Sure, fancy racing or running snowshoes made of high tech materials are great for running, fitness, and competitions, but it can also be fun, and on rare occasions necessary to go back to the birthplace of the sport and make your own snowshoes. You can fashion together your own pair of snowshoes completely with materials you can find in nature, or if you want to make them last a little longer, make them with a combination of foraged materials and simple items you may have laying around.
Even though it will take some time to fashion together a pair of functioning snowshoes, in an emergency situation, it just might be worth your while. If you are stranded and are out in the middle of the wilderness in deep snow, you can increase your walking pace to up to 10 times by walking on top of the snow rather than sinking deeply with each and every step.
To start off making your snowshoes, find two small saplings. You want to make sure to find young, green, fresh saplings as they are flexible and will bend easily without breaking. A good height for these saplings would be around 4 feet tall. You want the saplings to be around 2 inches in diameter. There are a few different options you could use as far as types of trees. Spruce trees work as do ash trees, maple, alder, and willow trees. Either cut the saplings down from the base or pull them out by their roots. Strip all of the branches off of the trees. Place the branches to the side for later use. If your saplings are taller than 4 feet, cut them so that they are approximately the same size at about 4 feet long.
The heavier the person to be using the snowshoe, the longer the sapling you will need. For example, a person over 200 lbs, would probably want their finished snowshoe to be at least 2 feet long and 16 inches wide. Also, the larger you make the snowshoes, the more floatation they will have. If you are in an area like the Rocky Mountains that tends to have a more powdery type of snow, a larger snowshoe would be more beneficial to help to keep you on top of the sugary snow. If you are somewhere in the Midwest, with the dense, heavier snow, a smaller snowshoe will do just fine.
Bend the tree in a loop and tie the bottom and top of the sapling together. Use the roots, string, cloth strips, or twine to tie them together. Loop the roots or twine, criss-crossing them back and forth so that they look like the letter X. After that, wind the cord around the center of the X and tie it tightly. The snowshoe loop will look like the shape of a tear drop. Make sure the two ends are tied together securely and that the knot on this connection is a strong, tight knot that will hold together.
Find the widest point of the snowshoe… not including the end that you’ve already tied. This should be about 2/3 of the length up from the tail. Connect the two points with a root from the tree (or twine if available). This will be the fulcrum, so it will be where you place the ball of your foot on the snowshoe. Once you have this twine secure, you will need to enforce it to make it strong. You can use another root or twine to wrap around your crosspiece. First, tie the twine onto the same place as your crosspiece. Now wrap it around and around the length of your crosspiece tightly to increase its strength as well as its thickness. You want the crosspiece to be about ¼ inch thick. When finished, tie the twine securely on the opposite side of the snowshoe.
Once you have the crosspiece finished, you want to make sure that it is secure so that the knots don’t slide back and forth along the frame of your snowshoes. If out in the wilderness with no access to glue or a bonding agent, you can get sap from a tree. Use a stick to puncture the bubbles on the outside of a fir or a spruce tree. Cover your knots with the sap or glue.
Now tie two more pieces of twine/roots in the same fashion as your fulcrum. Tie them several inches down the frame from the original crosspiece. These two pieces will go under the heel of your boot/shoe and will bear your weight as you step down on the snowshoe.
Add crosspieces and twine across the face of the snowshoe. The more crosspieces and roots or twine you add, the more support and floatation the shoe will provide. Starting at the tail of the snowshoe (the side where you tied the two ends of the tree together), begin by laying one of the branches widthwise across the snowshoe. Once again using and X-shaped stitch to secure both sides of the branch to your teardrop shaped snowshoe. Continue laying branches one by one and securing both sides to your snowshoe. Once this step is finished, start weaving branches through the branches you have already secured to the base.
If you have extra cloth that you are sure you will not be needing to keep warm, you can use it to wrap around the snowshoe in order to reinforce the decking.
The next step is to create the binding for your snowshoe. Place the ball of your shoe or boot onto the main crosspiece. Starting behind your heel, run a root or a string through your laces and then weave it through the sticks of the platform. Tie it to the snowshoe around the ball of your foot. You will want your heels to lift freely from the decking of your snowshoes, so only secure the binding twine/root to the front/ball of your foot and not to the heel area.
Now you are ready to test out your new snowshoes! It might be a good idea to practice these techniques at home first so that you know what you are doing should you ever run into a situation where you have to fashion your own pair of snowshoes. Practicing will make it much easier to remember the steps necessary to make your snowshoes. You most likely will not have a printed copy of these instructions when you are out in the middle of nowhere. Practice will also decrease the amount of time it will take to complete them, which can prove to be very important when doing so in cold weather conditions.