Using Snowshoes and Ice Cleats on the Homestead

My husband and I utilize both snowshoes and ice cleats.  When strapping either on to do chores, I thank our ancestors.   Many people go snowshoeing for fun and exercise.  Other people—such as hunters and trappers—consider them a tool.   We see them as a bit of both.

Depending on weather conditions (and your energy level), snowshoeing can feel just like floating on snow (if you can pick up a good pace).  If you are wearing a lightweight design, a wide-open field can be easy to cross.  However, it is unlikely that the first people to snowshoe used the word “easy” in regard to wearing or using them.

Over 6,000 years ago, our ancestors from Asia strapped slabs of wood on their feet, in order to hunt and move over deep snow.  Modifications to the original crude design happened over time, as the human race migrated to other continents.  Snowshoes evolved from three main patterns (bear paw, beavertail, and long Yukon style) into the current man-made-material and lighter, ash-wood models.

Snowshoes were quite heavy up until the mid-1900s.  There was no floating.  Just keeping a person from sinking way down into the snow was considered a success.  Earlier designs also came with traction issues on inclines and simply keeping them on one’s feet was a challenge due to binding issues. Humans continue to upgrade and modify snowshoes in an attempt to eliminate any and all barriers to walking on snow-covered terrain.

Using Snowshoes and Ice Cleats on the Homestead

Ice cleats appear to have a longer history.  Findings go as far back as the Viking Era (800 AD-1100 AD).  The oldest cleats can be viewed at a museum in Sweden.  Over time ice cleats have been modified and used by myriad people including the military, hunters, and your average person.  They are a means to stay upright on icy surfaces.  They are not crampons, which are worn by ice climbers, and are much more aggressive in design and performance.

Although I grew up in New England, winter became my enemy when I fell twice in one season.  I broke my right wrist and right ulna.  Had surgery.  Wore a titanium external fixture for months (basically a metal cage screwed into my arm) and had months and months of post-op physical therapy.  Despite all of that, my wrist never healed properly.  I vowed to never fall on the ice again… if I could help it.

Since then, a fear of falling made me less adventurous during winter.  Until we created our small farm; then, I was forced to go outside regardless of the weather.  Getting to and from house to barn or house to coops—lugging warm water and feed—was necessary.  I had near misses… lots of heart-thumping slips.  My guy took more falls than I cared to witness.  We had to find a way to do our chores and not end up in the hospital.

Four winters ago, my guy bought me snowshoes for Christmas.  They were not huge wooden boats like I imagined; they were small and lightweight.  Pretty, too.  I wasn’t convinced they would work, but I allowed him to strap them out my feet and tug me across our property.

Using Snowshoes and Ice Cleats on the Homestead

After a lap around our entire property—me flailing a bit at first—I was hooked.

As for cleats/ spikes, I was also introduced to them four years ago.  Again, thanks to my guy.  I loved them immediately!  There was no learning curve.  I had to try a couple of different pairs of boots before finding a pair that they fit best on, but other than that, they were amazing from day one.

With both devices, an entirely new world opened up to me.  Winter was no longer my enemy.

Now, when the first arctic temperatures are in the forecast, our snowshoes and spikes are hung right by the woodstove.  We both have two pairs of each.  We are ready.

Snowshoe Basics

Using Snowshoes and Ice Cleats on the HomesteadTypes of Snowshoes: Wooden, Composite, Aluminum

Cost: $30-$300

Snowshoe Parts: Learn what each part is and what it does.  There are toe and heel crampons underneath for traction, side rails for stability.  Bindings keep them on your feet.  Read and learn as much as possible about the straps and bindings so you can attach and adjust them easily.  Some snowshoes have lifts and breaking bars.

Fit: Snowshoe specs are important. Read them.  If you get a pair without them, research them or contact the manufacturer.  Your weight is crucial to determining what size you need.  Try to weigh the coat, snow pants, and other gear you normally wear-along with any backpacks you might wear.

What type of terrain will you normally be traveling over?  Will it be deep powder or hard-packed and icy?  Larger snowshoes are best for deep snow, while smaller snowshoes are needed for hard-packed/icy terrain

We usually don larger snowshoes right after a snowstorm when it is deep and fluffy, but, within days, we switch to smaller snowshoes as dogs, cows, goats, tractors, 4-wheelers, and foot traffic pack down the snow.

Extras: If we are breaking trail in deep snow with larger snowshoes, we use hiking poles to keep our balance.  Once we have a trail and switch to smaller snowshoes, hiking poles are less necessary.  Also, at that point, we are usually carrying buckets or animal supplies and need hands for that.

Waterproof snow pants or gaiters (waterproof wraps for your lower legs) are extremely handy to keep legs dry from snow build-up.

Using Snowshoes and Ice Cleats on the Homestead

Ice Cleats/Spikes


Types of Ice Traction Devices: They are called many things: ice cleats, grips, spikes, traction aids, ice and snow grips…but they are basically all the same thing- a device to help one walk on snow and/or ice.

Cost: $8- $80 (On average under $25)

Using Snowshoes and Ice Cleats on the HomesteadIce Traction Parts: They are basically metal chains and spikes, or plastic/manmade material nubs attached to stretchy straps or ratchet buckles that fit onto boots/shoes.

Fit: Buy according to the size of the shoe or boot you will be normally attaching them to.   Decide what type of terrain you will be traveling on: sidewalks/ city environment, country environment /dirt paths, etc.

Read specs on what terrain, what temperature, what shoe size each ice traction device is intended.

