Need a new pair of snowshoes to up your winter hiking game? We have tested close to 20 unique pairs over the last 7 years, with 12 in this 2021 review. Our team has spent hundreds of hours wallowing through deep powder in Wyoming, striding down groomed trails in Colorado, and approaching technical alpine objectives in California's Sierra Nevada. Some days were fresh, others were icy, but all gave us the insight to cut through marketing blather and focus on real-world performance. We evaluated the most important qualities, such as flotation, traction in varied terrain, and stride ergonomics of each model. Regardless of how or where you hike in the winter, there's a model here to suit both your needs and your budget.Related: Best Snowshoes for Women of 2021
Best Snowshoes of 2021
|Price||$329.95 at REI||$260 List||$230 List|
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|Pros||Rigid, precise, excellent binding security, traction, flotation||Fully featured for steep and technical use||Good traction, and an easy-to-use, comfortable binding||Easy on/off, versatile||Inexpensive, simple, reliable|
|Cons||New binding trades ease-of-use for comfort||Loud decking and bulky harness||Mediocre flotation for the length, strapped deck/binding attachment||Can fall off when paired with bigger boots and feet, pricey||Loud decking on crusty snow|
|Bottom Line||The best snowshoes in our test, complete with high end features and simple engineering||This contender provides excellent traction, heel lifts, a comfortable binding, and moderate weight||This is a great traditional snowshoe that's outshone in a few areas by newer designs||A well-rounded snowshoe for most winter hikers||This molded snowshoe is reliable, inexpensive, and offers widespread appeal|
|Rating Categories||MSR Lightning Ascent||Tubbs Flex VRT||Atlas Montane||Tubbs Panoramic||MSR Evo|
|Stride Ergonomics (20%)|
|Binding Comfort (10%)|
|Ease Of Use (10%)|
|Binding Security (10%)|
|Specs||MSR Lightning Ascent||Tubbs Flex VRT||Atlas Montane||Tubbs Panoramic||MSR Evo|
|Uses||Spring snow and steep terrain||Spring snow and steep terrain||Spring snow and moderate terrain||Spring snow and moderate terrain||Spring snow and moderate terrain|
|Optimum weight load per tested size (per manufacturer)||120-220 lbs||up to 190 lbs||25: 120-200 lbs, 30: 150-250 lbs, 35: 180-300+ lbs||25: 120-200 lbs, 30: 170-250 lbs, 36: 220-300 lbs||up to 180 lbs|
|Weight (per pair)||4 lbs 0 oz||4 lbs 9 oz||4 lbs 7 oz||4 lbs 8 oz||3 lbs 9 oz|
|Surface Area||188 in²||179 in²||176 in²||200 in²||173 in²|
|Dimensions||25 x 8"||24 x 8"||25 x 8"||25 x 8"|
|Crampon/Traction aids||Steel crampon augmented with rail and frame teeth||Steel crampon augmented with traction rails||Steel crampon augmented with traction rails||Steel crampon augmented with traction rails||Steel crampon augmented with traction rails|
|Frame material||Aluminum||Steel traction rails||Aluminum||Fit-Step||Steel traction rails|
|Deck material||Fabric||Molded plastic||Nytex fabric||Fabric and molded plastic||Molded plastic|
|Binding/Deck Connection||Hinged||Hinged||Strapped||Hybrid Hinged and Strapped||Hinged|
|Binding system||Rubber Straps with pin-in-hole||Boa||Nylon straps with cam buckles, rubber strap with plastic buckle||Boa with rubber strap||Rubber Straps with pin-in-hole|
|Flotation tails sold separately?||Yes||No||No||No||Yes|
|Men's and Women's versions?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Unisex|
|Sizes Available||22, 25, 30||24, 28||25, 30, 35||25, 30, 36||One Size|
|Tested Size||25||24||25||25||One Size|
Best Overall Snowshoe
MSR Lightning Ascent
The redesigned MSR Lightning Ascent continues to dominate the field of contenders. In all testing conditions, it proved its prowess. It provides reliable traction on snow, ice, slush, and even the occasional bit of exposed rock. It's the model our testers always reach for on steep or technical terrain. The new Paragon binding system is incredibly secure and more comfortable than previous iterations. We like all the models we tested for one feature or performance area, but the Lightning Ascent brings it all together as no other shoe could.
Our only gripe with this snowshoe is with the straps that control the rubber webbing securing the forefoot. The strap's tail seems unnecessarily short, making it challenging to adjust or remove, especially with gloves on. That concern notwithstanding, this is our favorite model, though expensive.
