F&S Classics:March 1912

This month's classic, entitled "Snowshoe," was written by Shirley C. Hulse and first appeared in our March 1912 issue. Also, browse through our March Cover Gallery.

Field & Stream Online Editors

They say one takes an awful chance when he quotes an Editor, but here goes. Said he: "The hardest thing to do is to get people to write about the things they think everybody else should know as a matter of course." If, therefore, I manage to get a few of the a, b, c's of snowshoeing into this story, it should mean that the Editor has accomplished something and I hope that he may feel that I have helped him to do it.

To begin with, a snowshoe of 14 x 44 inches has about the least area which will carry the average man on ordinary snow. For a heavier man or for loose dry snow, or for both, a longer shoe will be needed. Fifteen inches in width is about the limit of comfort. I have used only the tailed shoes and should consider them the best for all around service, but it is said that the tailless "Bear Paw" is easier to handle in brush. Some one has said that the White Man has never equaled the original user--the Indian--in the making of canoes and snowshoes, but this as it may, there are plenty of the latter on the market which will meet the needs of anyone who is likely to read this article. Of course you should buy the best shoes you can get. Even the best will loosen a bit when very wet, and the cheap ones sag into veritable clothes-baskets and drag the life out of the shoe-er. Never let the shoes get near anything that will dry them out too fast or too hard. Intense dry heat will spoil even a web that has never been wet, and a wet shoe must be dried with great care or it will shrink so that the next wetting will loosen it beyond redemption.

As to footwear, few of us can get moccasins which will turn anything but dry snow--I speak advisedly on this subject. What we all can get, however, is top and rubber foot. This makes a very good substitute for the moccasin and in lieu of the "Hunting Shoe" one may wear arctics over many pairs of socks. Personally, I like cotton socks next to my feet with one or more pairs of woolen ones over them. A word here about the "Hunting Shoe:" It is usually an ill-shaped thing and has somewhere inside, a lurking roughness with which to chafe the foot, or a vacant space into which the socks may crawl and make trouble. I like, over my socks, a pair of snug fitting buckskin moccasins which serve to take the chafing and to keep the socks where they belong. Footwear is a matter of lightness, softness, warmth and--if possible--dryness. It offers a field for individual preference and ingenuity.

A like field may be found in the fastening which hods the snowshoe to the foot. It consists of a band over the toes, just below the instep, and another around the ankle or back of the heel. These bands pass around the heavy thong at the rear of the large opening through the shoe, and through spaces left in the web for this purpose. The object of the harness is to allow the heel of the foot to rise and fall freely and the toe to play up and down through the large opening, while the ball of the foot is held stationary as regards the heavy thong on which it rests. The toe should, of course, miss the cross-bar. A tie may be made with one long thong but I prefer to have a toe and a heel strap, independently adjustable. What with thongs, straps and webbing, buckles and knots, the different sorts of harness are legion. The ideal sort--should it ultimately be evolved--will combine simplicity, durability, perfect adjustment, ease of repairs in the field, the cardinal virtue of unstretchableness, and it will not chafe the foot nor impede the circulation. The best I ever had I made from the heaviest part of hide of belt lace leather. The strips were cut two inches wide, thoroughly soaked and then hung for several days with a hundred pound weight on each. They were sewed where necessary with waxed twine, (rivets do not hold well in wet rawhide) and fitted with light buckles. This harness carried me with little trouble and few repairs over many miles of the roughest sort of going in the mountains--on wet snow and dry and in all sorts of temperatures. Next time, maybe something entirely different will do as well--and maybe it won't.

Let us now assume a novice with proper snowshoes properly tied on and ready to go to it. His theoretical difficulties may, I should say, be covered by two considerations.

First--he must spraddle enough to keep the inside edge of the shoe in motion clear of the other ankle and to keep the shoes, when both are at rest, one from overlapping the other.

Second--snowshoes are so balanced as to lift at the front when the foot is raised, and the tails either drag or rest on the snow, or hang downward when raised clear.

The beginner's troubles come from stepping on himself and from the automatic burying of the tail of the shoe when he tries to step backwards. It is very restful sometimes to stand with one shoe on top of the other and let your legs renew their acquaintance for a little while--but sure to start off with the top foot. Obstructions on top of the snow may usually be avoided, but the ends of sticks and stubs just under the surface sometimes run through the web and force one to back up. If one wants experience, this is a good time to get the tail of the shoe firmly buried before the web is freed. When backing, it is easy (after you learn how) to flip the tail of the shoe clear of the snow and straight back or sideways, but don't swing the weight of the body with the shoe till you know where and how it is going to land.

The first day I ever had snowshoes on, I walked fifteen miles, mostly through thick going, and climbing over the top of a 3,000 foot mountain. In telling this, I wish to emphasize my belief that anyone in as good condition as I was in at that time could do the same, as far as the handling of the shoes is concerned. Of course, things happened and I may add that I slept well that night. At first I had no trouble with the shoes--perhaps long past experience with skis helped some. Going through a big burn, full of brush and logs, Anton asked me:

"How you making it?"

