TSL Symbioz Elite Review
Cons: Small footprint and flexible deck creates limited flotation
Manufacturer: TSL Outdoor
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Every once in awhile, 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 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.
Size (as we measure it in square inches) is the main way that a snowshoe provides flotation, it's primary job. These 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. Further, the longitudinally flexible frame and deck limit 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. 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.
Snow is slippery and traction is one of the important benefits we get from strapping on a pair of snowshoes. The TSL 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 6 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 TSL from the very top of the chart in this metric. We think this is because of the lack of rigidity occasionally made it tricky to transfer force from our feet to the spikes.
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 on the packed snow of traveled or groomed trails, you won't do better than this contender. 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 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 on a snowshoe that's designed for smooth and comfortable walking.
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.
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. We recommend making these 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 gets 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, in terms of ease of use of the Symbioz Elite, is that the bindings are bulky, which cost it some points in this metric. The snowshoes cannot nest against one another, and this bulk is noticeable when packing in a car or a checked bag.
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 a minor potential for some binding icing.
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. 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.
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.
— Jediah Porter