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TSL Symbioz Elite Review

Excellent compact snowshoes for packed trail and firmer snow when flotation isn't the main concern
TSL Symbioz Elite
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $280 List | $262.34 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Compact, uniquely excellent stride ergonomics
Cons:  Small footprint and flexible deck creates limited flotation
Manufacturer:   TSL Outdoor
By Ian McEleney and Jediah Porter  ⋅  Jan 12, 2022
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62
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Flotation - 30% 2.0
  • Traction - 25% 9.0
  • Stride Ergonomics - 15% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7.0
  • Bindings - 15% 7.0

Our Verdict

The TSL Symbioz Elite is one of the most unique snowshoes in our test, and it became our top choice for trail and packed snow use. We select each year's product roster to be well-rounded, targeting versatility and all-around appeal. The Symbioz Elite has this but is still a bit of an outlier. It is the smallest snowshoe we tested, with the absolute best binding and stride ergonomics. It is secure, comfortable, and precise in walking, with shock absorption created by the flexion of the entire snowshoe deck. This is an excellent pair of snowshoes for hikers who will be mostly on packed or groomed trails.

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TSL Symbioz Elite
This Product
TSL Symbioz Elite
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $262.34 at Amazon
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Pros Compact, uniquely excellent stride ergonomicsRigid, precise, excellent binding security, impressive tractionGood traction, easy-to-use and comfortable bindingInexpensive, easy to use, versatileLarge, easy stride, great flotation
Cons Small footprint and flexible deck creates limited flotationNew binding trades ease-of-use for comfortMediocre flotation for the length, strapped binding attachment isn't idealUnimpressive tractionHeavy, heel lifter is clunky
Bottom Line Excellent compact snowshoes for packed trail and firmer snow when flotation isn't the main concernThe best snowshoes in our test, complete with high end features and simple engineeringThis is a great traditional snowshoe that's outshone in a few areas by newer designsThis snowshoe does everything well and has a low price, making it a great valueAn all-around snowshoe that tilts its preferences to the wild and deep environments
Rating Categories TSL Symbioz Elite MSR Lightning Ascent Atlas Montane Atlas Helium Trail Crescent Moon Gold 10
Flotation (30%)
2.0
6.0
5.0
6.0
9.0
Traction (25%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
Stride Ergonomics (15%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
4.0
Ease of Use (15%)
7.0
6.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Bindings (15%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Specs TSL Symbioz Elite MSR Lightning Ascent Atlas Montane Atlas Helium Trail Crescent Moon Gold 10
Uses Groomed trails Spring snow and steep terrain Spring snow and moderate terrain Spring snow and moderate terrain Deep snow
Optimum Weight Load (per manufacturer) S: 65-180 lbs;
M: 110-260 lbs;
L: 150-300 lbs
22": up to 180 lbs;
25": 120-220 lbs;
30": 150-280 lbs
25": 120-200 lbs;
30": 150-250 lbs;
35": 180-300+ lbs
23": 80-160 lbs;
26": 150-220 lbs;
30": 200-270+ lbs
up to 225 lbs
Weight (per pair) 4 lbs 9 oz 4 lbs 0 oz 4 lbs 7 oz 3 lbs 9 oz 5 lbs 2 oz
Surface Area 162 in² 188 in² 176 in² 191 in² 256 in²
Dimensions 22 x 8" 25 x 8" 25 x 8" 26" x 8" 32 x 10"
Crampon/Traction Aids Steel spikes throughout bottom of deck Steel crampon augmented with rail and frame teeth Steel crampon augmented with traction rails Tempered steel Steel crampon
Frame Material Composite Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum
Deck Material Composite Fabric Nytex fabric Plastic Polyurethane fabric
Heel Lift Yes Yes Yes Yes Optional add-on
Binding/Deck Connection Hinged Hinged Strapped Hinged Strapped
Binding System Combination of rigid plastic, nylon straps, cam locks, and ratchet style straps Rubber Straps with pin-in-hole Nylon straps with cam buckles, rubber strap with plastic buckle Nylon straps with plastic buckles, rubber strap with pin-in-hole Rubber straps with plastic buckles
Flotation Tails Sold Separately? No Yes No No No
Men's and Women's versions? Unisex Yes Yes Unisex Yes
Sizes Available S (20.5"), M (23.5"), L (27") 22", 25", 30" 25", 30", 35" 23", 26", 30" One size
Tested Size M 25" 25" 26" One Size

Our Analysis and Test Results

Every once in a while, a product surprises us. When it comes to snowshoes, our decades of experience have given us a good handle on the market and let us develop strong 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. The TSL Symbioz Elite, however, breaks our thoughts asunder and delivers a product that accomplishes excellent trail performance with a different suite of features. They are indeed compact with excellent traction, but the unorthodox deck and binding construction surprised us.

