A snowshoe is footwear for walking over the snow. Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person’s foot does not sink completely into the snow, a quality called “flotation”.
This article is concerned primarily with snowshoes believed to have been developed in Central Asia and then North America. A possible separate line of development is the kanjiki (かんじき?) of Japan, worn since the Jōmon period.
Traditional snowshoes have a hardwood frame with rawhide lacings. Some modern snowshoes are similar, but most are made of materials such as lightweight metal, plastic, and synthetic fabric. In addition to distributing the weight, snowshoes are generally raised at the toe for maneuverability. They must not accumulate snow, hence the latticework, and require bindings to attach them to the feet.
In the past, snowshoes were essential tools for fur traders, trappers and anyone whose life or living depended on the ability to get around in areas of deep and frequent snowfall, and they remain necessary equipment for forest rangers and others who must be able to get around areas inaccessible to motorized vehicles when the snow is deep. However, snowshoes are mainly used today for recreation, primarily by hikers and runners who like to continue their hobby in wintertime. Snowshoeing is easy to learn and in appropriate conditions is a relatively safe and inexpensive recreational activity. However, snowshoeing in icy, steep terrain can be more dangerous.