For top-notch performance and supreme comfort in a snowshoe, our current favorite is the Mountaineer. Everything about this snowshoe feels friendly and smooth whether out on groomed beginner trails or advanced icy hills.
The Mountaineer aced every one of our testing metrics with ease.
The Mountaineer is the best floating snowshoe in our review. The generous surface area makes staying atop deep snow drifts easy and comfortable. The Mountaineer also comes in three sizes, making it easy to find the perfect not-too-big, not-too-small size for your height, weight, and pack load. We tested the 25" length, but for larger bodies and heavier loads Tubbs also makes this shoe in an impressive 30" version. There is a 21" model for those that are smaller and lighter. Most models don't offer this many size options, save for those that can be kitted out with supplemental flotation tails.
It was immediately clear that this snowshoe floats excellently. We have a lot of impressive shoes in this review that also performed well, but the Mountaineer stood out as being a notch above the rest. It strikes that perfect balance between weight and surface area. The Lightning Ascent is a full pound lighter, but the narrow design shaves off a bit of surface area, so it's not quite as floaty. The Louis Garneau Blizzard II has the largest surface area of all our tested models, but something about the shape is slightly less buoyant.
We achieved great flotation in the Mountaineer, the best in our entire test suite.
Our testers felt confident and secure on all types of snow and terrain with the Mountaineer. This shoe offers a carbon steel toe crampon with eight multidirectional teeth for constant contact as well as an aggressive heel crampon for assistance on downhills. There is also a 19° heel lift for help with steep ascents.
It's a well-conceived system that functions just as needed without feeling like overkill on flat, packed out beginner trails. The only model with noticeably better traction is the Lightning Ascent with its toothed outer perimeter instead of smooth tubes.
Well-designed crampons make for solid and secure outings no matter the terrain.
For such a technical shoe, we were highly impressed by how easy and natural the Mountaineer feels when walking.
The Mountaineer was a favorite for many testers in this area. It provides bomber traction without feeling too sticky on packed snow. The shape is very conducive to a woman's stride, the smooth frame glides easily over all types of snow, and the bindings move gracefully. All in all, a great experience!
Walking felt easy and natural in the Mountaineer.
Ease of Use
Once again, the Mountaineer impressed. From the intuitive bindings to walking and climbing on all terrain types, this is a snowshoe that aims to please.
The ActiveFit binding on this model is a favorite of our testers. Toe placement and heel centering are obvious and intuitive when you step into the binding. And two webbing loops allow you to tighten it across the top of the foot symmetrically. The back heel strap ratchets down quickly and securely, and loosening the whole system is as simple as pulling up on the obvious handle that sits across your toes.
It's super easy to make minute adjustments at any point, even with larger gloves or cold fingers. The single pull loop system on models like the Gold 13 or Elektra Montane is easier, but only marginally so. Combine all of this with the fact that the Mountaineer feels natural to walk in and floats like a dream, and you have an excellent snowshoe.
Pull each of the two tabs to tighten evenly and then up on the obvious handle to loosen quickly - this is a great binding system that's very easy to use.
The binding system on this shoe is snug, secure, intuitive, and well-designed. From the moment we pulled these on until we took them off hours later, everything stayed in place and inspired confidence.
The benefit of a binding system with webbing like the Mountaineer is that you can make a field repair if needed and still get back to your car or campsite. Boa systems like the one on the Blizzard II can be fast and convenient, but a repair on the fly would be really difficult, if not impossible. We find the simple strap system on the MSR Lightning Ascent and Evo to be even more conducive to emergency repairs, but the Mountaineer isn't too far behind.
Everything about this system felt snug and secure. Zero complaints.
This binding system is padded and cozy in all the right places. It tightens evenly and can accommodate the smallest adjustments, making it highly comfortable and easy to use.
Once again, while we appreciate the simple and very versatile bindings on the MSR models in our review, those strap systems are easy to overtighten and create pinch points. Additionally, it's harder to get complete uniformity between the two feet. The Mountaineer, on the other hand, hugs your boots evenly with uniform tension.
The Mountaineer is comfortable no matter where we walk, hike, or climb.
A better question than, "what is the Mountaineer good for?" is what isn't it good for? This is a very well-rounded and well-executed snowshoe, appropriate for practically any kind of outing from easy groomed beginner trails to steep icy mountain ascents.
The Lightning is a smarter choice for exposed and technical pursuits because it's a much lighter shoe, packs down flatter, has optional flotation tails, and offers slightly burlier traction. But if your plans aren't specific to anything quite so technically minded, save some cash and get the Mountaineer. It floats with ease, has comfortable and smart bindings, and feels surprisingly natural to walk in.
The Mountaineer is our favorite snowshoe to wear for the most activities.
This snowshoe will set you back $270 and is the second most expensive model in our review after the Lightning Ascent. Do we think it's worth the price tag? If you are a serious snowshoer with technical aspirations, then yes. If you are just a sometimes snowshoer who doesn't much care for climbing steep hills, then probably not.
One of our Best Buy options, the Elektra Rendezvous or MSR Evo, is undoubtedly a smarter choice. Or consider something more mid-range like the $200 Atlas Elektra Montane, which still offers features like a heel lift. But if you daydream about floating on deep powder up steep snowy mountain faces, then the Mountaineer is well worth the damage it will do to your wallet.
We found the Mountaineer to offer the most consistent performance and to be the most crowd-pleasing snowshoe in our review. While the Lightning might be better for the most advanced terrain, and several other options are more appropriate for the casual user on a budget, this one was our favorite for the broadest range of uses. If you want to be comfortable and ready for almost anything, this is a great choice.
Comfortable, secure, and floatacious (that's a word, right?) - this describes the Mountaineer in a nutshell. Or a hardshell.