Looking for the best women's snowshoes in 2020? In the last 6 years, we have researched 40+ models to narrow down the selection to the 8 in our review. Whether you're a casual day-tripper or an avid multi-day hiker, we've put in the work to help you find the very best fit. Our expert testers spent months in all manner of terrain, paying close attention to flotation, traction, bindings, and more. Different size-and-shaped bodies, feet, and styles weigh in on this review so you can make a confident purchase and get to getting after it.Related: The Best Snowshoes of 2020
The Best Women's Snowshoes of 2020
Best Overall Snowshoe for Women
MSR Lightning Ascent - Women's
The MSR Lightning Ascent is a versatile snowshoe built for all types of terrain and adventuring. With its 360° traction, ability to provide a natural stride, and excellent bindings — not to mention the option for added flotation tails — this product is the clear winner of our Editors' Choice award. Whether walking up steep obstacle-ridden terrain, down an icy hill, or across a flat and well-traveled path, slippage is minimal, and comfort is a non-issue. The binding rotates almost 90° from the deck, which allows for a natural stride when walking forward, and the material provides just the right amount of stretch for a very snug fit without uncomfortable pinching or poking.
Due to the nature of the binding, walking backward and sidestepping can be quite laborious. The bindings are also challenging to put on with thick gloves, though after the first fitting, it gets much easier, provided you wear the same boots. Despite the price, difficult first fitting, and the propensity to fall head over heels when backstepping, we are confident in our decision to name the Lightning Ascent our Editors' Choice. From casual day-trippers to week-long expeditioners, this shoe put smiles on the faces of all those who slipped it on.
Read review: MSR Lightning Ascent - Women's
Best Bang for your Buck
Atlas Elektra Rendezvous
If you are looking for an all-around well-performing shoe at a great price, look no further! Our Best Band for the Buck Award goes to the Atlas Elektra Rendezvous, and for good reason! The shoe itself is small, which offers the user a very natural stride and is easy to pack away or store when not in use. Surface area directly affects float, but this shoe is the lightest in our test suite, so it's size didn't seem to overly affect its floatation, even in deeper unpacked areas. The simple binding system is one of our favorites. It is easy to use and fits an array of boots making this shoe a versatile one.
Unfortunately, unlike some of our other top contenders, the Rendezvous lacks teethed side rails. This helps it stay lightweight, but also negatively affects traction. However, we only really noticed this on hard-packed, icy, or very steep terrain. If you are a lover of deep fresh trails or off-trail exploration on rolling terrain, then the flotation, comfort, ease of use, and price of this shoe may outweigh your need for perfect traction.
Read review: Atlas Elektra Rendezvous
Best Buy for Versatility
MSR Evo Trail Snowshoes
The simplistic design of the MSR Evo proves itself reliable and highly versatile. The bindings fit an array of shoes, even snowboard boots! If you are into hiking the backcountry in search of the perfect line to ride back down, these shoes just might be the ideal choice for you. The shoe itself is relatively small, which affects its ability to float on unpacked snow. That being said it has the option to add flotation tails, which, like the rest of the shoe, are uncomplicated and easy to install as needed. With the addition of these tails, the float improves significantly, and we found that having the option to minimize the shoe is actually quite useful. This lightweight option will get you from A to B without question.
The Evo is a unisex shoe, so people with smaller framed bodies may have to widen their gait, potentially causing their stride to be less organic. We also noticed that when the straps get cold, they begin to stiffen, casusing them to pull out of their designated clips when walking. This does not loosen the shoe by any means, but it does mean that the straps aren't always neatly tucked away. Lastly, we noticed that the material the decking is made of creates quite the ruckus compared to other shoes in our review, especially on packed and crusty snow. But if you want to keep it simple, versatile, and shareable with the taller folks in your life, this is a great shoe to consider.
