Introduction: PVC Snowshoes
These are simple snowshoes inspired by a few other designsI sawonline. They are nearly 3 feet long and should provide plenty of float in deep snow. The total cost is around $20 and several hours of your time (it takes a while to tie the decking to the frame so find a good podcast or something to listen to).
- 3/4 inch x 10 foot PVC Pipe (Qty 2, ~$2/ea)
- 3/4 inch T-Joint (Qty 4, ~$0.31/ea)
- vinyl mat for decking
- I used this mat from Menards. You'll need approximately 3 linear feet. (~$2/linear foot)
- Rope/Cord - I had some ~ 1/16 inch diamond braid nylon utility cord laying around.
- PVC Cement (4 oz can ~$2.15)
- 1/4 inch rope or other material for bindings
- Tape Measure
- Heat Gun
- Utility Knife
- Hole Punch
- Lighter - to melt ends of rope and keep from fraying
Step 1: Cut the PVC Pipe
You'll need to cut two each of the following:
- 8 inches (cross piece/binding anchor)
- 28 inches (Toe)
- 52 inches (Main body)
- You can vary the length of this piece depending on how long you want your snowshoes to end up. Using the above measurements your finished snowshoes will end up approximately 35 inches long toe to heel.
At this point, go ahead and attach a T-Joint to both ends of the short pipe.
You'll also want to measure and mark some reference points on the longer pieces to help with the bends in the next step.
On the 28 inch piece mark:
- The center
- 6 inches from each end. (This portion will be left straight)
On the 52 inch Piece mark:
- The center
- 18 inches from each end. (This portion will be left straight)
Step 2: Shaping the Shoeshoes (a.k.a Bending PVC)
Now it is time to bend the PVC pipe to create the curved toe and heel. Exactly how to bend PVC has been covered in plenty of other places - if you're unsure just do a search here on Instructables or check out YouTube. I used a cheap Chicago Electric heat gun from Harbor Freight. (Obligatory warning - heating PVC can create fumes that aren't good for you so be sure to do this in a well ventilated area and do not let it burn. Wear some gloves too if you don't want to burn your hands! Do at your own risk. I'm not responsible for what you do, etc.)
For both pieces, start out with one end of the pipe already inserted into the T-Joint (don't cement it yet). Heat the center out to the marks you made at the end of the previous step (6 inches from each end for the toe piece & 18 inches for the main piece). When the pipe is heated enough for you to bend it, just bring the other end around and slot it into the other T-Joint. It should naturally create a nice curve but if it doesn't use a pot or a bucket to help form a nice curve - try not to flatten or kink the pipe.
When you're forming the toe pieces, after you've done the curve, lift up the tip a couple of inches and hold it in place until the pipe cools enough to hold its shape. This will form the up-swept toe and help keep the front of the snowshoes from digging into the snow with each step.
When you're happy with the shape, pull the pieces apart and apply PVC Cement to the joints and then slide everything back together to make permanent connections.
Step 3: Add the Decking
When you are done forming the snowshoes they should look like this. Again, the provided measurements will give you snowshoes about 10 inches wide and 35 inches long. These should be good for adults, if you're making them for kids or just want them more maneuverable and don't need as much flotation then you could probably take several inches off the length (the 18 inch straight section in the body) and be fine.
For decking I chose to use some cheap vinyl mat from Menards. I'm not sure how well it'll hold up in extreme cold but should stay flexible enough for nicer days. The mat came in 27 inch wide rolls, so for the main part of each snowshoe I cut a 12 inch length. The 27 inch width fit perfectly for the area from the heel to the cross bar and 12 inches fits pretty nicely side to side. You can then cut out separate toe pieces from the remaining 12 x 27 inch piece. Alternatively, you could cut two 12 inch by 3 foot pieces and create the deck in one big piece which is probably how I'd do it next time. Use your hole punch to make a series of holes all around the perimeter of the decking material about 1-1 1/2 inches in and 1 inch apart. In order to be able to pull the decking as tight as you can, start out and punch just one side and secure it, then you can pull the other side tight and trim the width as necessary to allow a tight deck - chances are you'll actually need something less than the full 12 inch width you first cut. It also works well if you get the straight part done on one side and then you can fold the material over the curved section and see where to cut the arc for a smooth curve.
