Related: Best Snowshoes for Women
The Best Snowshoes of 2019
|Price||$224.95 at Amazon|
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|$289.95 at Amazon||$169.99 at MooseJaw|
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|$149.93 at REI|
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|Pros||Rigid, precise, excellent binding security, traction, flotation||Off-trail features in a solid package||Good traction, and an easy-to-use, comfortable binding||Large, with unique hybrid hinged deck/binding interface||Fully featured for steep and technical use|
|Cons||Hinged binding/deck connection compromises some trail shock absorption||Binding is strapped to the deck instead of hinged there||Mediocre flotation for the length, strapped deck/binding attachment||Limited traction||Loud decking and bulky harness|
|Bottom Line||The best snowshoes in our test, complete with high end features and simple engineering.||This contender is perfect for the user that prefers a flexible and strapped binding/deck.||This is a great traditional snowshoe that's outshone in a few areas by newer designs.||All-around snowshoes optimized for off-trail and deep snow performance.||This contender provides excellent traction, heel lifts, a comfortable binding, and moderate weight.|
|Rating Categories||Lightning Ascent||Atlas Aspect||Atlas Montane||Louis Blizzard II||Tubbs Flex VRT|
|Stride Ergonomics (20%)|
|Binding Comfort (10%)|
|Ease Of Use (10%)|
|Binding Security (10%)|
|Specs||Lightning Ascent||Atlas Aspect||Atlas Montane||Louis Blizzard II||Tubbs Flex VRT|
|Uses||Spring snow and steep terrain||Spring Snow||Spring snow and moderate terrain||Deep snow||Spring snow and steep terrain|
|Weight (per pair)||4 lbs 0 oz||4 lbs 8 oz||4 lbs 7 oz||5 lbs 6 oz||4 lbs 9 oz|
|Frame material||Aluminum||Aluminum||Aluminum||Aluminum||Steel traction rails|
Best Overall Snowshoe
MSR Lightning Ascent
Once again, the MSR Lightning Ascent continues its reign over our field of competitors. Regardless of the situation, it dominated. Many snowshoes can perform well during a short stroll on a groomed trail. This model is the benchmark for traction on steep, rugged terrain. The rubber strap binding system is simple, secure, and durable. The rigid hinge that links the binding to the deck provides a good range of motion and precision when necessary.
Our testers found that it's easy to restrict circulation to your toes by making the rubber straps too tight. While less of a problem with stiff, bulky mountaineering and snowboard boots, this is a consideration for lighter and softer footwear. Aside from that concern, this is our testers' favorite model. If you enjoy alpine terrain, these are for you. For the same design and features in a lighter, lower-profile model for a narrower gait, check out the women's Lightning Ascent.
Read review: MSR Lightning Ascent
Best Bang for the Buck
A pair for less than $100, no way! Indeed, the Chinook Trekker has a head-turning price of 60 American dollars. That low cost still gets you more square inches of flotation than any other 25-inch long model. The stride ergonomics on this model are also solidly in the middle of the pack.
Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Traction was seriously lacking. The binding was pretty antiquated and not anything we would want to rely on deep in the woods or mountains. Regardless of those flaws, these are a good value for the occasional user who won't be getting too far from the car.
Read review: Chinook Trekker
Top Pick for Deep Snow
Louis Garneau Blizzard II
In deep snow, flotation is the most critical thing a snowshoe can bring to the table. It's why they exist! Larger options give hikers more flotation. Every manufacturer gives selection guidelines to help the consumer choose the correct size. The Louis Garneau recommendation for the Blizzard II was the largest model 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 made for a more cumbersome walk. It's 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
Top Pick for Trails
TSL Symbioz Elite
Winter backcountry recreation is growing in popularity. It's not too crazy to think that many winter recreationists may spend most of their time on groomed trails or well-traveled tracks where flotation, while still important, is not the only consideration. This is where a model like the TSL Symbioz Elite comes in. The compact size and flexible deck make it perfect for brisk walks on firm trails.
Those same two qualities seriously compromise the flotation. If you're looking for an option 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
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. Then upon the first big snow hiking gear is packed away. These shoes allow for a similar experience of the outdoors in the winter season, and little skill is needed beyond what any hiker of moderate experience already knows. This accessibility is one of the reasons that snowshoeing is one of the fastest growing winter sports in America.
Related: Buying Advice for Snowshoes
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, but 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 may be explored with a little extra floation. 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?
We trail tested all eight pairs in varying conditions in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, plus some snowy jaunts in the Sierras of California. Our rating metrics cover flotation on snow surfaces, traction on a range of terrain and conditions, ease of use for putting on and taking off, and the security on foot. Each criterion evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each pair and then compares them side-by-side.
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 snowshoes in this review. For a great budget-friendly deal, check out the Chinook Trekker. Alternatively, the MSR Lightning Ascent is the best available, but will set you back by hundreds more.
Flotation is measured by how well the shoes keep you on the surface of the snow. Surface area is the prime determinant of flotation. Larger is better, for flotation. The design also affects how well it floats. A rigid, wide, oval frame provides better flotation in deep snow than a flexible, narrow, tapered design. 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 longer 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. The Crescent Moon is smaller, but also quite a bit narrower. What the Crescent Moon lacks in flotation it makes up for in stride ergonomics. These two evaluation categories are often in opposition to each other.
The MSR Lightning Ascents are 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 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. This is 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 snowshoes 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. The Fimbulvetr Hikr earned an impressive score in the flotation metric but is one of the lowest scoring models overall.
After flotation, traction is the most important consideration. Snow is 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. We found that generally, more metal teeth on the bottom of your snowshoe equals more traction
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.
Attaching "tennis rackets" to your feet will inevitably impede your stride. There are ways to minimize this impediment. Smaller shoes make a smaller literal "footprint." Larger 'shoes, of course, are more cumbersome and clumsy. 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 decking, 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. In our use and testing, these shape differences help, but the other criteria make a far bigger difference.
Within the stride ergonomics evaluation metric, there are some conflicts. Take, for example, the attachment of binding to the deck. In some settings one method is preferred, we find, while in other situations, the other method is preferred. 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 MSR Evo is targeted at users entering more casual terrain, so its hinged binding/deck interface is a detriment. 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. For those, the option to choose is great. If you prefer flexible straps for technical terrain, the Atlas 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 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 Evo and MSR Lightning Ascent can impede circulation and cause pressure points, thus earning these contenders lower binding comfort scores. In stiffer snowboard and mountaineering boots, this isn't a problem but is worth noting for softer boots.
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 MSR Evo and MSR Lightning Ascent bindings 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.
The binding on the Chinook Trekker was decidedly old-fashioned, with a combination of ratcheting and nylon straps. The ratcheting straps are not confidence inspiring, and both the nylon and ratchet straps are troublesome when things get icy. 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 Evo and MSR 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 snowshoes 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 and Fimbulvetr Hikr 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.
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
A pair of snowshoes can open up an entire season for hiking lovers. Choosing the best pair to buy can be confusing yet rewarding, as a pair can add much enjoyment to your winters. Need more help deciding the size and shape to use?
— Ian McEleney and Jediah Porter