Read review: MSR Lightning Ascent
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.
The MSR Evo is a classic. Easy to use, good traction and float, and affordable. The bindings are secure and can accommodate many different sized boots, and the compact design is relatively easy to strap to the outside of a pack on long days. Easy to walk in, the Evo is also compatible with supplemental tails if you need to increase surface area for better flotation on heavy pack days.
The simplistic molded plastic decking of the Evo is not quiet, so if you want snowshoes that can sneak up on wildlife, these won't be the best bet. The straps can also create hot spots if not cinched down correctly, and when paired with smaller boots, some testers didn't like where the top strap would sit on the ankle. These things aside, the Evo is a great option for many scenarios at a very fair price.
Read review: MSR Evo
Best Bang for the Buck
Many backpackers will have a hard time believing that you can shell out this little for a new pair of snowshoes, but it's true! The Chinook Trekker goes for an astoundingly affordable price, and you get more flotation (as measured in square inches) than most other models of the same length. As for walking comfort, the Trekker was right in the middle of the pack, not great, but not too bad.
In other metrics, we got what we paid for. Traction is bad on anything more than the most gentle of slopes. The binding is quite old-fashioned; we wouldn't want to rely on it to get us back to the car from any place too remote. Nevertheless, this model is a great value for the occasional dog walk or someone who wants to have a spare pair for when their mother-in-law is in town.
Read review: Chinook Trekker
Best for Trails
TSL Symbioz Elite
There was a time when most snowshoes were being used by hardy mountain folk venturing off the beaten path. But with the growth in popularity of winter outdoor recreation, a lot of outdoors-people are snowshoeing on groomed trails or tracks where flotation is no longer the overriding consideration. The TSL Symbioz Elite provides excellent traction for icy groomers. The deck is relatively small and also flexible, and both qualities make it a pleasure to hike with on hard-packed trails.
However, this flexibility seriously compromises flotation. This is not a model designed for deep off-trail travel. But if you're looking for something that's pleasant to walk in, and you won't be spending much time in deep snow, pick the Symbioz Elite.
Read review: TSL Symbioz Elite
Why You Should Trust Us
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 gear and clothing that was right 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 the selection of 12 models for our side-by-side test. 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.
Related: How We Tested Snowshoes
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 is miserable! Most hikers enjoy three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. When the first big storm of the winter 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 accessibility 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 is a wide range of designs on the market. Still, the main considerations are the same across the board — frame size and shape, traction systems, 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. They extend your hiking season through the winter and broaden access.
Related: Buying Advice for Snowshoes
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 Chinook Trekker or MSR Evo. Alternatively, the MSR Lightning Ascent is the best available, but you'll spend a lot for quality and performance.
Flotation is measured by how well you stay on the surface of the snow. This is the reason that you're reading this review in the first place. 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, hard-packed snow, 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 Gold 10, 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. Winter recreationists should consider which is more important for their needs. Those heading into steep terrain or with alpine aspirations are 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 the increased agility. Those who recreate in regions with deep, dry winter snowpacks and gently rolling terrain should consider more flotation.
The MSR Lightning Ascent is ideal for off-trail travel in deep snow and varying conditions. Others (like the Chinook Trekker) are bigger and float better, but for something that can really handle it all, the Lightning Ascent is excellent. The optional flotation tails make the deep stuff a breeze. The Fimbulvetr Hikr earned an impressive score in the flotation metric because of its width, but it's one of the lowest-scoring models overall. 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 and EVVO Snowshoes have an interesting convergence of features. They are the smallest products we tested. It follows that we would expect poorer flotation. What isn't readily apparent regarding flotation, however, is that the entire length of both models is flexible, an attribute optimized for walking comfort, especially on hard and crusty snow. The drawback of this is that one's weight is focused in the middle of the length, 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, the poor flotation is not a problem. 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.
Traction systems on the underside are generally designed with crampon style teeth and rigid frames to provide optimal support in slippery terrain. Packed snow, inconsistent snowpack, and ice demand traction that will keep you from sliding downhill. While moving along groomed trails, the crampons dig into the snow to keep you from shifting in your step. Lateral rails can add security on steep downhills or 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 MSR Evo) provide more traction by design. We found that all other things being equal, 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 EVVO is unique in our review in that it has no metal traction aids at all. The bottom of the deck looks like a car tire, which makes sense because that part of the snowshoe is made by Michelin, the tire company. Unfortunately, our testers found this to be a disadvantage on firm or icy slopes.
