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Looking for a new pair of snowshoes to take your winter hiking to the next level? Over the last 8 years, we have tested close to 20 unique pairs, bringing you 11 of the best for this update. Our testers have spent hours stomping through deep powder in Wyoming, striding down groomed trails in Colorado, and approaching alpine objectives in California's Sierra Nevada. Through all conditions, we put these snowshoes through the wringer to bring you an honest review on their real-world performance. No matter where you hike this winter, we'll help you find a model to suit your needs and budget.
Uses: Fresh and spring snow, steep terrain | Weight Load: 120 - 220 lbs (25" model)
REASONS TO BUY
Stiff and precise
Superb range of motion
REASONS TO AVOID
Hinged binding not ideal on firm trails
Forefoot straps are short
The stout MSR Lightning Ascent continues to dominate the field of contenders. Throughout our testing period, it performed well. Versatile across an array of snow conditions? Check. Reliable traction on snow, ice, and slush? Check. Capable in steep stuff? Check. We'll stop there, but this model simply performed well in any situation we threw at it. The rubber webbing provides easy fine-fitting and secures the foot in place without question. The rigid hinge linking the deck to the binding facilitates good range of motion and precision when necessary. This is our reigning champ for a reason.
Our beef with this model is the straps that control the rubber webbing on the front of the snowshoe. The strap's tail is pretty short, making adjustment irritating and limiting the size range of compatible boots. This is notable for folks with big feet or bulky mountaineering boots. The short strap is especially hard to use with gloves on or when the rubber is cold and stiff. Nonetheless, this is our favorite model and has been for many years. We like all the models we tested for one feature or another, but the Lightning Ascent brings it all together. And the icing on the cake? If you have plans for fresh powder and want to increase surface area or accommodate a heavier load, the Ascent has supplemental add-on tails available for purchase.
The weight loads listed for each snowshoe are based on the particular size we tested. Most models offer multiple sizes to accommodate your trail weight, and several also have optional add-on flotation tails to increase surface area when needed.
Uses: Spring snow and moderate terrain | Weight Load: 150 - 220 lbs (26" model)
REASONS TO BUY
Easy to use
REASONS TO AVOID
Decking is loud
Finally, somebody else is making a one-piece plastic snowshoe. The Atlas Helium Trail is a new take on a snowshoe design concept — frame and deck as a single piece of plastic — that most companies were pretending wasn't happening. Like other plastic snowshoes, they're light and have great traction, and flotation is good. The Helium also sports a quick and easy binding that's secure and comfortable with almost any footwear.
When it comes to stride ergonomics, this snowshoe rides the fence without committing to either side. We like that the deck to binding attachment is hinged, but it may have been more appropriate for a "trail" model to be strapped. That said, the hinged attachment adds to the versatility of this model, which, coupled with its low price, makes for a great value product.
Keeping you on top of the snow is what snowshoes are all about, and the Crescent Moon Big Sky 32 is excellent at this particular job. Flotation is all about square inches, and this model has them in spades. To achieve a lot of float, some snowshoes end up with large, bulky decks that can be awkward to hike with. But the frame of the Big Sky 32 is shaped in such a way that the large deck actually doesn't compromise the stride ergonomics too much. We also like the easy-to-use binding.
On the flip side, the Big Sky 32 is not tops for traction. We think this is reasonable for a model that's obviously designed for wild and deep — not so much steep — ground. While this snowshoe comes with a removable plastic heel lifter, we generally prefer the wire-type standard found on other models. But if your biggest concern is staying on top of deep powdery snow, this is the model for you!
Uses: Groomed trails | Weight Load: 110 to 260 lbs (23.5" Medium model)
REASONS TO BUY
Precise and compact design
Easy to hike in
REASONS TO AVOID
Not so great in deep snow
As snowshoeing becomes more popular, it is more and more likely that you may never, or very rarely, step off of traveled tracks. In that case, the bulk, weight, and compromised stride of all-around backcountry tools may not be required. For the user traversing mainly packed tracks and trails, the TSL Symbioz Elite is by far the best choice. Once you set the binding up, everything is fast and easy, traction is excellent, and the size is compact. By far, the best attribute for trail use of the Symbioz is the flexible deck. It provides shock absorption like we've never seen.
