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Looking for a new pair of snowshoes to level up your winter hiking? Over the last 8 years, we have tested dozens of models, with the best 12 in our current lineup. Our testers have spent hours and miles breaking trail through deep powder in Alaska, strolling groomed paths in Colorado, and approaching alpine objectives in California's Sierra Nevada. Regardless of conditions, we put these snowshoes through the wringer to bring you an honest assessment of their performance in real life.
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 lead our field of snowshoes. Throughout our testing period, it performed well. It provides reliable traction on snow, ice, slush, and even the occasional bit of exposed rock. It's the model our testers reached for on steep or technical terrain. The Paragon binding system has been on the market for a while now and has proven comfortable and secure in repeated tests. We liked most of the models we tested for one feature or performance area or another, but the Lightning Ascent brings it all together like no other contender.
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. While this isn't a big deal if you're always using the same boots, it makes size changes annoying, especially if you have bigger feet or bulky boots. We wish this strap was a bit longer. That concern notwithstanding, this is our favorite model. 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 many manufacturers have been ignoring. One advantage of plastic snowshoes is that they're light, and these are the lightest in our lineup. They also sport good traction and flotation. This year the Helium gets a new binding system that adds comfort and, once you've set them up for your boot, simplicity.
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. The deck's tip and tail are flexible, making for a smoother ride on firmer snow. The hinged attachment does add to the versatility of this model, which, coupled with its low price, makes for a great value product.
Use: Fresh and spring snow, groomed trails | Weight Load: 50 - 300 lbs (25" model)
REASONS TO BUY
Good flotation for the length
REASONS TO AVOID
Our testers were surprised to find that you can get a pair of snowshoes for this price that aren't made out of wood and dried animal guts and decades old, but it's true! The Chinook Trekker boasts good flotation thanks to having the most square inches of flotation for its length of any snowshoe in our review. The bindings also pack nice and flat for storage or transportation, which is somewhat rare. When hiking on groomed trails or well-traveled paths, this snowshoe didn't compromise our natural stride either. Overall, you get a lot without a huge investment.
On the flip side, our testers found the traction on the Trekker lacking on all but the simplest terrain. The binding system, while not made from moose hide, is the most old-fashioned in our review and not something we'd like to rely on in a remote area. With that in mind, we only recommend this snowshoe for the occasional short hike or to keep in the trunk for winter emergencies. For those uses, it's a great value. In other applications, you can do better.
The Crescent Moon Big Sky 32 was previously known as the Crescent Moon Gold 10. You may find it still sold under its old moniker or the new one, but the product is the same.
For trail breaking in deeper or soft snow, flotation is critical. Primarily this is a function of pounds per square inch, and larger models offer more flotation. In making our selection, we followed the manufacturer's recommendation for each model we chose. The Crescent Moon Big Sky 32 is the largest model recommended by a manufacturer for our test weight. So it gets our recommendation for off-trail and deep snow use. It sports a comfortable and fairly easy-to-use binding.
On the flip side, the Big Sky 32 is not tops for traction, but we think this is fair for a model that's obviously designed for soft 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 to reach for.
In the past, most snowshoes were being used by hardy mountain folk venturing far from the beaten path. Now that winter outdoor recreation is more popular, a lot of hikers are tramping on groomed trails or tracks where sinking into the snow isn't the main problem. The TSL Symbioz Elite provides excellent traction for firm or icy ground. The deck is relatively small and also flexible, and both qualities make it a pleasure to hike with on hard-packed trails.
These same characteristics listed above are the enemies of good flotation, so if deep powder is part of your winter hiking menu, 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.
Hours of research into current models on the market led to selecting the models in this review 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.
Our testing of snowshoes is divided into five rating metrics:
Flotation (30% of total score weighting)
Traction (25% weighting)
Stride Ergonomics (15% weighting)
Ease of Use (15% weighting)
Bindings (15% weighting)
Author and tester 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. The foundation for this review was laid by Jediah Porter, 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.
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 capable of. This is one of the reasons that snowshoeing is one of the fastest-growing winter sports in America.
