The Chinook Trekker wins our Best Buy award. Twenty-five years ago, it would have been a thoroughly modern snowshoe. Compared to the other modern snowshoes in this review, however, it looks pretty dated. The bindings rely mainly on a ratcheting strap system that's old school — but not in a good way. The Trekker is also among the poorest performers in our test when it comes to traction. This, combined with the lack of a heel lifter, sends a clear message, "Stay off technical terrain." That said, the price of these snowshoes can't be ignored. The occasional snowshoer who isn't hiking far and won't be venturing out into alpine terrain might find these snowshoes to be just right.
Chinook Trekker Review
Cons: Less reliable binding technology, poor traction
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The most important job of a snowshoe, indeed its raison d'etre, is to keep you from post-holing. The Chinook Trekker does this. When kept on the mellow terrain it's designed for, it performs adequately. At less than half the price of the competition, they're a screaming deal, but that low price comes with some trade-offs.
Flotation is one of the most important qualities of a snowshoe, which is why we cover it first. The Trekker boasts great flotation for a 25-inch long snowshoe. It's 205 square inches of surface area rise above the other 25-inch options.
The good float is due for the most part to the shape of the snowshoe, which has much less taper than the competition. It's also slightly aided by the deck material. Though this is a flexible polyethylene plastic, it's still stiffer than the fabric found on other models.
Traction is not the Trekker's strong suit. We found ourselves spending a lot of brainpower avoiding slips and slides any time these snowshoes were pointed uphill. Hikes we had done easily with other models in this review felt more daunting with this snowshoe.
The crampon is made of aluminum. All of the competing models in our review use steel crampons. Aluminum is softer than steel and so dulls faster, so keep these snowshoes away from rocks.
The cleat under the heel is pretty modest when compared to those on many of the other models in our test. We noticed this most on downhills with crusty snow. This led to a few spills and resulted in some of our testers shuffle-stepping down steep or exposed slopes.
Keep this snowshoe away from steep terrain. Stick to flat or gently rolling ground. Also be aware of your surroundings when hiking on a melt-freeze spring snowpack, which can be surprisingly crusty and slippery.
The Chinook Trekker is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to walking comfort. The shape has only a minor taper, and as long as we kept that in mind and stayed on mellow ground this didn't seem to be too much or a problem. on steeper terrain or in places where we wanted to be more precise that shape was somewhat of a liability.
The binding-to-deck connection is managed by a flexible strap, and this snowshoe is among the most natural to walk in of the snowshoes with that design. The strapped setup provides a little more give and cushion than a hinge, but at the cost of precision on technical terrain. Hikers who are heading into the mountains in the winter should consider models that feature a hinged binding-to-deck linkage that our testers prefer for its precision.
This snowshoe does not have a heel lifter. This feature is found on other models designed more with steep or technical terrain in mind. Its absence here is another reminder that this model is not built for that kind of winter travel.
The binding on the Trekker is reasonably comfortable. The forefoot straps are mounted on wider plastic "wings" that help to distribute the load around your boot. On stiff snowboard or mountaineering boots this wasn't particualrly important. For folks with softer winter footwear, this is a big advantage over the rubber strap binding system found on the other models, which can act as a tourniquet when overtightened.
It's impossible to overtighten the Trekker's straps. A small lever on the buckle does the final tightening of each ratchet strap. When too much force is applied to that lever, it slips off the teeth of the strap, by design. It's not broken, it just won't let the user apply too much force to the buckle.
Ease of Use
The Trekkers are moderately easy to put on. Inserting the end of the ratchet strap into the buckle is a little finicky each time. Once it's in there, you can achieve the desired tightness using the lever on the buckle to crank the strap down.
A smaller lever, which can be tricky to use with bulky gloves, releases the tension when it's time to take the snowshoe off. Most hikers will be familiar with the nylon webbing and ladder lock buckle configuration that comprises the heel strap. If you're using the same footwear most of the time this strap can be left in the same setting.
The bindings folded fairly flat to the deck of the snowshoe. This made the Trekker one of the easiest models to transport as they took up little space in the trunk of a compact car or a checked bag.
The bindings on these snowshoes do not inspire the confidence that some of the competition does. The ratcheting strap setup was not uncommon on snowshoes even up to the mid-2000s. However, that strap type is less reliable and durable than some of the new options, and today this is the only pair in our test to feature this technology.
The heel strap is standard nylon webbing. In cold and wet environments this type of webbing tends to freeze and ice up. When this happens, adjusting the buckle is difficult at best.
One thing we like about the bindings on this model is that all of the buckles are on the outside of the user's foot. On many other models the heel buckle is on the inside of the foot, where it's more likely to be caught or damaged by the other snowshoe.
Despite their flaws, the shockingly low price of these snowshoes is a great value for those who won't be doing a ton of snowshoeing. If you're taking your dog on the occasional snowy hike or want to have a spare pair around for when friends are visiting these could be a great value.
Aside from good flotation, the Chinook Trekker has little to recommend it. It would have been a fairly state-of-the-art snowshoe around the turn of the century. Today its materials and design feel dated. Nevertheless, for the hiker who will only occasionally be venturing out in the winter and won't be heading into rough alpine terrain, these could be great. That's why they win our Best Buy award. For hikers who hope to be heading out into the snow on a regular basis, or want to take on increasingly challenging trips, but are still on a budget, the MSR Evo are still a good deal and are also a reliable modern snowshoe.
— Ian McEleney