These same characteristics listed above are the enemies of good flotation, so if deep powder is part of your world, look elsewhere. But for hikers who aren't looking to reenact The Revenant and who just want a snowshoe that's not cumbersome to walk in, go with the Symbioz Elite.
Author Ian McEleney is an AMGA certified Alpine Guide. He spends numerous days each year traveling on snow and has logged hundreds of thousands of vertical feet guiding while wearing snowshoes all over the country, including in the High Sierra and the Alaska Range. Jediah Porter is an internationally licensed AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide. He has guided hundreds of clients in winter environments and helped them select the right gear and clothing for their trips. Together, these two make a testing team that's hard to beat.
Hours of research into current models on the market led to selecting the models for our side-by-side tests. Testing took place in the Sierra Nevada, Tetons, and the Alaska Range. We made short approach hikes to technical ice climbs, taught winter mountaineering courses, climbed high peaks (including Denali), and strolled the local cross-country trails. We often traded models with our clients to get their opinion on specific features.
Analysis and Test Results
Humans have been using snowshoes for thousands of years, and for good reason — walking through deep snow with only boots on your feet sucks. Most hikers enjoy three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. When the first big winter storm arrives, the hiking gear is packed away until next year. Snowshoes allow for a similar experience of the outdoors in the winter season and require little skill beyond what any hiker of moderate experience and fitness is already capable of. This is one of the reasons that snowshoeing is one of the fastest-growing winter sports in America.
Finding the right pair can make all the difference in your enjoyment of this activity. There are a lot of different designs on the market. The big considerations, though, are the same across the board: frame size and shape, traction, binding compatibility with footwear, and application in specific terrain and snow conditions. Wide expanses of snow-covered terrain, local trails feet below the snow's surface, and mountains blanketed in winter are all accessible with a little extra flotation. Snowshoes can extend your hiking season through the winter and broaden access.
Wondering which model offers the best ratio of overall performance to price? We compared the overall score from testing to the retail price for all products in this review. For a really good deal, check out the Atlas Helium Trail or the MSR Evo. Both are versatile and perform well, all at a fantastic price point. The Evo also has supplemental add-on tails for those that want to increase surface area and flotation. Alternatively, the MSR Lightning Ascent is the best available, but that quality and performance cost a big chunk of change.
Flotation is measured by how well you stay on the surface of the snow. Surface area is the prime determinant of flotation, and more is better. The shape of a snowshoe also affects how well it floats. A rigid, wide, oval frame provides better flotation in deep snow than a flexible, narrow, tapered design. However, wider frames can feel pretty cumbersome underfoot. Some designs combine a tapered tail with a wide frame to offer agility and flotation at the same time. We tested flotation in different snow conditions such as spring snow, groomed trails, and fresh powder with depths up to three feet.
The models that excel best in deep snow are the ones with the widest frame and longest tails. The biggest we tested is the Crescent Moon Big Sky 32, and it offers excellent flotation. It also has decent stride ergonomics for a snowshoe of its size.
The qualities that boost flotation often hinder an efficient stride — and vice versa. This can be particularly true on steep downhills. Hikers should consider which is more important for them. If you're heading into steep terrain or have alpine aspirations, then you're best served by erring on the shorter side when choosing a length. The slightly increased workload from sinking a bit deeper is a small price for increased agility. Those who recreate in regions with deep, dry winter snowpacks and gently rolling terrain should consider more flotation.
The Tubbs Mountaineer and Panoramic are our runners-up for the flotation metric. Both have dimensions that provide a respectable amount of measured square inches underfoot. On top of this, both of these models have a traditional tubular frame, and this makes the deck perfectly rigid, letting you make maximum use of every square inch of flotation.
The MSR Lightning Ascent is ideal for off-trail travel in deep snow and varying conditions. Others are bigger and float better, but for something that can handle everything, the Lightning Ascent is excellent. And, if you know you need more flotation, the Ascent has optional flotation tails available for purchase that make deep snow easy. The MSR Revo Explore and MSR Revo Trail have the same gently tapered frame and deck and so offer the same amount of float.
The TSL Symbioz Elite has an interesting convergence of features. It's the smallest model we tested, and it follows that we would expect poorer flotation — which is what we got. What isn't readily apparent is that the entire length is flexible, an attribute optimized for easy movement on hard and crusty snow. The drawback of this is that your weight is focused in the middle, and the flotation ends up even less than what we would expect of rigid models of the same size. For the terrain and conditions the Symbioz Elite is designed for, poor flotation shouldn't be an issue. Nonetheless, it is worth noting.