Read review: MSR Evo Trail Snowshoe
The weight loads mentioned here are for the particular size we tested. Most of these snowshoes offer multiple sizes that accommodate weights anywhere from 80 to well over 200 pounds.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by Penney Garrett and Hayley Thomas. Penney holds a special place in her heart for tromping around in deep snow, exploring the natural world. When she's not hiking on lonely winter trails, you can find her skiing or doing yoga. During the summer, she'll likely be out on long trails hiking with her pooch or rock climbing in beautiful Lake Tahoe.
Hayley has been living in Colorado for almost 15 years and, in that time, her love of the outdoors has grown exponentially. Her favorite sport is climbing, but it doesn't stop there. You can find her on the slopes in the winter, and on her bike in the summer. When she's not spending time in the mountains, she is probably taking acro yoga photos in the city or running around the park with her dog. Both Hayley and Penney bring a wealth of experience, providing amazing comparisons and identifying key features along the way.
At OutdoorGearLab, we strive to test snowshoes objectively, pushing each to the limit. To start our process, we assess the best contenders on the market and select the creme of the crop. This means that even the products that score low in our review are still excellent. From there, we find the snowiest slopes to hike, evaluating key metrics along the way. With objective observations and personal experience, we bring a comprehensive and in-depth review. Our unbiased approach means we purchase every piece of gear at full retail and then test it to the max in real-world scenarios. We hope our recommendations help you in your search.
Related: How We Tested Snowshoes for Women
Analysis and Test Results
We know that many outdoorsy folks trade their hiking boots in for ski boots during the winter, but if you are looking for a way to continue venturing out on foot in the snowy months then you've come to the right place! Are you curious about snowshoeing but don't know where to start? Are you wondering about the best options for women specifically? Well, we can help with that! The right pair of these puppies can open up a whole world of backcountry adventures that would otherwise be impossible in the winter months.
The models we tested range from not-too-bad to wallet-emptying. This can make it hard to tell where the sweet spot of performance vs. price is. Comparing the overall score to retail price is a great place to start.
For excellent performance without breaking the bank, check out both our Best Buy winners, the Rendezvous, and the Evo. Alternatively, the Editors' Choice Lightning Ascent performs impressively across all our testing criteria but is a more serious investment.
The term flotation conjures up images of hovering above the snow as though you're walking on water. While hover-shoes might be a thing of the future, in the here and now, anti-gravity technology is not accessible to the average consumer. This means that the term float, in relation to snowshoes, refers to how much or little you sink into the snow. The better the float, the less you sink. It can be difficult to appreciate the float of a snowshoe while hiking around in them because, depending on the snowpack, your foot will still sink a considerable amount. But take a moment to remove your snowshoe and see how far you post hole sans snowshoe. You could easily find yourself sinking to your knees, thighs, or farther. This is the bread and butter of a snowshoe and why we weight this metric more heavily than any other testing point. It is the flotation that will allow you to hike into terrain that would otherwise be impassable.
Flotation is determined by the length and shape of the shoe combined with body weight and snow quality. You will sink much deeper in light and fluffy snow than you will in dense and wet snow. The longer and wider the shoe, (i.e., the more surface area), the more you will float. Keep in mind that sometimes more surface, while it may provide more float, can be heavier or more awkward to walk in. If you plan to regularly visit varied terrain where you will need to both float on deep snowdrifts and be agile on a packed trail, we suggest looking for a shoe with optional add-on flotation tails. Both the Lightning Ascent and the Evo Trail offer this feature. Since some models are available in various sizes, it is important to calculate your weight plus any gear you may be carrying to ensure you are choosing the correct size. This will make a huge difference in regards to achieving the best possible flotation.
Our Editors' Choice-winning Lightning Ascent is one of our favorites for flotation in deep snow. This impressive shoe performs well across the board on all types of terrain. One of the things that we appreciate most is how comfortable and confident we felt in both deep and packed snow. Sometimes a shoe will have excellent float or traction, but the tradeoff is feeling overly sticky or awkward on groomed areas. Despite the narrow decking on the Lightning, (which allows for a normal stride), it retains its ability to stay high on fresh snow.
