Wooden Snowshoe Maintenance
Two decades is a long time for anything to last, especially in today’s day and age of disposables. My wooden framed Huron-style snowshoes have made tracks for many years, and have stayed in great shape. With common sense, practical care and yearly maintenance, traditionally made rawhide and wood snowshoes will last for life.
After the season is over, some basic maintenance will ensure that your snowshoes will be ready for winters to come.
An annual coating of varnish (clear) can preserve the frame and webbing. When varnish has worn off, the webbing can loosen, causing you to lose flotation. Exposed areas can also degrade to the point of requiring replacement. The bare wood patches will absorb moisture, weakening the frame and shortening the life of the snowshoes.
First, take some medium grit sandpaper to remove the old varnish. This will remove remaining bits that are peeling or flaking off. Be sure to not sand too firmly; only loose flakes should be coming off. Too hard and the frame and rawhide could weaken.
Don’t be shy when you varnish! Take care to coat the rawhide at the heel and along the master cord (near the centre of show, underneath binding attachments); these areas wear the hardest. For best results, let the varnish dry for 48 hours, then apply a second coat.
Marine spar varnish is the best type for the job; the mixture of tung oil, phenolic resin and UV inhibitors provides a glossy finish while preventing cracks in the wood. This type of varnish is available as a liquid or spray at most hardwood stores. Typically, marine spar varnish is for boats, made to protect against water and salt. UV inhibitors in the varnish also guard against possible sun damage. If marine spar varnish is not available, Varathane will do the job as well. Make sure that the finish also has UV inhibitors.
Even if you’ve purchase the “maintenance free” style of snowshoes, proper storage can go a long way towards care. However, with those with wooden shoes and rawhide or babiche lacing (lucky you!), correct storage should be at the top of your list of to dos after snowshoeing season. The best place to keep your snowshoes in the off-season is in a cool and dry location with plenty of ventilation.
Warm and damp environments are the enemy of traditional snowshoes — this rules out the dank corner of your basement or in a closed container on a garage shelf. The heat and moisture can inhibit mold and mildew growth, as well as promote warping of the wooden frames. It’s also important to keep your snowshoes off the ground; the best place is a place where rodents can’t get to. To mice and other rodents, nibbling on rawhide is a tasty treat. I’ve installed coat pegs in my back closet to hang my snowshoes on, and it’s worked great.
Other “common sense” tasks should be done during the season. After every trek, check your snowshoes for damage. Especially concerning would be abrasions or cracks in the varnish or frames. If the varnish has disintegrated off the webbing, varnish will be required. Before varnishing, snowshoes should be completely dried out, but don’t accelerate the process with too-hot heat.
Damaged areas will be best taken care of with two coats of varnish. Minor cracks can be reinforced with a cloth tape wrap, or a splint can be fashioned out of a strip of aluminum before wrapping. If the damage is too heavy, contact the manufacturer for best care practices.
By taking care of your snowshoes with basic maintenance and storage, your snowshoes might very well outlive you. Even if they don’t make it quite that long, proper care will definitely help in creating great memories year after year in the snow.