"Say,--I was born on these things!" I replied. You see, I knew what was coming to me sooner or later and I thought that a remark of that sort might hurry it up and get it over with. As I spoke, I jumped over a log. It was not the first log I had jumped that morning--not by a long shot--but that reply to Anton sure did the trick. The tail of one shoe struck the log, flipped the point into the snow as I landed, and Anton swears he had to dig for part of me to get hold of before he started to haul me out. Later, Anton fell a victim to the stick-through-the-web-back-up-and-bury-the-tail combination, and after I had assured myself that he was absolutely helpless and could not possibly get out alone, I paid my score and rescued him.

One of the illustrations show a "Trail" we followed through a pine thicket. It was crossed by many logs which one might walk under in summer. Over these and the low branches the snow was heaped and arched. Once I fell clear through into a sort of cave and had much trouble, not only in freeing myself from the mess I landed in, but in getting back to the surface after I was free. Once we both got in bad at the same time and out of reach of each other and for a time it looked as if we were going to stay right there indefinitely. From the foregoing it may be gathered that one should use discretion when traveling alone in a country of down-timber and scrub. Rocks are even worse. The high spots close to the surface are slippery and there are no soft places to land on if the snow slides clear as one falls.

One may climb any slope on which the shoes will stick and it is surprising how steep the slope may be. Do not thrust the foot through the shoe into the snow to prevent slipping. Much more resistance may be had by slapping the shoe down sharply so as to embed it evenly and then, if possible, do not raise the heel of that foot till the other shoe is planted ahead. In other words, walk flat-footed. This keeps all the web pressed into the snow and prevents any little movement which would start slipping. Walking flat-footed up a steep slope may smack of contortion but it will get you up the slope. Take it from me that it is easier to get over the top of almost anything, on snowshoes, than to go around it on a steep side-hill. If you doubt this, your uphill leg will convince you about the first time you tackle a long side-hill stretch. The tails of the shoes have a tendency to drift downhill and must be continually swung into line--especially the uphill shoe to keep it clear of the downhill member. Because of the necessary "spraddle" the feet are at a greater difference of elevation than would be the case on the same slope without the snowshoes, and this prevents the uphill leg from straightening. As this leg gradually plays out and pesters you relentlessly to bend it less and straighten it more, you do not put enough weight on the other foot to make the shoe catch in the snow, or maybe you step on one of the many smooth things that lurk just beneath the surface--in any case you slip, the lower shoe scoots from under you and you catch your full weight on that bedeviled uphill leg. For absolutely perfect effect of the unequal distribution of labor, regard your legs after a few miles of this sort of travel.

Downhill is easy--oh, so easy, and sometimes you may even coast--but not on a crust if you expect to need the webs after you reach the bottom. The shoes plow along more or less below the surface and have a habit of stopping occasionally without apparent cause. For this reason it may be preferred to sit on the tails of the shoes when coasting but of course you may stand if you like. I landed in, but in getting back to the surface after I was free. Once we both got in bad at the same time and out of reach of each other and for a time it looked as if we were going to stay right there indefinitely. From the foregoing it may be gathered that one should use discretion when traveling alone in a country of down-timber and scrub. Rocks are even worse. The high spots close to the surface are slippery and there are no soft places to land on if the snow slides clear as one falls.

One may climb any slope on which the shoes will stick and it is surprising how steep the slope may be. Do not thrust the foot through the shoe into the snow to prevent slipping. Much more resistance may be had by slapping the shoe down sharply so as to embed it evenly and then, if possible, do not raise the heel of that foot till the other shoe is planted ahead. In other words, walk flat-footed. This keeps all the web pressed into the snow and prevents any little movement which would start slipping. Walking flat-footed up a steep slope may smack of contortion but it will get you up the slope. Take it from me that it is easier to get over the top of almost anything, on snowshoes, than to go around it on a steep side-hill. If you doubt this, your uphill leg will convince you about the first time you tackle a long side-hill stretch. The tails of the shoes have a tendency to drift downhill and must be continually swung into line--especially the uphill shoe to keep it clear of the downhill member. Because of the necessary "spraddle" the feet are at a greater difference of elevation than would be the case on the same slope without the snowshoes, and this prevents the uphill leg from straightening. As this leg gradually plays out and pesters you relentlessly to bend it less and straighten it more, you do not put enough weight on the other foot to make the shoe catch in the snow, or maybe you step on one of the many smooth things that lurk just beneath the surface--in any case you slip, the lower shoe scoots from under you and you catch your full weight on that bedeviled uphill leg. For absolutely perfect effect of the unequal distribution of labor, regard your legs after a few miles of this sort of travel.

Downhill is easy--oh, so easy, and sometimes you may even coast--but not on a crust if you expect to need the webs after you reach the bottom. The shoes plow along more or less below the surface and have a habit of stopping occasionally without apparent cause. For this reason it may be preferred to sit on the tails of the shoes when coasting but of course you may stand if you like.