After flotation, traction is the most important consideration. Snow can be slippery! Wide applications of snow travel require traction that is versatile and stabilizing. We measured traction by testing each pair on steep and slick hillsides. We evaluated the stability and support gained from the grip on the bottom of each shoe.
Firm snow, inconsistent snowpack, and ice demand traction that will keep you from sliding downhill. All of the models in our test have some crampon-style teeth underfoot. While moving along groomed trails, the crampons dig in to keep you from shifting in your step. Lateral rails can add security on traverses. Tubular frames are naturally slippery and do not enhance traction. Models with a rail-like frame (like the Lightning Ascent and Revo models) or a unibody plastic deck construction (like the Flex VRT and Helium Trail) can provide more traction with plastic fins and ridges molded into the deck. All other things being equal, we discovered that more metal teeth on the bottom of your snowshoe equals more traction.
Anecdotally, models with a hard plastic deck seemed to be louder on crusty snow. Birdwatchers hoping to take their game to the winter months should take note.
The highest-rated traction system in our review is the MSR Lightning Ascent with the TSL Symbioz Elite following close behind. The Lightning has crampons underfoot, and the frame is a rigid piece of metal (not a tube) that improves traction no matter your direction of travel. The Symbioz Elite features aggressive metal spikes that are impressively sharp and confidence-inspiring.
Our runners-up in this category - the Tubbs Flex VRT and the Atlas Montane have some things in common when it comes to traction. Both sport aggressive crampon-style teeth under the forefoot, and both have longitudinal steel rails. They're longer on the VRT while they're right under your heel on the Montane.
Ideally, a snowshoe is a tool that facilitates winter travel and not something that forces hikers to relearn basic walking skills. Attaching "tennis rackets" to your feet will inevitably impede your stride, but there are ways to minimize this impediment. Smaller models have less of a "footprint" and are more nimble. Larger models, of course, are more cumbersome and clumsy. When it comes to performance, flotation and stride ergonomics tend to exist in opposition to each other.
In technical terrain, a rigid, hinged connection between binding and deck lends stability and improves climber confidence. On mellower terrain, a strapped, flexible connection between the deck and binding provides shock absorption and encourages a slightly more cushioned ride. After deck material, bindings, and overall surface area, the final determinant, with debatable and various actual effects, is shape-related design cues. The taper and asymmetry of a design can help to reduce the tripping hazard. A tapered shape does, however, somewhat compromise flotation.
Within the stride ergonomics evaluation metric, there are some conflicts. Take, for example, the attachment of the binding to the deck. In some settings, we find that one method is preferred, while in different situations, another is advantageous. For that reason, we evaluated the overall design and intention of the product before assessing the stride ergonomics value of the binding/deck interface. The MSR Lightning Ascent is designed for rugged terrain, so its hinged attachment is good. The Crescent Moon Big Sky 32 seems to be intended for lower angled slopes, so a strapped attachment makes sense.
The bulk of the features on the Atlas Montane seem to steer it towards technical terrain, except for the strapped, imprecise binding/deck interface and the unimpressive stride ergonomics. This generalization on the suitability of the different binding/deck interface options is subject to some opinion and debate. Our test team, with years of experience, is in agreement, but others may disagree. If you prefer flexible straps for technical terrain, the Montane is a good choice.
Two models step out of this hinged/strapped paradigm. The Tubbs Panoramic and Tubbs Mountaineer have attachments that are a combination of both. Both offer an above-average stride.
Our best trail and firm conditions walking product, the TSL Symbioz Elite, is a bit of an outlier. With a small size and flexible deck, we'd expect it to have great stride ergonomics. With a rigid hinged binding/deck attachment, we'd expect some of those advantages to be tempered. Defying our expectations, we had no issues with the trail walking ergonomics of the Elite. For its intended purpose, it augments your stride ergonomics better than any other in our test.
Another high scorer for this metric is the Tubbs Flex VRT. This snowshoe has a feature set that's tilted toward steep and rugged terrain. This includes its moderate size, which makes it a bit more nimble, and the hinged deck to binding connection, allowing for more precise foot placements. The heel lifter is also a nod to steeper ground. Couple these with good traction, and this model is one of our favorites for movement on mountainous ground.
