Want to bring your hiking game into winter, but unsure which are the best snowshoes of 2020 to get you there? To find the best snowshoes we assessed over 16 products over 6 years. For this update, we compare 11 of the best on the market. Testing was carried out in snowy Wyoming, Colorado, and northern California. Our team set out to find the strengths and weaknesses of each model by traveling packed-out trails and off-trail deep powder alike. This gave us insight for a review that cuts through the marketing blather and focuses on real-world performance. After hundreds of hours of use, all our field notes and test results culminated in the review below, aiming to identify the perfect snowshoe for your winter adventures.Related: The Best Women's Snowshoes of 2020
The Best Snowshoes of 2020
Best Overall Snowshoe
MSR Lightning Ascent
The stout MSR Lightning Ascent continues to dominate the field of contenders this year. Throughout the testing period, it proved its backcountry prowess time and time again. 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 for brevity's sake, but this model simply performs well in any situation we threw it into. The rubber webbing provides easy fine-fitting and secures the foot in place without question. The rigid hinge linking binding to deck provides good range of motion and precision when necessary.
Our big complaint with this model is with the straps that control the rubber webbing securing the forefoot. The tail of the strap is pretty short, making adjustments a challenge and limiting the size range. 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. That concern notwithstanding, this is our favorite model. We liked all the models we tested for one feature or performance area or another, but the Lightning Ascent brings it all together.
Read review: MSR Lightning Ascent
Best Bang for the Buck
Our testers were surprised to find that for less than $100, you can get a pair of snowshoes that aren't made out of wood and dried animal parts, but it's true! Jeremiah Johnson never wore anything that looks like the Chinook Trekker. This model has the most square inches of flotation for its length of any snowshoe in our review. It achieves this with a consistently wide, oval shape. It's also fairly comfortable when walking on groomed trails.
Our testers found that the Trekker lacks traction on all but the simplest terrain. We slipped and slid when things got steep. The binding system, while not made from moose hide, is the most old-fashioned in our review and not something we'd want to rely on far from the car. That being said, this snowshoe is a great value for the occasional snowy stroll or to keep in the trunk for winter emergencies.
Read review: Chinook Trekker
Best for Deep Snow
Louis Garneau Blizzard II
In deep snow flotation is the most important thing a snowshoe can bring to the table. It's why they exist! Larger snowshoes obviously give hikers more flotation. Every manufacturer gives selection guidelines to help the consumer choose the correct size. The Louis Garneau Blizzard II was the largest snowshoe recommended to us and as such it offered the most flotation.
Flotation isn't everything. We found the Blizzard lacking in the traction department. While it's large size was great for flotation, it definitely made for a more cumbersome walk. Don't pick this model for treacherous terrain. This snowshoe is the one to reach for if you're routinely faced with deep snow, and traction is less of a concern.
Read review: Louis Garneau Blizzard II
Best for Trails
TSL Symbioz Elite
Especially as traffic into the winter backcountry increases, it is more and more likely that you may never, or very rarely, step off of traveled tracks. In that case, the largest and best floating shoes aren't necessary. The bulk, weight, and compromised stride of all-around backcountry tools may not be required. For the user traversing mainly packed tracks, the TSL Symbioz Elite is by far the best equipped. The binding is fast and easy, the traction is excellent, and the size is compact. By far the best attribute, of the TSL is the flexible deck. It provides shock absorption like we've never seen.
However, this flexibility seriously compromises the flotation of this snowshoe. This is not a model designed for deep off-trail travel If you're looking for the snowshoe that's the most 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.
Hours of research into current models on the market led to the selection of 10 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 just boots on your feet is miserable! Most hikers enjoy three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. When the first big storm of the winter strikes, 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 already knows. 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 components to consider 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 surface, and mountains blanketed in winter are accessible with a little extra flotation. They extend your hiking season through the winter and broaden access. But how do you know which ones to buy? And which ones will work best for you?
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. 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 the shoes keep you 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 larger is better. The shape of the 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 snow 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 Louis Garneau Blizzard II, and it offers excellent floation. The Crescent Moon Gold 10 is also excellent in deep snow. It's smaller, but also quite a bit narrower. What the Crescent Moon lacks in flotation, it makes up for in stride ergonomics.
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. Those who recreate in regions with deep, dry winter snowpacks and gently rolling terrain should consider more flotation.
The MSR Lightning Ascent is almost ideal for off-trail travel in deep snow and varying conditions. Others (like the Chinook Trekker) are bigger and float better. But, for all-around users, the Lightning Ascent is worth pressing into duty in deep snow. Add the optional flotation tails, and the MSR excels. The Fimbulvetr Hikr earned an impressive score in the flotation metric but is 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 is a unique case. It is the smallest product we tested. It follows that we would expect poorer flotation. What isn't readily apparent, regarding flotation, is that the entire length of the Symbioz is flexible, an attribute optimized for walking comfort, especially on hard and crusty snow. The drawback of this, however, 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 TSL 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.
The traction systems on the underside are 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. 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 Evo and Flex VRT) 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 highest rated traction systems in our review is the MSR Lightning Ascent. This model has crampons underfoot, lateral crampons, and brake bars offering traction in a range of conditions and terrain. The least gripping options are the TSL Symbioz Elite, the Chinook Trekker, and the Fimbulvetr Hikr.
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 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 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 snowshoes 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 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 and years of experience, is in agreement, but others will disagree. If you prefer flexible straps for technical terrain, the Montane is for you.
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 TSL. For its intended purpose, the TSL Symbioz Elite 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 Louis Garneau Blizzard and Tubbs Flex Vrt are quite comfortable. They are secure enough for moderately steep and technical terrain. These two models were edged out by the 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 TSL Symbioz Elite earned the highest score for this metric.
In soft boots and trail shoes, the rubbery straps of the MSR Revo Trail and 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 did creaate 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 easily they are 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's 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 score in the ease of use metric. The BOA systems of the Tubbs Flex Vrt and Louis Garneau Blizzard 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 actvities 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 was 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. The only one we had real trouble with, concerning ease of use, was the Fimbulvetr Hikr. The simple nylon straps and plastic ladder-lock buckles are finicky to set up and collect ice more than any of the others.
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 Evo and Lightning Ascent offer the best security on foot of any pair in our review, earning a high score.
The hybrid systems on the Atlas Montane, Crescent Moon Gold and TSL Symbioz Elite are as secure as necessary. The BOA bindings on the Louis Garneau Blizzard and Tubbs 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 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: Louis Garneau Blizzard II or 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