This winter was my first time living in snow since childhood. In the decades between, I did a relatively good job of snowbirding and spending my winters in warmer climates. However, I decided to move to a higher elevation in the mountains to experience a real winter filled with snow.
Although relatively mild, the first snow hit Thanksgiving weekend, burying the streets in over a foot of snow. That’s when I realized it’s time to winterize and get some new snow gear. Unfortunately, drama with the old roommates delayed everything, and it wasn’t until a few days after the snow I was able to finally get everything in.
Still, we were able to find patches to try out some of it and get a feel for how they work.
Garneau Course Boa Running ($274.99 at Garneu.com)
In 1983, Canadian Olympic cyclist Louis Garneau created what’s now the longest-running custom cycling clothing company in North America. In addition to cycling, the company expanded to other sports, including a focus on winter sports. The first pair of snowshoes we had a chance to try were the Course Boa running snowshoes from Garneau.
These snowshoes are lightweight and made of an aircraft-grade 7075-T6 anodized aluminum frame. The decking is sturdy and provides some lift, although you’ll still find you sink quickly if you don’t move fast. These snowshoes were clearly meant for running, not standing.
The company’s boa closure system provides a simple click and twist to tighten around your foot and a rubber strap on the back keeps them attached.
They’re not the best for ice and other slippery surfaces, and you’ll still need to focus a bit on balancing to stay upright. That being said, they’re much smaller and have less wind resistance than the other shoes on this list, making them ideal for…well…running. Since you’re supposed to run on your toes, this is where you’ll find the majority of the traction in the Course Boa.
The crampons are angled in a way that’s ideal for digging your toes into the ground and launching off them, much like track spikes.
Measuring at 7 x 21 and weighing 1.75 lb, these are the smallest snowshoes on this list, but still capable of holding up to 220 lb above the snow. They’re the easiest to turn and maneuver in and weren’t bad for climbing either.
Garneau Phenom ($299.99 at Garneu.com)
Garneau’s other new release for 2017 is Phenom, a pair of sexy black snowshoes rugged enough to hike the back country in. These feature the same decking and frame material as the Course Boas, but with much more coverage.
The freemotion pivot is ideal in a snowshoe, allowing the angle of your foot and the shoe to adjust as necessary to uneven surfaces. It makes walking uphill and downhill much easier while providing maximum grip. There’s also a heel raising bar that can be easily set to more permanently adjust the angle for climbing or descending.
A 360-degree crampon system in the Phenom provides the most support and traction of any of the snowshoes we tried on this list. There’s also much more surface area on the decking to provide maximum loft and keep you above the snow.
The 725s shown weigh 2.2 lbs and can support 125-225 lbs climbing hills, crossing ice, or traversing the many obstacles you’ll find outdoors. These are easily the most rugged snowshoes on this list and land right in the middle on sizing.
Yukon Charlies Elite Spin Mens ($199.99 at YukonCharlies.com)
Yukon Charlies focuses exclusively on creating innovative snowshoes for any occasion. Elite Spin are the company’s top-of-the-line snowshoes, designed for rugged backcountry use.
The Northwave SPIN dial binding system makes putting the Elite Spins on and taking them off a cinch (although my roommate did fake it being more difficult for a bit in an effort to convince me to give them to him). Just turn the dial to tighten, or pull the black string to loosen.
Like Garneau’s Phenoms, the Elite Spin also has a built-in heel lift that makes walking up and down slopes much easier.
At 9 x 30″ and weighing 4.8 lbs, these are by far the largest snowshoes on this list, which may be a problem if space is a factor. Still, they can keep up to 250 lbs above the snow in any terrain.
Yukon Charlies Elite Spin Womens ($189.99 at YukonCharlies.com)
Not to leave women out, Yukon Charlies created a frame of the Elite Spin designed specifically for a woman’s stride. Smaller all around and with sharper edges, these snowshoes were even favored by some of the guys who tried them.
At 8×21, they’re similar in size to the Garneau Phenoms, but still weigh nearly twice as much at 4 lbs. They’re capable of holding up to 150 lbs and the 6000 aluminum rocker frame is rigid and sturdy enough that it won’t break with a little extra weight.
The company’s mountain claw crampon system has more spikes than Garneau’s, though they both provide similar traction and lift when walking