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MSR Lightning Ascent - Women's Review

This is a serious snowshoe for people that want superior traction and versatility while out in steep and variable backcountry terrain.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $300 List | $299.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Superior traction, heel lifts for steep terrain, easy to use, men's and women's versions, add-on flotation tail compatible
Cons:  Expensive, binding straps flop around, bindings take longer to get into
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Penney Garrett ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 28, 2018
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85
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 10
  • Flotation - 30% 8
  • Traction - 25% 10
  • Stride Ergonomics - 15% 9
  • Ease of Use - 10% 7
  • Binding Security - 10% 8
  • Binding Comfort - 10% 7

Our Verdict

Our Top Pick for Technical Terrain is the MSR Lightning Ascent hands down. The men's version won the Editors' Choice for its respective category, so it's pretty clear that this is a well put together snowshoe. Ideal for navigating a range of snow conditions, the Lightning Ascent especially excels at traversing and climbing steep icy slopes. The full rotation bindings allow for a complete range of motion. Aggressive crampons, traction rails, and heel lifts make this pair of snowshoes far and away the best choice for serious terrain and steep snow. The women's version is available in two frame sizes that both can accommodate 5" add-on flotation tails to increase your weight load by 60 pounds, further diversifying what you can accomplish with these impressive shoes.

The Lightning was just eeked out overall by our Editor's Choice, the Tubbs Mountaineer. This is due to slightly better floatation and a nicer binding system — though the bindings on the Lightning can accommodate a wider range of boot sizes. If you want to stay technical but chop the price more than in half, head on over to read about the MSR Evo, our Best Buy for Versatility.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $299.95 at Amazon$270 List$199.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$149.93 at REI$190 List
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Pros Superior traction, heel lifts for steep terrain, easy to use, men's and women's versions, add-on flotation tail compatibleExcellent flotation, great traction, easy to use bindings, comfortable, pleasant to walk in no matter the terrainGood traction and flotation, excellent binding system, heel lift, affordableGreat traction, Boa binding system, comfortable binding, easy walking, quietExcellent traction, comfortable bindings, fantastic stride ergonomics
Cons Expensive, binding straps flop around, bindings take longer to get intoOn the heavy side, don't pack down as flat as other models, priceyA bit heavy, tail flips up a lot of snow, toe shape feels a little wideBoa system is more finicky and less repairable than a strap system, on the heavier sideBinding system potentially isn't secure, doesn't float well unless you're very light
Bottom Line This is a serious snowshoe for people that want superior traction and versatility while out in steep and variable backcountry terrain.This well-rounded snowshoe is a pleasure to use and has all the features needed for a day out in some serious snow.This is a well-rounded and solidly performing snowshoe fit for all kinds of terrain and objectives.This is a well-performing snowshoe with great traction suitable for many different kinds of terrain and snow.This is a comfortable snowshoe with fantastic traction and great stride ergonomics for women.
Rating Categories Lightning Ascent Tubbs Mountaineer - Women's Atlas Elektra Montane Louis Blizzard II Tubbs Flex RDG - Women's
Flotation (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
6
Traction (25%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
Stride Ergonomics (15%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
Ease Of Use (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
Binding Security (10%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
7
Binding Comfort (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Specs Lightning Ascent Tubbs Mountaineer... Atlas Elektra... Louis Blizzard II Tubbs Flex RDG -...
Uses Mountain and technical terrain Mountain terrain Mountain and technical terrain Day hiking, variable rolling terrain Day hiking, mountain terrain
Optimum weight loads (per size) 22": 180 lbs, 25":120-210 lbs 21": 80-150 lbs, 25": 120-200 lbs, 30": 170-250lbs 23": 80-160 lbs, 27": 120-200+ lbs 22": 80-160 lbs, 25": 100-200 lbs 80-150 lbs
Weight (per pair) 22": 3.56 lbs, 25": 3.75 lbs 21": 4.3 lbs, 25": 4.8 lbs, 30": 4.9 lbs 23": 4.26 lbs, 27": 4.36 lbs 22": 4.2 lbs, 25": 4.4 lbs 3.5 lbs
Binding mount Full Full Fixed Full Full
Binding system PosiLock AT bindings ActivFit binding Wrapp Swift binding Boa binding CustomWrap binding featuring the Boa Closure System
Crampon Powder-coated steel Torsion2 crampons Anaconda toe & Python heel crampons All-trac toe crampon Traxion HCS front crampon & V-rail crampon Traction rails and carbon steel toe crampon
Frame material 7000-series aluminum Aluminum Aluminum V-frame 6061-T6 Aluminum ErgoStream Plastic frame and decking with steel traction rails
Deck material Urethane-impregnated nylon SoftTec decking Nytex decking EDGE molded polymer Plastic advanced Torsion Deck
Surface area (per size) 160 in² for 25" 136 in² for 21", 178 in² for 25", and 234 in² for 30" 145 in² for 23" and 176 in² for 27" 189 in² 151 in²
Dimensions 7.25 x 22"/25" 8 x 21"/25"/30" 8.5 x 23"/27" 8 x 22"/25" 8 x 22"
Flotation tails sold separately? Yes No No No No
Load with tails (per size) Up to 240 lbs for 22", 270 lbs for 25" N/A N/A N/A N/A
Men's and Women's versions? Yes Yes No, women's specific Yes Yes
Sizes Available 22" and 25" 21", 25", 30" 23" and 27" 22" and 25" 22"
Size Tested 22" and 25" 25" 27" 25" 22"

