How to Make Snowshoes

Snowshoeing is a low-cost winter sport that requires little investment, especially if you're reasonably skilled at woodworking and willing to learn how to make snowshoes.


| November/December 1981


If you live in (or have ever visited) a region with heavy annual snowfalls, you know that trying to travel on foot through the winter woods can be downright exhausting and even dangerous. However, you don't need expensive skis or noisy, high-powered snowmobiles to traverse the white wilderness in comfort. Instead, strap on a pair of snowshoes—just as native Americans did hundreds of years ago—and start out. You'll often find yourself able to walk over deep powder that would sink cross-country skis or a powered vehicle!

Since its introduction to this continent by migrating tribes who crossed the Bering Strait with slabs of wood strapped on their feet, snowshoeing has grown from a convenient mode of transportation to an exhilarating cold-weather activity that almost anyone—regardless of his or her age and physical condition—can enjoy. What's more, you can slash the cost of this already inexpensive pastime by learning how to make snowshoes from mostly foraged materials!

Although it's admittedly not a simple job, snowshoe crafting is a worthwhile project for anyone who has basic carpentry skills and a yen to roam through silent, white-carpeted forests without disturbing the delicate environment of the winter woods. You'll need to locate a stand of ash trees (to split into the bows for the shoe frames); some scrap wood (for building a jig form on which to shape those graceful curves); and, if you like, materials to make your own rawhide (for lacing and binding the shoes). You might spend as long as 40 hours fashioning your first pair of hand-split snow walkers—since it'll take a lot of time to build the jig forms and learn the techniques for frame bending and lacing—but once you're ready to test-run your new footgear, I think you'll find the thrill of setting out into unexplored territory to be well worth the effort!

Commercial snowshoes are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the lightweight oval "bearpaw" model (which, at an average size of 8" X 25", is ideal for competition and for backpacking in heavily forested areas) to the long-tailed Yukon shoes (which can measure up to 12" wide and 60" long, and are best for open country). Generally, the small, flat designs are best suited for use in dense, wet snow while the larger shapes—which commonly have their toes curved up several inches—can "float" over deep powder. A good all-condition snowshoe customarily measures 9" to 10" wide and 3 to 4 feet long, and has a short tail to provide traction.

I've been making my own "big feet" from hand-split ash for ten years now, and have pretty much settled on a 9" X 36" model that I call the Trail Blazer. It's light (so the wearer doesn't tire easily) ... it's strong enough for bushwhacking through rough territory ... it provides enough flotation—or support—for backpacking through deep snow . .. and its turned-up toes allow the wearer to kick through heavy drifts. If you're new to the art of snowshoe-making, you'd do best to start with this basic pattern, but later—as you become familiar with the process—you'll probably want to alter my design to suit your own needs and inclinations.

Cut a Newspaper Pattern

Begin making your homemade snowshoes by fashioning a pattern for the frames. I generally use newspaper for this purpose, although any large piece of paper will do. If you're using newspaper, fold a full sheet diagonally to form a triangle. The crease, when the paper is opened, will mark the centerline of the snowshoe, but you'll want to cut out the template while the sheet is folded so that the finished shoe will be perfectly symmetrical. Since the pattern is for the inside dimensions of the frame, it doesn't include the Trail Blazer's 5" tail.

Al Glover
2/13/2012 6:24:26 PM

I have looked in the image gallery for the "related" category and cannot find it. I am therefore also unable to find the pattern mentioned in the article. I would really like to make these snowhoes and a pattern would be really helpful


Neil_2
2/8/2009 9:17:50 AM

The image gallery does not contain the pattern for the shape of the snowshoe. The early portion of the article that discusses making a newspaper pattern refers to a diagram.


M.
1/7/2008 5:31:21 PM

I have looked in the image gallery and can not find the diagrams! the only ones in there are the lacing diagrams, a picture of the bending jig and a picture of someone snowshoeing. no diagrams!






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