While the sport of snowshoeing continues to gain momentum, it has yet to gain any substantial support from apparel and outdoor accessory manufacturers. Unlike bikers, runners, skiers, hikers, and even the likes of bowlers and golfers, we snowshoers have been left out in the cold to fend for ourselves by wearing clothes and equipment that was designed for those pursuing other disciplines. It is time for this state of sorry affairs to change.
The purpose of this article is to stimulate the outdoor manufacturing industry to address the fastest growing winter sport by giving snowshoeing the care and specific attention it deserves. The following “fantasy” ideas represent only a handful of the many snowshoe-specific products that should be available for those of us who are passionate about tromping on the white stuff. Please, manufacturers, make our dreams come true and share in the benefits (and profits) that our sport has to offer!
Wet-Butt Proof Pants
Who will pioneer the first snowshoe-specific pant by creating breaches that put a halt to “wet-butt syndrome,” a phenomenon caused by the snow one kicks up on one’s derriere while snowshoeing? The design idea is essentially the reverse of cold or wet weather biking tights. The backside would be waterproof. A heavy-duty lamination or more technical treatment, such as Gore-Tex, would not be necessary unless the pants were to be used in really slushy conditions. So long as the pants are used in temperatures at or above freezing, a microfiber or treated nylon fabric would be sufficient and cost effective.
To continue the reverse bicycle pant concept, instead of putting Lycra or some other stretchy material in back, that resilient fabric would be placed in the front to allow for greater flexion that snowshoeing demands of one’s knees and thighs. To finish things off, the pockets would zip shut to prevent snow from entering and melting, and the cuffs would be snug or have stirrups for the same reason.
Gaiters are often a requisite piece of equipment for snowshoeing. However, they do not often work as well as one would like and are prone to slipping down on the calves or coming unattached to a boot or shoe. They are also a bit cumbersome to don and even more trouble to remove when one’s fingers are numb.
The solution to the gaiter problem is to incorporate them into the wet-butt proof pants discussed above or into snowshoe-compatible shoes, discussed below. Nike tried to build a winter cross training shoe with its own zippered gaiter-like cover. Unfortunately, the gaiter zipper was placed directly over the lacing and had an uncanny tendency to burst asunder from the pressure of the instep flex. Needless to say, that shoe, the Air Mavsa, was only on the market for a single season. A strategically placed side-zip would do the trick and save us from having to deal with the gaiter predicament.
Although the idea for this came out of some winter bike rides and a yearning for the perfect hat to wear under a helmet, it crosses over to the snowshoe context very well, especially when there is blowing snow. The Tech-Beanie would be a three-panel headpiece constructed to fit close to the head. The first panel is a wind-proof crown that would block out any cold gusts and protect your forehead from flying frost. The second panel is a light, wicking and stretchable fabric for the back and top of the head to transfer and release the vast amounts of perspiration that escapes through the scalp. The third panel is a stretchy, wind-proof and water-resistant material that would wrap around the ears to give the beanie a snug fit and protect your lobes from frostbite.
The Tech-Beanie would also feature buttonhole slits on the side panels for sunglasses to slip through without pushing the cap away from your head or allowing the cold to nip at your ears. A final option would be a ponytail port with a built-in scrunchy for those with longer hair.
One of the hottest gear-intensive sports of the day is cyclocross. For those that have witnessed this exciting and grueling spin on bicycle racing that often takes place on muddy, if not snowy, courses, you may have noticed the racers wearing some pretty rad eyewear to shield their eyes from the mud thrown from riders ahead. Snowshoers can benefit from the advances made in cyclocross shades.
Goggles tend to be too heavy for snowshoeing and are prone to fogging up from exertion. Sunglasses are often too dark and do not cover enough of your face to protect from flying snow from fellow snowshoers or gusty winter winds. A hybrid of goggles/glasses with clear or slightly tinted lenses would be an ideal combination. Preferably, the spectacles would come with different colors of lenses so you could choose the right tint for the conditions.
I have learned a lot from my one-year-old son. One thing is that diapers are pretty awesome (when they don’t need changing). Ignoring the intended purpose of diapers for little ones — that is, to absorb or, at least, contain matter produced from an interior source — they also serve as terrific protectors from exterior sources. How many times have you wished you had a pair of diapers on when you fell right on your rump?
Applying the wrap-and-snap qualities of a diaper to the snowshoeing apparel context, the idea is to have an extended jacket tail that flaps around the back, between the legs, and attaches to the front of the torso. Not to belabor the wet-butt syndrome point, but the result of this wrap-around piece would be ample protection from the elements with minimal bulk or restriction of movement. Fencers wear something akin to this diaper-jacket and maintain their nimbleness without mimicking my son’s waddle-like steps.
It has happened to skiing, snowboarding, and bicycling. That is, the replacement of generalized footwear with specific, more energy efficient, sport-specific shoes. Is snowshoeing next? While some footwear manufacturers have recognized the growth in the sport of snowshoeing by producing snowshoe compatible shoes, those shoes and boots are nonetheless multipurpose and lack the specificity that might take snowshoeing to the next level.
True snowshoeshoes would take advantage to step-in, strapless technology that concentrates the foot’s energy to the ball of the foot and distributes that step energy into the snowshoe frame or body without any efficiency loss. Those that have witnessed the effectiveness of clipless or SPD bicycle cleats and observed the stark contrast between such shoes and traditional toe-clip pedals will vouch for the direct attachment method.
Simple, efficient, easy-of-use, and lighter in weight, a strapless step-in system offers tremendous improvement over current binding methods. The snowshoe-specific shoes could also be modified to be stiff in ergonomically-correct places. To achieve that goal, manufacturers would first need to adapt the shoes to the step-in system by performing kinesiological studies on the foot strike of a snowshoer. The shoes should be water-resistant yet breathable, warm, and feature simple, built-in gaiters and Velcro or some form of fastening other than laces, which are difficult to use when either they or your digits are frozen.
Suck-a-Thumb and “Drac Pack”* Fuel Systems
* Drac Pack idea courtesy of Bill Perkins and Darrin Eisman
Now we are off of the diaper topic and have advanced to thumb sucking! How about a gel dispenser built into the thumb of a mitten or glove? Quick and easy, there would not even be wrappers to drop on the snow (and pick up to avoid littering). What is more, the motion and behavior is a natural one that is learned at a young age.
On a larger and more sophisticated scale, the “Drac Pack” fuel system would be a closed loop feeding apparatus with a lead and a feed that are both inserted into your jugular vein (i.e., the “jug plugs”). The lead would be hooked to a microchip that would be programmed to detect drops in your optimal glucose, hydration, and electrolyte levels. If the level should drop below a pre-set amount, the lead would trigger the feed to inject the relevant fluid from a back-mounted system of reservoirs. The Drac Pack would run off of batteries that are recharged through kinetic energy and the reservoir would be insulated so the unit would function under all weather conditions.
-Adam Chase (Atlas Team Captain)