Snowshoeing's Heritage - Shapes and Styles

October 26, 2009 2 min read 6 Comments

Snowshoeing made snow travel easier for many different people: hunters, trappers, farmers, timber spotters, surveyors, prospectors, explorers, and soldiers all used snowshoes.

Most people made their own snowshoes until about one hundred years ago. We agree that there are four main styles of snowshoes; plus the infinite number of handmade trappers, ceremonials, emergencies and just plain “uniques”.  Native Indians such as the Montagnais, the Naskapi, Athabascans, Algonquin, Attikamek, Cree, Labrador, Iroquis and the Aagimug mastered snowshoe making. 

While snowshoe shapes tend to reflect primitive regional diversity their function for maneuverability in the variety of local terrain remains thee source for differing designs.

In the beginning snowshoe names were created by referencing their shape to native animals.  The Bearpaw, Swallowtail and Beavertail are classic examples.  The Bearpaw's frame forms a large wide shape seen in paw prints of forest dwelling bears.  The Swallowtail's shape is characteristic of many birds but I think the silhouette of a cliff swallow embodies this shape best.  Last but definitely not least the frame of a Beavertail snowshoe takes the distinctive shape of a Beavers tail.

Bear Paw (also called Modified Bearpaw, Green Mountain or Appalachian)

  • oval for maneuverability in thick woods and mountainous terrain with firmer snow – no tail
  • disadvantages: slower than other styles and not great for deep powder snow
  • Antique Native American Indian Bear Paw Snowshoes.
    Antique Native American Indian Bear Paw Snowshoes.

Huron (also called Michigan, Maine, Beavertail or Algonquin) – thee most popular design

  • typical tear-drop shape with an upturned toe and a narrow tail
  • usually wider and shorter than the Alaskan
  • versatile for use on trails or open woods and rolling terrain
  • disadvantages: clumsy in thick woods or very deep powder snow
  • tails acts to provide forward 'kick' to propel the next step while lessening fatigue
  • Antique Native American Indian Huron Style Snowshoes.
    Antique Native American Indian Huron Style Snowshoes.

Alaskan (also called Trail, Yukon, Cross Country or Pickerel)

  • long and narrow, usually 4-5 feet long with an upturned toe, and narrow tail
  • primarily for use in open areas with deep powder snow
  • great on steep mountain descents
  • very fast, and tracks well over long distances
  • disadvantages: poor maneuverability in close quarters
  • thee snowshoe of choice for 10th mountain division troops in WWII
  • tails acts to provide forward 'kick' to propel the next step while lessening fatigue
  • Antique Alaskan Trail Style Snowshoes.
    Antique Alaskan Trail Style Snowshoes.

Ojibwa (also called Aagimug, Chippewa, Cree or Ski-Snowshoe)

  • designed in Canada by Native Indians to suit deep snows and wide open spaces
  • classic and easily identifiable pointed tip's with an upturned toe
  • frame consists of two separate pieces of wood joined at the tail and bow
  • pointed tips cut through snow and brush surprisingly well and suits rolling terrain with brush
  • tails acts to provide forward 'kick' to propel the next step while lessening fatigue
  • Antique Ojibwa Snowshoes.
    Antique Native American Ojibwa Style Snowshoes.

Article by © Vintage Winter

6 Responses


May 30, 2018

Hello Darrell Dufour,
I would like to know if you still have you Chestnut Canoe snowshoes? My husband collects old snowshoes for decoration and I was wondering if you could get back to me? Thanks!

Bob Reading
Bob Reading

May 29, 2017

I have a pair of ojibway style snowshoes( high ski tip) in good usuable condition. Size is 11″ × 54″. I purchased them in 1970 in Northern B.C., Canada. All the webbing (babiche) is in good condition and tight. Are these shoes worth anything? Right now they reside on my wall.

Darrell Dufour
Darrell Dufour

January 08, 2017

I have a pair of snowshoes from the chestnut canoe company in great shape. Are they worth anything?


March 02, 2015

Finally, a clear, informative, concise description of snowshoe styles WITH Pictures! YAH! and thank you. Enjoy the snow.

Lars Bilyeu
Lars Bilyeu

December 31, 2013

Very nice. Short, concise. Covering main areas without alot of detail.


December 20, 2010

there are so many different ways of makeing snowshoes .This is beauiefull love it .thank you

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