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Snowshoes have been used for as many as 6, 000 years. Noted as one of the earliest forms of transportation, snowshoes were originally very large and were designed only to enrich one's survival. Crafted out of steamed, bent wood, animal hides, and leather, the original snowshoe traction came from the grip of the lacing pattern in the snow.

Today, showshoe styles are quite different. Nylon and Neoprene have become common substitutes for rawhide lacing, and frames are made from a variety of lightweight plastics and metals, which allow for better performance and maneuverability. Snowshoes today are used by hunters and trappers, workers and sport racers.

When choosing between the many varieties, styles and colors of snowshoes on the market today, remember that all of them will work to carry you through the snow. The main difference between shoes is that, some are made to handle certain conditions better than others. Basic snowshoes are sold in three different models: Recreational shoes, Mountaineering shoes and Aerobic and Fitness snowshoes. Obviously, you wouldn't purchase a pair of expensive, heavy duty mountain shoes for short, weekend trips. Best advice: Beginners should do a little research and choose the shoe that will best fit the type of activity with which it will be used. Many outdoor sporting centers allow for snowshoe rentals, which is an inexpensive way to find out which shoe fits your lifestyle and ability best.

FITNESS SNOWSHOES are used primarily for running, racing and exercise training. They're lightweight, symmetrical, have flexible bindings and a lightweight traction that works well on packed snow. You won't get anywhere when trying to run off the beaten track, but on packed or conditioned snow, you'll get a great workout from this style shoe.

RECREATIONAL SHOES are molded for moderately steep terrains, groomed or broken trails and mild exercise. This symmetrically shaped frame is lightweight and offers serrated traction. This medium-duty shoe can handle some offroad treks and climbs, and is perfect for weekend snowshoers and those just starting out.

MOUNTAINEERING SNOWSHOES are designed for long distance walking and steep climbing. They're perfect for off-trail, deep, fresh snow walking. Symmetrical and very rigid, this is a heavy duty show with lots of traction. You won't want to take this out for quick jaunts. With a bulky, heavy look and feel, this is a tough shoe that's made for difficult conditions.

Most experts will tell you that when buying your first pair of snowshoes, it's best to pick the smallest pair available. The general rule of thumb is to select shoes that allow for up to one pound of body weight per square inch of surface area. In other words, if you weigh 150-pounds, then choose a pair of shoes that has about a 150-square inch surface area per shoe.

Snowshoeing is not difficult. It is however, much easier to do, than explain. Snowshoeing involves the same basic principles as walking. Place of shoe in front and to the side of the other, being careful not to allow your shoes to overlap. Once you get the hang of walking with a slightly larger stride than usual, you can attempt to pick up the pace and bring yourself to a slow jog.

Climbing techniques are similar to those used in cross country skiing. For small inclines, step hard to get the best bite on the snow. You'll feel tension in your feet when you have a relatively firm grip. Short, steep slopes should be approached by angling the toes outward and the heels inward. Large slopes can be tackled by "tacking." This is done by walking back and forth, from side to side, while traveling uphill.

An advanced technique when snowshoeing allows you to make a staircase out of packed and drifted snow by "kicking." While climbing, kick your shoes into the snow and use the space creating to step up and kick again.

When you find yourself staring at a roadblock in your path, learn to "step over." Rocks, logs and manmade materials often invade paths. To cross such items, sidestep and then center your weight on the foot that has moved forward before moving the other.

BEGINNERS may find it helpful to use a single cross country ski pole for balance and climbing purposes.

LEANING the snowshoe toward slopes when taking a step will create a more level platform and prevent you from sliding backward downhill.

EXTRA weight from a backpack can help to keep your balanced and grounded.

WHILE CLIMBING hills and slopes, keeping your weight on the inside edge of the snowshoe will provide you with a more stable grip.