We also found great float with the Louis Garneau Blizzard and the Atlas Elektra Montane. The Rendezvous performs impressively for its small size as well — it's one of the few models we tested in both sizes, and the smaller size held its own surprisingly well.
The Evo is decent on its own, but with the addition of tails, it floats as well as our highest scorers. Since the floatation tails are sold separately, our score reflects its performance without them. They are a bit pricey, which might deter many folks, so be sure to consider your final weight with all clothes and gear to determine if tails are even needed. It's certainly a nice option to have if you want to be able to navigate all different types of snow.
Traction is of supreme importance. No matter what type of terrain you find yourself on, you need to know that you can trust your feet. We tested traction by ascending and descending terrain with steep slopes, long rolling hills, and icy flatlands.
The stick of a snowshoe is determined by the crampons and the presence or absence of side rails, or traction bars, on the underside of the shoe. There is a lot of variation from model to model, and it's often hard to know what will work best just by looking at it. Generally, shoes meant for steeper climbing will have more aggressive crampons — especially at the toe — as well as traction bars. Heel lifts are also common for any model intended to be able to take you up steep hills. Models designed for more tame trails will often have smooth tubes for side rails instead of teeth to help you glide along easily.
Our winner in the traction department is also our Editors' Choice, the Lightning Ascent. The edge-to-edge grip of the patented 360° traction frame makes a noticeable difference in the ability to traverse slopes and hills. The sharp teeth dig into well-packed snow as well as ice. We had no issues hiking through mixed terrain, complete with fallen trees and exposed rock. Last but definitely not least, the massive crampon allows for an easy slip-free descent.
The Evo also has stellar traction but is noticeably sticky when on flatter terrain due to the burly side rails and traction bars. We also found it difficult to glide while wearing the Tubbs Flex RDG with its carbon steel toe crampon and traction rails. The models with the best overall scores in our review ended up there by having both great traction and impressive float.
More often than not, old-school shoes cause the user to adopt a duck-footed waddle. This comes from prioritizing the shoe's surface area to provide better float. While flotation is arguably the most important aspect, you will be most efficient and comfortable if you are able to use your natural stride. While modern-day designs are created with ease of walking in mind, some women, or petite folk, still find that they need to widen their gait to avoid stepping on their own feet. Certain companies have addressed this issue better than others, so we were sure to pay close attention to stride ergonomics while testing.
We saw a wide range of performances in this category, but once again, many of our top scorers overall ended up there because they are easy and pleasant to walk in. Our favorites are the Lightning Ascent and Flex RDG. The narrow decking on both of these models allows for a normal stride no matter how petite the user. Keep in mind that a narrower deck means less surface area, which can affect floatation — this was an issue for us with the Flex but not the impressive Lightning Ascent.
One contender stands out here for its sheer uniqueness. The Crescent Moon Eva Foam is designed to feel more like a sneaker than a snowshoe, and it delivers on that front. While not for everyone, the thick foam decking, rocker shape, and lack of a pivoting binding (your foot is fully attached to the deck) give the shoe a bouncy feel that — on packed trail — help propel the foot forward. It's pretty fun once you get the feel of it and is the only shoe that inspired us to run because of how springy it felt. While fun, we did have to widen our gait a bit to keep one foot from running into the other.
Ease of Use
Whether you're excited to get on the move or in a hurry because inclement weather is headed your way, the last thing you want is something that's frustrating to get on and off. We determined ease of use by assessing how easy the binding system on each model was to use while kitted out in snow pants and gloves. Was it intuitive? Could we do it without taking our gloves off? Did we constantly have to adjust or attend to anything while walking?
The Elektra Montane binding system is very easy to use, even with gloves on — the back strap is simple to tighten quickly, and it stays put. Combine that with excellent ergonomics and a heel lift for steep terrain, and you have a stellar shoe for any skill level. The Crescent Moon Eva is a no-brainer with super simple Velcro bindings and zero bells or whistles to contend with — just tighten, stick, and go. Our other Crescent Moon model, the Gold 13, is another favorite due to comfortable and easy to use bindings.