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, lateral crampons, and brake bars offering traction in a range of conditions and terrain. The Elite features aggressive metal spikes that are impressively sharp and confidence-inspiring.
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. 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 seems to be intended for lower angled slopes, so a strapped attachment makes sense.
The MSR Evo and Revo models are targeted at users entering more casual terrain, so their hinged binding/deck interface is a detriment. The Revo models compensate for this to a degree with a slightly tapered deck. 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 has an attachment that's a combination of both. On the EVVO, the sole of your foot is completely fixed to the deck of the snowshoe; the deck doesn't rotate at all when you step. Both offer a decent stride, with the Panoramic scoring above-average.
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.
The most comfortable bindings spread the force of retention over a broad area. To do so securely is a bit of a trick. The most comfortable bindings were sometimes the least secure, and vice versa. The soft straps of the Fimbulvetr Hikr are very comfortable but by far the least secure. Next, the twist-lock "Boa" style tension systems of the Tubbs Panoramic and Flex Vrt are quite comfortable. They are secure enough for moderately steep and technical terrain. These two models were edged out by the Atlas Montane, which improved the comfort of its design with some foam padding and didn't compromise security. The proprietary, unique systems on the Crescent Moon Gold 10 are fairly comfortable, while the Symbioz Elite earned the highest score for this metric.
In soft boots and trail shoes, the rubbery straps of the MSR Revo Trail and MSR Evo can impede circulation and cause pressure points, thus earning these contenders lower binding comfort scores. The MSR Revo Explore is attached to your foot with just two straps. We found that our testers tended to keep these two pretty tight for security, and so the toe strap created some pinch points with softer footwear. In stiffer snowboard and mountaineering boots, this isn't a problem but is worth noting for softer boots. The MSR Lightning Ascent sported a similar binding system for many years, but this has now been replaced with a rubbery web over the forefoot. Our testers found this distributed the tension quite well without a compromise in security.
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 style of bindings 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 shoes, 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 TSL Symbioz Elite bindings are the most complicated to set up initially but snap easily on and off once that initial set up is complete. The straps on the MSR Evo pack compactly and work reliably in all sorts of conditions and on all boots, while the Crescent Moon Gold 10 scored the highest in this metric. The BOA systems of the Tubbs Flex Vrt and Panoramic seem gimmicky but are 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 binding on the Chinook Trekker is decidedly old-fashioned, with a combination of ratcheting and nylon webbing straps. The MSR Revo Explore also sports ratcheting straps. The ratcheting 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.
Security on foot depends on two things: bindings and fit. Incredible bindings on a pair that don't fit your feet will not provide security. And likewise, an incredible fit with sub-par bindings will result in less security. A balance between a proper fit and bindings that stay fastened is essential to overall security on your feet while out in the snow. The MSR Evo are unisex, providing a wide range of proper fit for many boots and foot sizes. The bindings are easy to use and remain clasped while in stride. The MSR Lightning Ascent also sports a very secure set-up. While this can come at the expense of comfort, their new design seems to walk the security/comfort line nicely. However, they can be hard to adjust for folks with bigger feet or bigger boots (or both!). The MSR Evo and Lightning Ascent offer the best security on foot of any pair in our review, earning a high score. The MSR Revo Trail is also excellent with sturdy straps very much like the Evo.
The hybrid systems on the Atlas Montane, Crescent Moon Gold and TSL Symbioz Elite are as secure as necessary. The BOA bindings on the Tubbs Panoramic and Flex Vrt stay on in all but the most extreme terrain. Again, the Chinook Trekker, Fimbulvetr Hikr, and Revo Explore trailed behind the rest. The Hikr's nylon strapped bindings tended to slip around and fall off entirely after a few minutes of use, even with the most aggressive tightening. The toe buckle of the Revo Explore unexpectedly released at least once for over half of our testers.
Best for Specific Applications
- Deep snow: Crescent Moon Backcountry Gold 10
- Spring snow: MSR Lightning Ascent, Atlas Montane, or Tubbs Flex VRT
- Groomed trails: TSL Symbioz Elite
- Steep terrain: Tubbs Flex VRT or MSR Lightning Ascent
- Walking the dog: Chinook Trekker or Fimbulvetr Hikr
- Sharing with family members or friends: MSR Evo or Revo Trail
A pair of snowshoes can open up an entire season for folks who love to travel on two feet. Choosing the best pair to buy can be confusing yet rewarding, as a pair can add much enjoyment to your winters. We hope we've made the decision a bit simpler so you can get out there and enjoy the snow!
— Ian McEleney and Jediah Porter