Flex VRT Updates
Since our testing period with these snowshoes, Tubbs updated the Dynamic Fit binding system, simplifying the Boa system with less cord. Compare the two snowshoes below; the new version is pictured first.
Take note that since we haven't tested the latest version yet, the following review continues to reflect the previous model tested.
Hands-On Review of the Flex VRT
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.
For all-around snowshoeing, the traction and comfortable binding of the Tubbs is great. For more technical use, the traction is more than adequate but the binding isn't as secure as we'd like.
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.
The crampon and traction rails of the Tubbs combine to provide traction that rivals the best in our review.
In head-to-head testing, the generous crampons combined with hardened steel longitudinal rails (very similar to those on the classic 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 uphill, 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 most salient characteristic of the BOA style binding of the Tubbs Flex is its comfort. Whether on stiff mountaineering boots, or soft winter trail runners, the binding spreads the force evenly.
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 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 Chinook Trekker 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 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 trouble 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 treeline 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.
The Tubbs is suitable for normal trail use with occasional off trail and technical use.
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 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, the Tubbs Flex Vrt are more than worth a look.