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Tubbs Flex VRT Review
Cons: Loud decking and bulky harness
Bottom line: This contender provides excellent traction, heel lifts, a comfortable binding, and moderate weight.
Weight (per pair): 4.6 lbs
Frame material: Steel "traction rails"
The Tubbs Flex Vrt is a solid product that leans toward the high and wild. The feature set checks all the boxes on our list of attributes we look for in a snowshoe for technical terrain. The size is moderate, the binding and deck are joined with a hinge, there are extensive steel crampon points, and the binding is secure enough in most conditions. Generally, for snowshoes, we award our top honor to snowshoes suited to mountaineering. Mountaineering snowshoes also work on trails, while trail shoes barely work at all in the high mountains. Because of this, top honors go to the more technical products. In this way, the Tubbs is a contender for our Editors' Choice Award. It might have beat the MSR Lightning Ascent if it had a more compact binding and if the deck material were quieter on crusty snow. As it is, if you can tolerate these minor compromises, the Tubbs is an excellent choice.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
In some ways, the Tubbs Flex Vrt is an amalgamation of many different snowshoes in our review. In other ways, it picks the best of the best from the other products. However, the end result is nothing remarkable. It is solidly built, functions well, and hits a versatile design combination.
The fully rigid decking, adding up to 180 square inches in the tested size, is supportive and works well on firm-to-moderately-soft snow. In the deepest of conditions, the Crescent Moon Gold 10 and Top Pick Louis Garneau Blizzard II are both better suited. In normal "trail" and dense snow conditions the Flex will have all the float you need. The Flex has a little more surface area than the Top Pick TSL Symbioz Elite, but that surface area is far more effective on the Flex. The rigid, molded, and stiffened deck of the Flex makes all of the surface area effective in floating on softer snow. The flexible deck of the Symbioz Elite is great on trails, but flexes to reduce the effectiveness of the tip and tail in supporting one's weight.
In head-to-head testing, the generous crampons combined with hardened steel longitudinal rails (very similar to those on the classic and Best Buy MSR Evo) provide excellent traction for the slipperiest of packed snow and ice. Whether the snow is slippery from wind packing action or from melt freeze metamorphosis, the sharp steel spikes of the Flex will bite in. The Top Pick TSL Symbioz Elite features similar traction in a more compact and precise package, while the Crescent Moon Gold 10 has a slippery, largely fabric base that pales in comparison to these traction masters.
The Tubbs Vrt is moderately sized, with a hinged binding/deck junction and a rigid platform. This configuration, combined with the excellent traction noted before, make the Tubbs one of the best snowshoes in our test for the steepest and most technical of terrain. The integrated heel lift allows the user to snowshoe straight up hill, with the crampons and flotation fully engaged but the users foot more level. For all these reasons, we recommend the Flex for rugged, firm-snow travel. In all other conditions, there is likely a better choice. On-trail, for instance, the compact and flexible TSL Symbioz Eite is more forgiving and easier to walk in. In deep and rough terrain, the slightly bigger form of the Editors' Choice MSR Lightning Ascent is better. With this latter tool, the metal and textile construction is quite a bit quieter than the plastic decking of the Flex.
The hybrid "Boa" and heel strap configuration of the Flex is well suited to spread the force of the binding pressure over the softest of winter footwear. In the rough conditions we recommend these shoes for, the user will likely wear more rigid mountaineering boot style footwear. In that case, even the tightest cinching bindings do not cause undue pressure. If you use stiff mountaineering boots for snowshoeing, the stretchy rubber straps of the Atlas Aspect or MSR Evo are secure without any compromise in comfort. The Top Pick Louis Garneau Blizzard II also features the Boa system, and mounts it to a larger, quieter forest and trail breaking form factor.
Ease of Use
Every tester loved the Boa system for wearing. The primary disadvantage of these bindings, in terms of ease of use, is that they are bulkier to pack. The bindings of the MSR Evo, MSR Lightning Ascent, and Atlas Aspect snowshoes we tested fold flat for lower profile carry. The rigid bindings of the Flex, the TSL Symbioz Elite, the Louis Garneau, and the Crescent Moon Gold 10 take up more space than the flat laying bindings of the other options.
In our experience, including rugged terrain in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, the bindings of the Flex held on tenaciously enough. The rubber straps of the MSR models and Atlas shoes are more secure, but the Boa is strong enough. Some other online reviews indicate that the Boa system can ice up. Our test team has experience with the Boa system on snowshoes, ski boots, and snowboard boots and has had no problems in the wettest and coldest of conditions. One test consultant even has a skiing knee brace with the Boa attachment. She has no troubles with that. In short, we trust the bindings of the Flex, but understand others hesitations around this mechanical device.
With a rigid deck, moderate size, hinged binding attachment, secure harness, excellent traction, and high heel lifts, we recommend the Flex for above tree line mountaineering style use. In these environments the user is far more likely to encounter steep terrain and firm crusts that warrant both traction and flotation. In that case, check out the Tubbs. They'd be a contender for our Editors' Choice Award if they packed smaller, if the deck material were quieter, and if they had just a little more flotation.
At the suggested price, the high-performance attributes of the Flex are worth it. If you will primarily tromp in mellower terrain, spending basically half the money for the Best Buy MSR Evo is a better choice.
We're not entirely sure that Tubbs intended it, but these feature a rare set of features that makes them mountaineering specialists. Other products are slightly better in that technical terrain, but they cost more. If you'll get high and wild, but can't justify the expense of the MSR Lightning Ascent or the Atlas Aspect, the Tubbs Flex Vrt are more than worth a look.
— Jediah Porter
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