Finding the right pair for what you do can make all the difference in your winter enjoyment. 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 white are all accessible with a little extra flotation. Snowshoes can extend your hiking season through the winter and expand 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. The Atlas Helium Trail and the MSR Evo Trail are versatile and perform well at a very reasonable price point. The Chinook Trekker doesn't score as high but does boast a shockingly low price. Alternatively, the MSR Lightning Ascent is the best available, but that quality and performance cost a big chunk of change.
Flotation is how well you stay on the surface of the snow. Surface area (as measured in square inches) is the prime determinant of flotation, and more is better. The shape of a snowshoe also affects how well it floats. A wide, oval frame provides better flotation in deep snow than a narrow, tapered design. However, wider frames can feel pretty cumbersome underfoot. Some designs combine a tapered tail with a wide front 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.
A secondary characteristic that affects flotation is the rigidity of the deck. While a stiffer deck (or deck and frame combo) will provide better flotation, it's not as important of a consideration as surface area. A rigid deck may enhance flotation, but a more flexible one can be nicer to hike in. 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 or traverses. 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 increased workload from sinking in a bit more is a small trade-off for more security and efficient travel on technical ground (or while bushwhacking). Those who recreate in regions with deep, dry winter snowpacks and gently rolling terrain should consider sizing up for easier travel.
The Atlas Montane, Helium Trail, and Chinook Trekker are our runners-up for the flotation metric. They have dimensions that provide a respectable amount of measured square inches underfoot. On top of this, the Montane and Trekker have traditional tubular frames, which make them quite rigid, so you can squeeze all the flotation out of every square inch.
The MSR Lightning Ascent is ideal for off-trail travel in deep snow with 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 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. Sliding around on slippery snow is irritating at best and could be dangerous. A versatile snowshoe will have a design that provides adequate traction in a variety of situations. We measured traction by testing each pair on steep and slick hillsides, intentionally trying to slip. We evaluated the stability and support gained from the grip on the bottom of each shoe.
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 MSR Revo Explore) 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 systems in our review are on the MSR Lightning Ascent and TSL Symbioz Elite. The Lightning has crampons underfoot, and the frame is a rigid piece of serrated 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 traction — the Tubbs Flex VRT, MSR Revo, MSR Evo Trail, and MSR Evo Ascent — have some things in common when it comes to traction. All sport aggressive crampon-style teeth under the forefoot, ridges molded into the deck, and longitudinal steel rails.
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 and lighter models have less of a "footprint" and are more nimble. Larger and heavier 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 the 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. The final factor to consider is the shape of the deck. The taper and asymmetry of a design can help to reduce the tripping hazard. A tapered shape does, however, somewhat compromise flotation.
We tried to evaluate the overall design and intention of the product before assessing the stride ergonomics of the binding/deck interface. The Lightning Ascent and Evo Ascent are designed for rugged terrain, so their hinged attachment is good. The Crescent Moon Big Sky 32 seems to be intended for lower-angled slopes, so a strapped attachment makes sense. However, the overall size and weight of this model, though suited to deep snow, kept it from a high score in this metric.
The bulk of the features on the Atlas Montane seem to steer it toward 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 the same attachment system, which is a combination of strapped and hinged. 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 very 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 Trail 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 buckles and straps 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 securely on our feet. Then we looked at how easy they are to remove at the end of the day. We made these evaluations with and without gloves on. We also counted how many steps are required to operate each binding — fewer is better.
Easy-to-use binding systems can 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 Lightning Ascent, Evo Trail and Helium Trail all feature a rubber "net" that goes over the forefoot. Once this is set up for your boot, it's pretty easy to wriggle your boot toe in and then just crank down on the heel strap. The BOA systems of the Tubbs Flex VRT and Panoramic might seem gimmicky, but we found them to be easy to use and glove-friendly.
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 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 to stay on can reduce circulation to your foot, which is the last thing you want when it's cold outside.
The Lightning Ascent and Evo Trail sport a secure setup that walks the security/comfort line nicely. The Helium Trail has a similar binding, but the rubber "net" is offset on the foot, so the straps can create pinch points with certain shoes. Several models, including the Montane and Flex VRT, have secure bindings that are padded with thin foam. This boosts comfort (and maybe warmth!) for all kinds of footwear.
Best for Specific Applications
Deep snow: Crescent Moon 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 Trail or Chinook Trekker
A good pair of snowshoes can open up an entirely new world for hikers who only have experience in the summer. 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.