FIGURE 1: After cutting saplings to the same length, trim the ends so that the faces come together as flat as possible.
ILLUSTRATIONS: TOM RUSSELL
Click on Image Gallery to see referenced figures and diagrams.
Up here in Wisconsin, other far northern states and Canada,
it's not unusual for four feet of snow to cover the ground
At that time of the year, snowshoes are the only workable
means of cross-country transportation and it's really a
trip to strap on a pair, walk four miles through the woods,
observe lots of wildlife . . . and never see another person
or a road.
The only trouble (for me, at least) is that snowshoes cost
about $40 and, last January, I didn't have $10—let
alone $40—for such gear. I decided to make my own
from natural materials and labored through several tries to
construct a fancy bent-wood pair. All such attempts failed,
however, since our area has no ash trees (and ash is the
only wood that really takes and holds the proper curves
when steamed and bent into snowshoe frames).
Eventually I gave up trying to build for pretty and decided
I'd just build for stout by making my snowshoes from
whatever creek saplings and string I had on hand, The
finished gear you see in the pictures with this article
cost me only one day's labor. It won't win any beauty
contests, that's for sure, but it does keep me on top of
The frames of my down-home footwear are long, fairly
straight sticks that are not too crooked, about as thick as
your thumb at the small, not much bigger on the other end
and four to five feet long (choose the longer lengths for
taller people). Try to take your framing members from spots
in which the saplings are obvious ly growing too thickly
and cut sticks that are springy enough to bend somewhat
Cut the three longest saplings to the length of the
shortest, trim all four (Fig. 1) so they'll fit together
(Fig. 2) and bind the sticks (Fig. 3).
Next cut four 1" x 2" spreader bars eight to ten inches
long and insert them between the long saplings as shown in
Fig. 4. Then string up the frames so they hold together and
look as pretty as you can make 'em (Photo 1). As an
experiment, I strung one of mine with nylon seine twine and
the other with heavy cotton string. So far both have held
up well, even on trips over crusty snow.
Make a rope bridle large enough to accommodate a boot toe
across each snowshoe. The binding should be placed ahead of
the shoe's center of balance so that the toe of the
contrivance is picked up as you raise and move your foot
forward. Fasten the snowshoe to your foot with a loop of
rope long enough to go around your ankle and hook (with a
bent nail or whatever) back into the bridle as shown in
Photo 2. It's a good idea to add some nylon, rope, rawhide
or fabric reinforcement to each snowshoe where your boot
That's it! You're ready to go. Just don't forget to pack
along a geodetic survey map and compass on those long
overland treks. The north woods look altogether different
when they're waist-deep in snow . . . and a good
outdoorsman always figures on finding his way back home
again before he even leaves the cabin.