Snowshoe Basics - Free Rotation or Natural Hinge?


So you’re thinking about buying some snowshoes and you don’t know what to look for……..let’s talk!

Jake Thamm, President and Co-founder of Crescent Moon Snowshoes talks about what to consider when buying a pair of shoes. He goes on saying, "Crescent Moon's main focus is the binding – we believe this is the most important part of any snowshoe, regardless of all other considerations, but we’ve already made the case,  so we won’t go there for this discussion."


The rest of this article comes straight off of their blog. I hope you enjoy reading the difference between free rotation and natural or fixed rotation snowshoes. We like to thank them for their information.

Instead, we’re going to talk about the difference between a “free rotation” snowshoe vs. a fixed rotation snowshoe, also referred to as a “live hinge”, or in the case of Crescent Moon, the “natural hinge” system.  In order for a snowshoe to work, your heel needs to come up, or ‘free heel’ with each step…….if your heel isn’t free to rotate as you push off with your toes, you would have to slide the snowshoe along the snow ……….in an awkward, uncomfortable sort of way. Skis slide, but snowshoes, not so much!

Let’s start with a quick anatomy(’s_Anatomy) of a snowshoe, you already know about the binding (most important), and then there is the decking – that’s the surface or footprint of the snowshoe, and then the traction, that’s what’s on the bottom of the snowshoe which are also called crampons, or claws, or “teeth”. But right beneath your foot, under the binding area, holding those teeth in place is a hinge which either pivots on a rod (free rotation) or is a thick band of super strong inelastic material, like a belt,  (see that black strap in the photo above?) which flexes with each step but doesn’t pivot (some refer to this as “fixed rotation”).  Actually, I think the term ‘fixed rotation’ is an oxymoron, because it implies its both fixed and rotating, which of course, is a contradiction in terms and not very descriptive.   But I digress………anyway, the difference between the two different hinge systems is ……….with each step you take using a “free rotation” snowshoe, the tail, or rear of the snowshoe stays on the snow.  In other words, it drags along behind you and will never throw any snow on your backside, which if that’s important to you, should be your choice of snowshoe.  There is, however, a downside to the free rotation design…….its a drag.

On the other hand (or foot, as the case may be), a live hinge, or in the case of Crescent Moon, a ‘natural hinge’ system, will allow your heel to come up, but it limits the rotation of the back of the shoe so it too, is picked up off the ground.   In fact, as you walk, or even run, the tail of the shoe actually follows your heel very closely and makes your snowshoe feel as if it was a “natural” extension of your foot.  It does not drag along the ground.

Compare this to a free rotation shoe where with each step, the tail of the shoe drags along the ground and actually limits your mobility and maneuverability because of it.  Now, the choice is as follows;  a free rotation shoe will never throw snow on the back of your legs, but you’re sacrificing maneuverability for a little snow throw;  a natural hinge system can throw snow on the back of your legs, but you won’t  have any limitations to what you can do on these kinds of snowshoes – because a natural hinge snowshoe will do whatever your foot normally does – you can step up and over any obstacle you encounter, like tree-fall, or a fence, or a rock, or an abandoned snowmobile (just kidding) as opposed to a free rotation shoe which will literally hang down beneath your foot as you lift it to try and navigate around any of those obstacles mentioned.

So what’s better for you, a shoe that limits your maneuverability but never casts snow on you (ironically called a “free” rotation hinge system), OR, a natural hinge system which allows you to be free (see the irony?) to do whatever you want – including leaping tall buildings ( or speeding past a parked locomotive?   I guess you know where we stand – or snowshoe.   Our recommendation? Go natural, its more fun!