Every once in a while a product surprises us. When it comes to snowshoes, our decades of experience has given us a good handle on the market and let us develop strong and durable preferences. For trail-oriented shoes, we look for a compact size for easy striding, good spikes for packed-snow traction, and a frame joined to the binding with soft decking and straps for shock absorption. Our favorite trail-oriented snowshoes, in the past, have had this configuration. The TSL Symbioz Elite, however, breaks our thoughts asunder and delivers a product that accomplishes excellent trail performance with a different suite of features. First, they are indeed compact, with excellent traction. That much is familiar and expected. However, the unorthodox deck and binding construction of the Symbioz is what surprised us. The molded frame is flexible, lending firm snow shock absorption, while the binding attachment is a rigid hinge that we'd expect on more technically oriented products. In the end, this strategy works, and works well.
On packed trails, we simply loved walking in the Symbioz Elite. No other product in our test had the walking efficiency of the TSL.
These are the smallest snowshoes in our entire test, by far. Right out of the box we didn't expect great flotation performance. Further, the longitudinally flexible frame and deck further limits the flotation capability. Effectively, the surface area is less, as one's weight isn't spread evenly over the entire surface area but is actually greater in the center and less toward tip and tail.
The flotation performance we experienced in the Symbioz Elite is by far the least of any snowshoes in our entire review. For deep snow and off trail use, any other product will be better. Our Top Pick Louis Garneau Blizzard II is almost twice the size, and all that size is rigid, therefore optimizing the float. The Editors' Choice MSR Lightning Ascent and Best Buy Chinook Trekker both have more "native" surface area, with the option to add further flotation with after market modular "tails."
The flexibility of the TSL is unprecedented. For walking comfort, this is great. For maximum flotation, the TSL suffers for its flexibility
The spikes on the Symbioz Elite are downright frightening, earning a near perfect 9 out of 10. They are the sharpest in our test, and are spread over the entire snowshoe bottom. Each spike is an individual, deep, triangle of steel. The result is excellent traction. We noticed essentially no difference in the traction of our metric topping products.
The MSR Lightning Ascent and the Atlas Montane have burly spike combinations, while the MSR Evo and Tubbs Flex VRT use a combination of binding crampons and "traction rails" to accomplish grip that is similar to the Symbioz Elite. The larger snowshoes in our test (Louis Garneau Blizzard and Crescent Moon Gold 10, as well as the unique but low-scoring Fimbulvetr Hikr, are in a different, lower grade in terms of traction.
The binding crampon, six steel deck spikes, and molded paddles give the TSL all the traction you'd want.
As noted above, it is the stride ergonomics that truly sets the Symbioz Elite apart. The hinged binding is precise, with shock absorption coming from a very flexible deck. For the packed snow of traveled or groomed trails, you won't do better than this contender. The compact size is unobtrusive and the shape lends itself to an almost normal stride. We found we could walk more comfortably and efficiently in the Symbioz than any other snowshoe in our test. Notably, the stride was better than the much larger Louis Garneau Blizzard II and the strangely wide Fimbulvetr Hikr.
The binding of this pair of snowshoes is unlike any other in the test. It is somewhat more complicated, with padding, straps, and cam-locks that take some initial setup. The end result, though, is a system that spreads the force of retention over the user's entire foot, even in the softest of shoes. Tighter bindings, like those on the MSR Evo may be slightly more secure, and certainly pack more compactly, but the tension of the stretched rubber straps can compromise circulation and create pressure points.
Ease of Use
Once the bindings are set up, they are among the easiest to get on and off. That initial setup is more complicated than the others, and if you will switch boots periodically you will likely need to make these setup adjustments then. However, for routine use, on and off is very easy and simple. The main drawback, in terms of ease of use of the Symbioz Elite, is that the bindings are bulky, which earned it an 8 out of 10 for this metric.
The snowshoes cannot nest against one another, and this bulk is noticeable in packing and stowage. The Boa style bindings of the Louis Garneau Blizzard and the Tubbs Flex Vrt are similarly bulky, while the rubber straps of the MSR Evo and the Chinook Trekker. All the others are somewhere in between.
Once configured for your foot and boot, the TSL Symbioz binding snaps on and off with just two easy steps per foot. Shown here, the ankle is attached with a secure and one-hand-operated "ratchet" style strap.
We had absolutely no problems with the security of the Symbioz Elite bindings. In miles of use, they never moved, much less came off. To make bindings that are this secure and this comfortable is a tall order. The cost is just a little setup time for each new pair of boots or user. Once configured, the binding snaps right on. There is the minor potential for some binding icing. The rubber strap bindings of the MSR Lightning Ascent are less prone to icing but remain just as secure. At the other end of the spectrum, the Fimbulvetr Hikr binding is comfortable, but very insecure. No matter how we tightened it, the Hikr bindings allowed our feet to move and occasionally come out entirely. The Symbioz Elite scored a 5 out of 10 for binding security, with the MSR Evo and MSR Lightning Ascent earning perfect 10 out of 10s.
These are the best trail snowshoes we used in this review. The ergonomics, function, and shock absorption are unparalleled. Usually, we like to make a close comparison between products that are somewhat alike, but we couldn't do it very well with the Symbioz Elite. The form and function are both so unique as to defy comparison.
For the function, and the presumed durability, these come in at a reasonable price. Surely there are less expensive products, but those function far differently, especially in the trail snowshoeing sub-category.
This innovative product takes a gamble on some unorthodox construction attributes and design cues. Taking chances like that often backfires and a solution is proffered for a problem that doesn't actually exist. In this case, however, we have been pleasantly surprised with the niche and performance of the TSL Symbioz Elite.
TSL ships the Symbioz Elite with a dedicated carry bag. The end result is bulky, but at least the spikes and straps are contained for less snagging in your trunk or luggage.