Tending to your traditional snowshoes
Now that the snow is here it might be time to think about breaking out the snowshoes. There is certainly enough snow on the ground in most places to warrant their use. Without them, walking around in the snow can prove difficult if not exhausting.
I recently participated in a snowshoe lacing workshop at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee. During the day we learned about some interesting facts about the evolution of snowshoes over time and how to weave a set of traditional snowshoes. One topic that was brought up several times was the care and maintenance we would be required to do before using our newly laced shoes. The wood and lacing needed to be protected from the elements. To do this we were instructed to put on 4 coats of either Marine Spar varnish or Polyurethane allowing them to dry completely between each coat. After the last coat has dried we could affix the bindings.
Traditional snowshoes require some annual maintenance to ensure that they last for a long time.
Every year they get used, small chips of varnish eventually wear through on the wood and webbing. This allows moisture to get into the snowshoe, causing the webbing to get loose. Once the webbing starts to get loose, your feet start to sag in the snowshoes, reducing flotation on the snow. Eventually the webbing or even the wood could break.
To maintain traditional snowshoes, first make sure they are clean and dry. Remove the bindings to prevent them from getting covered with varnish and get access to the area under the binding. Sand off any chipped or flaking varnish with a medium grit sandpaper but use care not to damage the wood or webbing material. If you are feeling industrious you can repair or reinforce worn or broken areas of the webbing by splicing in extra lace. You can then apply a generous coat of Spar Varnish or Polyurethane to the entire snowshoe. If you have neoprene webbing it is not necessary to coat the neoprene but it is still a good idea to apply it to the wood. For rawhide or other webbing material you want to coat the whole thing, particularly where your heel lands on the snowshoe and the mastercord (typically where the bindings attach). Allow the varnish to dry for at least 48 hours. If time permits, give the shoes another coat.
Modern snowshoes don’t tend to need as much care. The aluminum frames and synthetic decking tend to be maintenance free besides a little washing periodically. Still, it would not be a bad idea to still inspect these for damage to the rivets or stitching of the decking material and binding. Repairing any damage will be a lot easier at home than it would be on the trail. If your bindings are squeaky it may also be a good idea to apply a little lubricant to quiet them down.
Enjoy the snow!