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Lightning Ascent is for the adventurer yearning to get deep into the backcountry and high on icy summits. The combination of burly bindings, aggressive traction, and heel lifts for steep terrain make for an impressive all-around snowshoe that was an obvious choice for an award. This snowshoe was our previous Editors' Choice and while it has now been edged out by the Tubbs Mountaineer with its slightly better flotation and fantastic bindings, the Lightning remains the best choice for serious technical terrain.

Curious about the Men's Version?
Check out the men's MSR Lightning Ascent review as well. These offer all the same amazing features but with a slightly wider frame and the ability to accommodate a bit larger boot. Regardless of your gender, if you prefer a larger snowshoe, check these out. The differences between the two are minimal, and either can work for anyone as long as you're not super small or very large.

Performance Comparison


The Lightning Ascent is the best shoe for taking you into remote places and through technical terrain.
The Lightning Ascent is the best shoe for taking you into remote places and through technical terrain.

Flotation


Flotation is the main reason for wearing snowshoes and is determined by how well you can stay up near the surface of the snow. The better your ability to float, the less energy you have to expend with every step. The Lightning Ascent performs very well in this category, but the Tubbs Mountaineer is a bit better.


The women's Lightning has a narrow frame design, which aids in easy maneuverability but also decreases the surface area a bit. That, in turn, affected its flotation marginally. It's nothing you will be disappointed with while out in deep snow drifts, but we did notice it when testing models side-by-side. However, MSR offers 5" add-on flotation tails, which we tested as well. They are great if you plan to be out in bottomless snow, making these snowshoes even more versatile and ready for anything.

The Lighting floats quite well on its own and is also compatible with 5" add-on tails (sold separately) if you want to increase surface area even more for super deep snow.
The Lighting floats quite well on its own and is also compatible with 5" add-on tails (sold separately) if you want to increase surface area even more for super deep snow.

Traction


The Lightning has impressive traction on every kind of terrain. It is a clear winner here, scoring the only perfect 10 in the entire review. An aggressive toe pick meets traction rails and two rows of sharp teeth running edge to edge horizontally.


This snowshoe was our best performer in its previous iteration and easily remains on top with its new updates. MSR reworked the crampon and overall construction in the last year, making an already impressive shoe even more so. The DTX crampon is now made with a continuous piece of martensite steel to increase strength and bite, and the shoe body is beefier to help increase durability.

Despite this, it is still one of the lighter models in our review for its size, further showing why this is such a great alpine and mountaineering shoe. There is no better shoe for climbing, descending, and traversing steep snow and slick ice.

Smart design on the Lightning means highly impressive traction while keeping the overall weight surprisingly light.
Smart design on the Lightning means highly impressive traction while keeping the overall weight surprisingly light.

Stride Ergonomics


The Lightning is one of the narrowest shoes we tested and walking in them feels easy and natural. One of our smaller testers found they still needed to widen their steps a bit, but the majority of women who wore these shoes were able to walk normally and naturally.


On packed trails, the combination of full rotation bindings and very aggressive traction sometimes makes walking in these feel slightly stiff and awkward. But the moment you take off into deep snow and uncharted territory everything feels great. This makes sense because, while some shoes are meant for simply walking on easy packed trails, the Lightning is designed for technical terrain. This isn't the shoe to buy if you only want to stay in flat groomed areas — if you do that you will be missing out on what this shoe does best.

Bring on the hills and ice  the Lightning can handle it all with ease.
Bring on the hills and ice, the Lightning can handle it all with ease.

Ease of Use


We rated how easily these shoes are to use based primarily on how painless it is to fastened, adjusted, and removed them when kitted out in bulky clothing out in the wind and cold. We also considered the overall experience of simply getting around and navigating different scenarios. The Lightning Ascent is pretty straightforward with bindings that open up completely (fantastic for snowboard or ski boots) and fasten with belt-style buckles. The rubber straps keep their stretch in the cold and are easy to use, even with large gloves.


