A snowshoe is footwear for walking over 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". Snowshoeing is a form of hiking.
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.
It is often said by snowshoers that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. This is true in optimal conditions, but snowshoeing properly requires some slight adjustments to walking. The method of walking is to lift the shoes slightly and slide the inner edges over each other, thus avoiding the unnatural and fatiguing "straddle-gait" that would otherwise be necessary. A snowshoer must be willing to roll his or her feet slightly as well. An exaggerated stride works best when starting out, particularly with larger or traditional shoes.
On newly fallen snow it is necessary for a snowshoer to "break" a trail. This is tiring (it may require up to 50% more energy than simply following behind) even on level terrain, and frequently in groups this work is shared among all participants.
A trail breaker can improve the quality of the ensuing route by using a technique, similar to the hiking rest step, called "stamping": pausing momentarily after each step before putting full weight on the foot. This helps smooth the snow underneath and compacts it even better for the next user.