Someone walking on city streets with a lot of foot traffic will have different needs than someone walking on hard-packed ice with little foot traffic.  One person may need a less intense pair to slip over sneakers, while another person may need a more aggressive pair to attach to boots.

I have two pairs, one with short spikes, one with longer.  I choose what pair to wear depending on the conditions outside.

I’m still not a huge fan of winter, but I am now at least smarter when it comes to caring for our critters in winter.  I no longer hate winter in general.  I have made friends with this important season.  Despite that accomplishment, I doubt ice will truly ever be my best friend.  I am aware of what one fall can do to a body.  I still vow to never fall again if I can help it.

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Top-rated Ice Cleats

Best High-end: Yaktrax Summit Heavy Duty Traction Cleats

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  1. Sorry to disagrree about the history of snowshoes, my people, the Cree in Canada were the creators of snowshoes. Get your history right. Thanks to First Nations for snowshoes which we call ‘asamak’…air walkers.

  2. tânisi-
    That means hello in Cree, no? One must greet other beings with respect, no? One must show civility and common courtesy to others, no?
    I am quite familiar with the basic courtesies of Native Americans. Along with other cultures. One does not want to make a faux pas when speaking to others. Good manner for all is well known in ‘your’ people.. Mayhap you have forgotten basic etiquette of Native Americans. Here is an easy to understand link you may find helpful:

    As far as snowshoe origins -you can disagree all you want-you are not disagreeing with me however-you can disagree with the entire historical/ scientific/ archeological community. 🙂 That is where I get my research. LOTS of research. Which I do for every article or book I write.

    If you disagree with the actual timeline of migration and the tools our ancestors brought from Asia (including snowshoes) during their migration and have evidence of another chain of events PLEASE contact the scientific/ archeological/ historical community.

    As far as what I wrote in this article-The ONE sentence that you chose to fixate on:
    “Over 6,000 years ago, our ancestors from Asia strapped slabs of wood on their feet, in order to hunt and move over deep snow. Modifications to the original crude design happened over time, as the human race migrated to other continents.”
    That is data retrieved from a slew of research.

    Cree are part of the human race. They are part of the migration from Asia to North America. They did perfect the original crude wood/ leather designs::
    …”From its primitive beginnings in Central Asia this early form of snowshoe was brought to North America over a strip of land now covered by the Bering Straight, and became an indispensable item of footwear for tackling the harsh Canadian winter. It’s a proven fact that the North American Indians perfected the traditional snowshoe worn today. ..”

    However, the evidence of OLDEST snowshoe use/ invention (which is all I wanted to put in my article) in all the historical research sources I used (including Encyclopedia Britannica) -point to Asia.- wherein, peoples strapped leather and wood to their feet to traverse snow. The article link below from GVSNOWSHOES.COM applauds the First Nations snowshoes, and also cites Asia as original origins. Resources cite that migration brought snowshoes to North America. Here is a snippet:
    ..”Three elements of proof support the hypothesis of a passage from Asia to America for the snowshoe. The first is that America was populated by immigration. At the point where ethnological research is, we believe there might have been several waves of immigration between 30,000 and 5,000 B.C., which is at the very end of the last glaciation, or immediately after the latter. So, even if these people did not bring documents or objects reflecting their way of life, they carried with them their culture: their customs, their language and their thoughts. One of these migratory waves was at the origin of the North American civilization centred exclusively on hunting, fishing, gathering and which, as a whole, had not gone beyond the Stone Age….” (GVSNOWSHOES.COM)

    Whereas peoples of Scandanavia and Europe chose to perfect another winter mode of travelling: the ski, North American peoples (including the Cree but not exclusively Cree) chose to perfect the snowshoe.

    Primitive snowshoes have been found in many areas of the planet:: Yugoslavia, Checkoslavia, Siberia,Alaska, Japan, Sweden…. The oldest can be seen in Sweden.

    I am using the current data on history of snowshoes. I am not debating or disputing any information gathered from reputable sources. Again, if you do not agree with the scientific/ historical/ archeological community—–contact them.
    Kitiwam asimina kawapamitan (Good-bye)

    If you have information other than Asia origins-please contact the sources below:
    The Snowshoe Book – Osgood and Hurley
    Alaska edu -
    Native Americas migration from Asia-

  3. My wife and I crafted Ojibwe style snowshoes back in the early 90s…we still use them. Ash frame with a “tail” at both ends. Great for “ski shoeing”, terrible in tight brush…also terrible in deep snow if you fall without walking poles…good luck getting up. We use Yaktrax around our homestead, especially in spring, thaw freeze cycles. I’ve lived on this homestead since we built it in 1984. Our cottage is easier that the earth shelter, because it’s built on the flat and is smaller. We plan on retiring to it soon. I’m 71 and the feral wife is 65…just waiting for a couple of years yet. It’s on the south 40 of our land, so we won’t be moving far, but it will allow us to travel in winter in our teardrop trailer…we believe in living small.

    1. Sounds like you both have been LIVING! I am sure you know how lucky you both are. I always wished I met my husband sooner-to set up a homestead and live life together even longer.
      I love the look of the Ojibwe style snowshoes (those and the Yukon wooden style are my favorites)-would love to see a pic of yours! My email is if you feel inclined to send one so I can have a peek 🙂
      However, the man made lightweight seem to work best for me as we have soooo much dense brush and hilly terrain.
      Thank you for sharing your story. You give me hope that my husband and I can keep doing what we’re doing for many years to come 🙂

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