Despite the ease and straightforwardness of the Lightning's system, there are a lot of straps to contend when putting these suckers on — three across the top of each foot and another behind the heel. You have to pull the straps pretty hard to achieve the proper angle on the buckle, or they can work loose over time. It sometimes felt as though we were going to break something stretching the straps so much, but this is how the binding system is meant to work, and once you get a feel for it, it's quite intuitive.

Our main complaint with the system is that the long tails on the straps come out of their retainer clips too easily, leaving them to flop around. It doesn't compromise the security of the bindings, but it is distracting and messy looking. This design also makes it more challenging to get uniform evenness between the two feet, and it's easier to create pinch points by over-torquing.

The Lightning has lots of straps to contend with. This increases its versatility and adaptability  but also means a bit more work up front.
The Lightning has lots of straps to contend with. This increases its versatility and adaptability, but also means a bit more work up front.

Binding Security


The Posilock AT bindings on these snowshoes are robust. Three binding straps across the top of the foot and a heel strap around the back keep you securely in place. As mentioned above, the long rubber binding straps seem to enjoy boycotting their retainer clips, so be prepared for some straps flopping around. While this may seem disconcerting, it in no way affected the security of the bindings, and the extra length meant we could accommodate a very large boot.


Overall, we find the bindings on the Lightning to be very secure. Since each strap is its own independent system, you could completely break a strap while out in remote backcountry, and the rest of the straps would not be compromised in the slightest. This is not the case with most of the other models we tested and is a definite selling point.

Despite long straps flopping around at times  the bindings on this snowshoe are very secure and well-suited to being far from civilization.
Despite long straps flopping around at times, the bindings on this snowshoe are very secure and well-suited to being far from civilization.

Binding Comfort


In general, all the binding systems we tested were quite comfortable. Because we test the best and most popular models on the market, everything is above average to begin with, even our last place finishers.


The two MSR models, the Lightning Ascent and the MSR Evo, our Best Buy for Versatility, are marginally less comfortable than other models because of the strap and buckle system. As happens with belt-style buckles, it's easy to feel like you need a hole where there isn't one, and have to settle on one that is slightly too tight or slightly too loose.

While having multiple independent straps also means more security (you could break one and still be held tightly in the binding system by the remaining straps), it also means there can be areas where one strap fits better than the next, causing the hold on your foot to feel imbalanced or different from the other side. That said, if you want a system that is burly and can accommodate the widest range of boot sizes, this is the best.

The many straps on the Lightning are highly versatile but also not quite as cozy as other systems that tighten uniformly around the whole foot.
The many straps on the Lightning are highly versatile but also not quite as cozy as other systems that tighten uniformly around the whole foot.

Best Applications


These impressive snowshoes shine in backcountry terrain and are also great for a backyard tromp. But, if you plan to only stay on packed beginner trails, then the technical features of this model are overkill, and we recommend a simpler design such as our Best Buy winner, the Atlas Elektra Rendezvous. But if you're excited to explore backcountry terrain where deep snow, off-trail travel, and steep inclines are likely, then the Lightning Ascent is the snowshoe to choose.

If you will be wandering off into lonely variable terrain on the regular  the Lightning Ascent is a very smart choice.
If you will be wandering off into lonely variable terrain on the regular, the Lightning Ascent is a very smart choice.

Value


These are the most expensive snowshoes we tested. If you choose to purchase the 5" add-on flotation tails, that will set you back another $60. Needless to say, this model is an investment. However, if accessing the backcountry regularly and safely is a priority for you, then this is a small price to pay for years of versatile, lightweight, and technical features. You could spend less on a more introductory shoe, but if you later outgrow its capabilities, you'll be stuck looking for a new pair and will have spent just as much if not more overall. The Lightning Ascent is one purchase that will float you through all of it, from packed trails to advanced mountaineering, for years to come.

Conclusion


The Lightning Ascent performed strongly and consistently in all the categories that matter most for a technical snowshoe, securing it's clear position on the Top Pick throne. It's the best choice for navigating variable backcountry terrain and steep icy slopes. Superb traction and stability in mixed conditions from ice to deep powder, a flexible and user-friendly binding system, the perfect width to allow women to walk normally and comfortably, and features like heel lifts for steep climbing are just some of the reasons we love this snowshoe and think you will too.

No terrain was too advanced for the impressive Lightning.
No terrain was too advanced for the impressive Lightning.


Penney Garrett