No model was overly difficult to use, though the toothed buckle system and many straps of the MSR Evo made some testers not want to bother. Not only do these systems take more time and torque to get on, the nature of the straps — while admittedly accommodating to many boot sizes — means it's easy to over-cinch areas and to create hot spots. We also found that the temperature affected the stiffness of the straps. The colder the air, the stiffer they became, which caused the tails to pop out of their designated fasteners, leaving them to flop freely in the wind. While we love almost everything about the Evo, these strappy bindings could be improved.
Two models in our review offer a Boa binding system — the Blizzard III and Flex RDG. This system is quite easy to quickly and evenly tighten, though popping the dial back open for adjustments can be hard with thick gloves or cold fingers.
Floatation and traction are certainly important, but no one is going to get much use out of their shoes if they don't feel secure and comfortable while wearing them. Snowshoe bindings come in various designs ranging from malleable stretchy rubber to stiff snowboard binding style straps. A good system should inspire confidence, be durable, and just flat out feel good. Even having doubts about a binding system's security and comfort can put a damper on an otherwise fun and carefree outing. Our top three contenders in this category are the Lightning Ascent, Elektra Montane, and Gold 13.
Our favorite of the top three is the Single Pull Loop (SPL) design of the Gold 13. It both tightens and loosens the entire system with the pull of one loop. The heel is cinched tight with a ratcheting strap similar to what you see on many snowboard bindings. This setup is extremely easy to use and adjust quickly — even with gloves on or with cold fingers. It's also made with robust yet stretchy materials. This combination allows the binding to hug each foot tightly and evenly from all directions making it durable and comfortable as well as easy to use.
Similarly, we love the Atlas Montane and Rendezvous, which tighten with one easy loop and loosens with another smaller one. This model also has a ratcheting back heel strap that is easy to tension perfectly. Both of these binding systems stayed tight, contained, and comfortable throughout our adventures.
The MSR Lightning, our Editors' Choice, has improved their bindings significantly from previous iterations. While the front toe bucket is still difficult to adjust with thick gloves on, we found that no additional adjustments were needed after the initial fitting. This leaves just the back strap to fasten each time you slip on your shoes, which is manageable with gloves. The straps are stretchy and do not stiffen in the cold winter air, which allows the user to get their boots strapped in tightly without any pinching or poking. The front toe bucket is form-fitting and keeps the foot from sliding around both while ascending and descending. Overall we felt very secure and comfortable while trekking around in the Lightning.
While we appreciate the ease and efficiency of Boa bindings like you see on the Flex RDG and Blizzard, we don't feel they are as secure because of the thin wires that are fully exposed. If one of those wires breaks, it renders the entire shoe useless. And there is no way to do a field repair. Psychologically this makes the system seem insecure, even though it's quite burly. It is also worth noting that some online reviews mention that the area where the dial is located can cause a pinch point. We didn't personally experience this, but it's something to keep in mind when deciding what's right for you.
The Elektra Rendezvous is also very comfortable, sporting straps and a single pull loop system similar to the Gold 13 that allows for very even tightening. The Eva Foam has Velcro straps that are reminiscent of a sandal and quite cozy — though if they get too clogged with snow or debris, they start to lose some of their stickiness and therefore lack in the security department
The MSR Evo has a series of straps that need to be pulled tight into place and fastened into clips. They are far from uncomfortable, but the tails tend to pop out of their retainer clips when cold air stiffens the rubbery material.
The right pair of snowshoes can provide hiking lovers of all kinds access to the most beautiful places throughout the winter season. There's nothing quite like breaking trail across a field of brand new snow or through a silent forest. Similar to finding a secluded mountain meadow covered in wildflowers in the spring, snowy forests and mountaintops are a truly magical experience. If you take the time to research and find the right size and shape for your foot and your individual trekking goals, you won't be disappointed.
— Hayley Thomas & Penney Garrett