity that can "mean the difference between loving and loathing winter."

In addition providing entry-level advice on equipment, technique, places to snowshoe and fitness factors, Walter leads readers to free lessons, ranger tours in national parks, and special snowshoe programs at ski areas.

"Beyond the basics, the snowshoes themselves present little limitation on where you can go or what you can do," she points out. "Even at the beginning of your snowshoeing career, a but of experimentation on varied terrain that includes both uphills and downhills and different snow conditions will extend your range considerably. you can amble, stride, jog, or even run on these big feet."

For those who are ready to really expand their snowshoe horizons, Walter includes information on winter camping, backcountry tours and a directory of snowshoe races.

Bear Paw Snow Shoes
Bear Paw Snow Shoes

Snow Shoes
Snow Shoes

Also by Claire Walter
Snowshoeing Colorado
Snowshoeing Colorado
Also by Gil Gilpatrick
Building a Strip Canoe Building a Strip Canoe

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