Performance Comparison


This model is made for packed trails, groomed paths, and snowy roads.
This model is made for packed trails, groomed paths, and snowy roads.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Flotation


Surface area (which we measure in square inches) is the main way that a snowshoe provides flotation, its primary job. The Symbioz Elite are the smallest snowshoes in our entire test, by far. This is one very shapely snowshoe, so right out of the box we didn't expect great flotation performance. It tapers at the tip and tail and in the middle. Because the surface area is less, one's weight isn't spread evenly over the entire surface area. Further, the longitudinally flexible frame and deck limit the flotation capability.


The flotation performance we experienced in the Symbioz Elite is by far the worst of any snowshoes in our entire review. These are not designed for deep snow and off-trail use; any other product will be better. Characteristics that lend a model performance in that area generally detract from walking performance on the trail or in a denser, melt-freeze springtime snowpack — things the Elite does excel at.

These are not a great choice for the deepest days.
These are not a great choice for the deepest days.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Traction


Snow is slippery, and traction is one of the important benefits we get from strapping on a pair of snowshoes. The Symbioz Elite sports metal spikes on the bottom of the deck for traction, and they are downright frightening. They are the sharpest in our test and are spread over the entire snowshoe bottom. Each of the six spikes is an individual, deep triangle of steel. The result is excellent traction. Keep them away from your puffy jacket.


The traction aids also include cleats on the binding and paddles and ridges molded into the plastic of the deck. The flexibility of the deck kept the Symbioz from the very top of the chart in this metric. We think this is because the lack of rigidity occasionally made it tricky to transfer force from our feet to the spikes.

A grippy traction setup.
A grippy traction setup.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Stride Ergonomics


As noted above, it is the stride ergonomics that truly sets the Symbioz Elite apart. Normally a hinged binding does not lend itself to smooth walking. For walking on firm snow and trails our testers prefer a strapped attachment as this lends some comfort in the form of shock absorption. In this case, the hinged binding is precise, and the shock absorption comes from the very flexible deck.


This unique combination means that you won't do better than this contender on the packed snow of traveled or groomed trails. This pair has the most natural stride in those settings. The compact size is unobtrusive, and the curvy shape (a liability for flotation) 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.

The flexible deck.
The flexible deck.
Credit: Ian McEleney

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 switch boots periodically, you will likely need to make these setup adjustments again. The included instruction manual is mildly helpful. We recommend doing this at home instead of at the trailhead right before you head out.


For routine use with the same pair of footwear, on and off is very easy and simple. Two steps get you in or out of the ratcheting strap system. Levers on the buckle make adding tension much less strenuous than pulling hard on a rubber strap. Releasing tension to remove the snowshoe is equally easy. The main drawback is that the bindings are bulky, which cost it some points in this metric. The Symbioz cannot nest against one another, and this bulk is noticeable when packing in a car or a checked bag.

Once the bindings are set up for your boots, on and off is easy.
Once the bindings are set up for your boots, on and off is easy.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Bindings


The binding of this pair of snowshoes is unlike any other in the test. It is somewhat more complicated, with 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. Our testers really appreciated the padding that's designed for smooth and comfortable walking. These are comfortable with almost any footwear.


We had absolutely no problems with the security of the Symbioz Elite bindings either. 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. That said, there is a minor potential for some binding icing.

Bindings that are designed around rubber straps 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.

With some footwear we felt a slight pinch point from this outside...
With some footwear we felt a slight pinch point from this outside binding part.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Value


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.

Conclusion


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. For hikers who know that they're looking for a comfortable snowshoe with great traction that's easy to walk in and don't care about flotation, this is the model.

When it comes to walking comfort these are hard to beat!
When it comes to walking comfort these are hard to beat!
Credit: Ian McEleney

Accessories


TSL ships the Symbioz Elite with a dedicated carry bag. The end result is bulky, but at least all those sharp spikes and straps are contained for less snagging in your trunk or luggage.

Ian McEleney and Jediah Porter
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