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Hands-on Gear Review
Atlas Aspect Review
Cons: Binding is strapped to the deck instead of hinged there
Bottom line: This contender is perfect for the user that prefers a flexible and strapped binding/deck.
For the most part, the Atlas Aspect was neck-and-neck with the eventual Editors' Choice winner. In this sort of test, it is inevitable that we reward the most technically proficient product on the market. With snowshoes, there is a broad range of applications. Those products that work the best in rugged mountains will also work pretty well on trails. Specialized trail products will perform slightly better on trails than those for technical terrain, but they lag far behind when pressed into duty off trail. For this reason, our overall winner will always be a technically proficient snowshoe.
Snowshoes for technical terrain must be robust, rigid, float well, and have excellent traction. The Aspect does all that. They must also allow for precise and confidence inspiring footwork. The most secure footing comes with a nearly rigid attachment of boot to deck and spikes. This requires, again for technical terrain, a hinged joining of binding and deck. As opposed to a strapped junction that allows for significant play. The Aspect has all the attributes of a technical snowshoe, except for the hinged deck/binding interface. For this reason, the MSR Lightning Ascent edged ahead.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Aspect, if it weren't for one, minor (and rather subjectively valued) attribute, could be our Editors' Choice winner. Basically, it is perfectly tied with the Editors' Choice award winning MSR Lightning Ascent, until we consider stride ergonomics. Our test team, in decades of snowshoeing, has developed a fairly stout, though far from universal, preference for the nature of snowshoe binding and deck connection. For exclusively on-trail travel, a strapped interface is preferable, as it gives a measure of suspension and therefore shock absorption in these firmer conditions. For off-trail, and "all around" use, we prefer a rigid, hinged junction for precise footwork in rough terrain, with the shock absorption coming from the softer snow encountered off the trails and a springy deck material for when it is a little firmer. The Lightning Ascent has a hinged union, while the Atlas employs a strapped system. For all around users, and those taking their snowshoes into the most serious of terrain, the Lightning Ascent will work better.
If you have used snowshoes enough to develop a contrary opinion to ours, and we are sure that happens, the Aspect could be perfect.
With 224 square inches of flotation in the Atlas-recommended 28-inch size, the Aspect scored just above average in flotation. We chose the 28-inch size for our 165-pound lead tester and found the Aspect to be totally functional in all but the deepest and softest of new snow. The Crescent Moon Gold, also sized for our lead tester according to the manufacturer's recommendations, is much bigger, lending the maximum support for the hardest of trail breaking.
Similar in size to the Crescent Moon, with better overall performance, the Louis Garneau Blizzard II is our Top Pick for Maximum Flotation. The flotation of the Aspect is basically the same as that of the Editors' Choice MSR Lightning Ascent.
With four-point steel binding crampons and a frame that is basically entirely sharpened for grip, the Aspect leads the field, along with the MSR Lightning Ascent, in traction, earning a perfect 10 out of 10. We could grip equally well on the Teton's sun crust and Rocky Mountain National Park "wind board" conditions.
The crampon plus a frame cross-piece provide fore-aft traction, while the frame side rails guard against slipping to the side. The trail oriented, Top Pick TSL Symbioz Elite accomplishes a similar, though slightly less, traction score with a series of very sharp steel spikes embedded in the plastic decking.
Generally, as noted above, we prefer hinged bindings for off-trail use and strapped bindings for those snowshoes that will predominantly be used on trails. The Aspect, with the rigid frame, serious traction aids, and stout, rubberized binding, seems to be built for off trail travel. It is curious, then, that Atlas joins binding and deck with flexible strapped arrangement. While our test team has great depth of experience and strong opinions on the matter, it is entirely possible that there are people out there who need the technical features of the Aspect and also prefer the strapped deck/binding junction.
For them, the Aspect is the best product on the market, because of the stride ergonomics it provides in a technical package. For trails and mellower terrain, in deep snow, the Crescent Moon Gold is likely a better choice, as it has the same strapped design, with greater surface area. The Top Pick TSL Symbioz Elite is a trail-oriented shoe with a hinged binding, but it gets its shock absorption from flexibility in the entire deck. While it is a bit counter to our general preferences, the TSL has the best stride ergonomics, on trail, in our test. Off trail, in rugged terrain, we still prefer hinged binding/deck interfaces, and for those conditions the MSR Lightning Ascent is king.
The bindings of the Aspect are rubberized and secure. This also means that they must be tightened a lot onto your shoes. If you snowshoe in regular hiking boots or even winter trail shoes, the straps will squeeze and confine your foot. In that case, your feet could get quite cold due to the restriction of blood flow. For soft boots, we recommend other binding systems like the Boa system of the Tubbs Flex Vrt or the broad straps of the TSL Symbioz. For rigid mountaineering style boots, the binding system of the Atlas is totally appropriate, as the structure of the boot protects your foot from squeezing.
Ease of use
In evaluating Ease of Use, we look at the simplicity and reliability of the bindings, the presence or absence of heel lifters, and the packability of the snowshoes. The Aspect's binding is a little slower to operate than average, the heel lifters are there and simple, and the 'shoes can pack flat against one another and are a reasonable weight. The binding of the Lightning Ascent is virtually the same, in terms of ease of use, and most of the snowshoes we evaluated have heel lifters. In terms of packability, both MSR snowshoes and the Aspect's are the most easily "flattened". The TSL Symbioz, while the smallest "footprint" in our test, has a bulky binding that takes up a ton of space.
Stretchy rubber bindings like those on the Aspect are among the most secure in the test. It is way more secure than the nylon straps of the Fimbulvetr Hikr, and beats out the straps of the Crescent Moon Gold as well. The Boa system on the Louis Garneau Blizzard II and the Tubbs Flex Vrt is similarly secure, but just a little less than the rubber strap systems.
The Aspect is perfect for the technical user who knows that he or she prefers a strapped and flexible deck/binding junction.
Only the Editors' Choice winner is more expensive, and in terms of MSRP, by only $10. As compared to other trail snowshoes, the Aspect is off the charts. As a technical terrain tool for the discerning user with unique preferences, the features justify the cost.
This is a tool for the discerning user. In our opinion, for those accessing technical terrain on their snowshoes, a rigid, hinged binding/deck interface is crucial. The Atlas Aspect lacks that. However, if you know what you want, and you want the springiness of this junction, the Aspect fills a narrow niche.
— Jediah Porter
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