Now take your cordage and begin wrapping it though the hole, around the pipe and then back through the same hole a second time. After the second time through wrap the free end around the resulting loop of cord 3-4 times. Doing this will let you cinch the cord down nice and tight and it won't loosen on you while you're doing the next hole and set of wraps. It is probably easiest to work with 10-15 feet sections of cord so that you're not having to pull a whole bunch through every time; just splice however you see fit when you run out.
Note: I opted not to worry about putting in grommets at each hole, I'm hoping that my punches are in far enough and there isn't enough tension on the vinyl material for them to eventually tear though - only time will tell.
Step 4: Finishing Touches and Binding
With the decking material attached, cut out a D shaped curve in the front piece of decking so that the toe of your boot can pass though and help your foot pivot naturally and get some traction.
Finally, add some binding to hold your boots firmly to the snowshoes. For now I'm just using some rope. Sorry I don't have a great picture of that. I took an approx 8 foot piece of rope and made a Prusik Knot type wrap around the crosspiece. Rather than using a continuous look I just left the tail ends of the rope free with one tail about 2 feet long and the other longer. The longer end was then simply wrapped around the pipe a few times a boot's width away. Now you can slide your boot through the resulting loop and pull the second end and it'll tighten down over the top of your foot and secure your boot to the snowshoes. Next, take the two ends of rope and cross them over the top of your foot, around the back of your boot and then back around to the front and tie like you would your shoes. As long as you pulled everything tight your snowshoes should remain firmly attached to your feet.
OK, after taking the snowshoes out a few times the above binding is definitely inadequate. With just the rope my boots just kept sliding forward. I tried modifying the style to be more like an traditional lamp-wick binding but that had the same problem. Thus I decided that I really needed a binding that would lock the boot into place so that it could not slide forward. To do this I pulled out the leftover vinyl material from the decking and cut it into a T shape which could then be folded and laced over the toe of my boots. I then punched holes in the bottom of the new bindings and tied them around the cross piece of the snowshoe frames. This new binding worked much better since there was no way for my boot to slide forward. A word of warning though, placement of the binding is a bit finicky, on one of them I punched the holed just a little bit further forward than the other and that foot ends up having the crossbar land right behind my toes rather than around the ball of the foot and it feels funny. :(
The rope to go around the back of your boot works OK with this binding though I'm thinking that a strap or perhaps better something elastic like a bike inner-tube would hold better.
Step 5: Ideas for Improvements
While building these I spotted a few areas for possible improvements.
First I'd consider adding a second cross piece about 6 inches back from the first one. This way both the ball of your foot and the heel would be resting on pipes. Having just the ball of your foot slightly inclined and pivoting over the pipe feels funny on firmer surfaces though it might not be so noticeable with plenty of snow. Since I don't want to take this pair apart to add another crosspiece with T-Joints I may try fitting in a length of pipe with the ends notched and then melt/bend the end tabs around the existing frame.
Improve the binding - I just made a quick one to start out with. I'd suggest using some webbing instead of rope and maybe adding some buckles (though plastic ones can break in extreme cold). You could also consider shaping a binding like the one here to fit your boot. [See updated step 5]
Traction - these aren't going to be great if the snow is packed firm in places (but then you probably don't really need snowshoes then do you). The mat I used had ribs/grooves on one side so I put that down with the hope that since it's loose/flexible enough that my heel will touch the ground it'll help a little - probably wishful thinking though. You could consider trying to add some sort of crampon to the crosspiece. Alternatively, you could try putting some screws through the pipes so you have some spikes to dig in. Just be careful that you don't end up weakening the pipe too much that it cracks - definitely pre-drill holes.
[Update 1/12/2016] These are definitely for relatively flat ground/several inches of somewhat loose snow. They don't have much traction at all if you're trying to walk on an incline with packed snow.