Louis Garneau Blizzard II Review
Cons: Limited traction
Our Analysis and Test Results
Blizzard III vs. the Blizzard II
The Blizzard has been updated since our testing period. The latest version is the III, but the changes are somewhat minimal. The snowshoes feature new colors and updated decking material, and there are new clips connecting the decking to the frame, which are designed to be more freeze-resistant. Compare the two versions below, with the newest model featured on the left. We tested the version pictured on the right.
We've yet to test this latest incarnation, so the review to follow tells our account of the Blizzard II.
Hands-On Review of the Blizzard II
The Blizzard II is one of the largest snowshoes in our test. In the end, as you'll read below, the Louis Garneau came out slightly ahead and wins our Top Pick Award for Deep Snow Trail Breaking.
Choosing and purchasing snowshoes for maximum flotation is an interesting task. Basically, the larger the better. However, people are different sizes and each manufacturer has different interpretations of what size people need. Those interpretations start with the weight of the snowshoer - this includes the weight of a backpack that person may be carrying.
For our review, when there were size options, we chose the size of snowshoe the manufacturer recommends for our 165-pound lead test editor and then compared them. Some were very small, while others were very large. Setting aside those snowshoes that only come in one size, the prescribed snowshoes from different companies covered a range of actual measured sizes from 160 in^2 to 282 in^2.
The largest snowshoes recommended for us are 160 percent the size of the smallest. This is a large range. In short, the manufacturer essentially decides what sort of snow conditions and flotation you will get when they prescribe a size, for the most part. With the Blizzard II from Louis Garneau, even the smaller size of the two they offer is on the large side, as compared to the rest of the market and what companies recommend. Our tested pair was about 36 inches long and sported a whopping 282 square inches of deck! For this reason, the Blizzard is a great floater and tops the charts in this metric.
Frozen water, in all its forms, can be slippery. Metal crampon spikes for traction are heavy. In order to keep the weight of the Blizzard II down while getting the surface area high, Louis Garneau equips them with only a moderate amount of traction aids. The spikes are limited to the area right under the user's foot, essentially. Now, this is the most effective place for traction to sit, but other products have this, plus spikes elsewhere under the deck.
Something for traction under the rear part of the deck of the snowshoe is essential for steep or slippery downhills and the Blizzard II has nothing there. Other snowshoes are smaller, heavier, or both, than the Blizzard, but they grip on icy conditions far better.
We had mixed results in assessing the stride ergonomics of the Blizzard II. The large size is cumbersome. The non-tapered shape is a little more prone to tripping than a deck that narrows towards the tail. The deep crampon points also contribute to additional tripping likelihood. The above characteristics are why this snowshoe floats so well, but compromised stride ergonomics are part of the price for that performance.
The other thing we look at in terms of stride comfort is the attachment of the binding to the deck. This union can be made with flexible straps or with a hinge. All the other snowshoes in our test use one of these methods. In short, a strapped attachment is better for trail use where the shock absorption is appreciated. Off-trail, and especially in steep terrain, we prefer a hinged attachment as it is more precise and stable in deliberate footwork.
Interestingly, the Blizzard incorporates both methods. The binding hinges on a metal rod that is in turn attached to the deck with straps. The theory is that one gets the best of both worlds. In many situations, attempts like this to "have your cake and eat it too" result in poor performance across the board. In the case of the Blizzard II, the elegant wedding of these two strategies does indeed enhance the performance of the snowshoes, with few, if any, drawbacks. We noticed useful shock absorption but also experienced secure and precise steep terrain performance. Well done, Louis Garneau.
Everyone loved binding closure of the Blizzard II. The wide design spreads forces out on your footwear, and the Boa allows for precise tension adjustment. Additionally, the binding has some foam padding. On the softest hiking shoes and the most rigid mountaineering boots both, the Louis Garneau left no pressure points.
Ease of Use
Again, the Boa attachment is a win, overall. It is easy to get on, off, and to adjust in action. Drawbacks of the Boa include potential icing (though we've never had problems with that) and the bulk of the bindings when packing the Blizzard II snowshoes.
Some winter travelers have expressed concern about the durability of the Boa system. While we didn't test the Blizzard II enough to truly assess long term durability, our testing team has quite a bit of experience using the Boa system on bot ski touring and mountaineering boots, where we are anything but gentle with it. We have yet to have any issues.
While the Boa is comfortable and easy to use, it isn't the most secure binding configuration available. No matter how finely we tuned the tension, we found our feet slipping around a little bit. For most travel this isn't actually a problem and we don't forsee it being an issue on the sort of ground that the Blizzard II is clearly designed for. However, on steep and tenuous terrain, we found the confidence inspired by the positive attachment of the rubber strapped bindings to be preferable.
For an award winner, these are rather inexpensive. On price only, these are contenders. With the performance attributes they bring, the value is clear and appreciable.
All the snowshoes we tested are suitable for all-around use. That being said, our Top Pick Award winners have clear "preferences" in terms of the conditions they excel in. The Louis Garneau Blizzard II is purpose-built for deep snow and occasional off-trail use. The amount of square inches underfoot lends incredible flotation. The bindings are easy to use and comfortable. Though they lack the traction for gnarly ground and the stride ergonomics for fast trail travel, that's not what they're made for. If you find yourself hip-deep in snow after putting these on, it might be time to go home.
— Jediah Porter