The MSR Evo is targeted at users entering more casual terrain, so at first glance, the hinged binding/deck interface is a detriment. On well-traveled or groomed trails, the short length and slightly tapered deck help compensate for this. Paradoxically, these are features we like for steep or technical situations, so their inclusion lends some versatility to this model.
Ease of Use
Standing in a snowstorm, anxious to get on the trail, the last thing you want to be worried about is difficult hardware and strap-in features that are challenging to use. We measured ease of use based on how easy each model is to put on and adjust at any moment. We looked at how much adjustment is necessary to get them underfoot and secure for an outing. Then we looked at how easy they are to remove at the end of the day. Binding systems are the main moving components that require adjustment. Some bindings resemble snowboard bindings with horizontal buckles and straps that ratchet open and closed. Another binding style is a step-in binding that covers the top of your foot. This method requires some adjustment to get a proper fit, requires you to loosen each time you remove the snowshoes, and has more complex components than the simpler binding systems.
Bindings get better and better with time, and easy-to-use systems currently look very different from one another. There isn't one clear winner for ease of use. The Symbioz Elite bindings are the most complicated to set up initially but snap easily on and off once that initial setup is complete. The straps on the MSR Evo pack compactly and work reliably in all sorts of conditions and on all boots, while the Montane and Helium Trail scored the highest in this metric. The Big Sky 32 has a very similar binding to these two, except instead of a rubber strap for the heel it has a ratchet strap, which a few of our testers preferred. The BOA systems of the Tubbs Flex VRT and Panoramic seem gimmicky but are actually quite slick.
Our more experienced testers prefer the rubber, "pin-in-hole" style strap on their binding. These straps are durable and simple and conform to most any footwear. Those new to snowshoeing (and winter activities in general) sometimes find that these straps require a bit of hard pulling to secure and have a learning curve. Others on our testing team (especially those with snowboarding experience) prefer a ratcheting strap, which — though a bit more complicated and maybe less durable — requires no exertion to get a snug fit.
The MSR Revo Explore sports ratcheting straps. These narrow straps are not confidence-inspiring, and both the nylon and ratchet straps are troublesome when things get icy. The MSR Lightning Ascent has two straps that hold the forefoot webbing in place. Our testers found that the short length of these straps made them difficult to grip, especially with gloves on.
We look for two things from our snowshoe bindings: they have to stay firmly attached to our feet, and they have to be reasonably comfortable. To do both of these things is a bit of a trick. The most comfortable bindings were sometimes the least secure, and vice versa. A balance between comfort and bindings that stay fastened is essential to having a great time while out in the snow. A comfortable binding distributes its force over a wide area, and this is especially noticeable when you're wearing softer boots. Bindings that create pinch points or have to be uncomfortably tight can reduce circulation to your foot, not something you want in the winter.
The MSR Lightning Ascent sports a very secure setup that walks the security/comfort line nicely. However, they can be hard to adjust for folks with bigger feet or bigger boots (or both). The Atlas Montane has a simple and secure binding, with some foam padding that boosts the comfort for all kinds of footwear.
The MSR Evo are unisex, providing a wide range of fit for many boots and foot sizes. The bindings are easy to use and remain clasped while hiking. However, in soft boots and trail shoes, the rubbery straps of the Evo - and the Revo Trail - can impede circulation and cause pressure points, thus earning these contenders lower scores.
The hybrid system on the TSL Symbioz Elite is about average for security and notably comfortable. The BOA bindings on the Flex VRT are secure enough for moderately steep and technical terrain and are also quite comfortable.
Best for Specific Applications
Deep snow: Crescent Moon Backcountry Big Sky 32
Spring snow: MSR Lightning Ascent, Atlas Helium Trail, or Tubbs Flex VRT
Groomed trails: TSL Symbioz Elite
Steep terrain: Tubbs Flex VRT or MSR Lightning Ascent
Sharing with family members or friends: MSR Evo or Atlas Helium Trail
A good pair of snowshoes can open up an entirely new world for folks who like to hike. Instead of stomping through snow in search of a good mountain trail, you'll be able to float on top and get to places you never could before. Finding the best pair for your objectives or preferred price range can be puzzling, so we hope that this review can help you narrow down the options so you can get out there faster and enjoy the snow.
With so many choices, it can be difficult to find the...
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.