MSR Lightning Ascent - Women's
: Mountain/technical terrain | Weight Load
: Up to 210lbs*
Heel lifts for steep terrain
Add on flotation tails available
Binding straps flop around
Not as comfortable on packed trails as less aggressive models
The MSR Lightning Ascent is an excellent snowshoe with robust construction, superior traction for steep terrain, and a burly yet flexible binding system — an easy choice for our coveted Editors' Choice award. With 360° traction and heel lifters, there is no better shoe for ascending, traversing, and descending icy hills. The bindings are easy to use with large gloves or mittens, and a narrower profile than the men's version allows women an easy, natural gait. Floatation is also excellent, and there is the option of purchasing supplemental add-on floatation tails if you plan to carry a heavy load or be out in deeper snow. On top of it all, the Lightning is lightweight, truly making it a top choice for serious backcountry adventurers.
This is the most expensive option in our review, and we find the binding system to be a bit of a pain, but overall it is a well designed and executed shoe that will serve you well year after year. The men's version also won our Editors' Choice award.
Read review: MSR Lightning Ascent - Women's
Best Bang for your Buck
Atlas Elektra Rendezvous
: Variable rolling terrain | Weight Load
: 80-160 lbs*
Walking feels natural
Not the best traction for steep terrain
Back heel strap is finicky
Bindings don't fit larger boots well
Our Best Buy award goes to the Atlas Elektra Rendezvous, an all-around great performing contender for a fair price. The Rendezvous has a comfortable binding system, is super easy to walk in, and provides excellent floatation even in its shorter length. The superior flotation is no doubt aided by the fact that this is the lightest shoe in our test suite — even the longer length (which we did not test) is impressively light for its size.
The only area we noticed even a slight deficit is traction. In comparison to our other top contenders, these shoes are not as grippy, and therefore harder to climb and descend steep hills. But if you plan to remain on mostly flat or mild rolling terrain in all kinds of snow, this is a fantastic choice that won't break the bank.
Read review: Atlas Elektra Rendezvous
Best Buy for Versatility
MSR Evo Snowshoe
: Flat to rolling terrain | Weight Load
: W/out tails 180lbs, Tails 250lbs*
Bindings fit a variety of boots
Add-on floatation tails increase floatation
Most women have to widen gait a bit
Binding straps tend to flop around
Plastic decking is loud
The MSR Evo is a simple and straightforward shoe that we found reliable and highly versatile. The no-frills binding system can accommodate a wide variety of footwear, even seriously bulky snowboarding and mountaineering boots. The traction is excellent, and while the floatation isn't mindblowing with the basic shoe, we were impressed when we added the supplemental tails to increase their length. This is a decent lightweight option that can cover a lot of bases for a very friendly price.
Because the Evo is a unisex shoe, women may have to widen their gait a bit when walking. The plastic decking is also quite loud, especially if you're on packed 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 Snowshoe
The weight loads mentioned here are for the size or sizes we tested. Most of these snowshoes offer multiple sizes that accommodate weights from 80 to 200 lbs or above.
Cruising into the backcountry, loaded up with snowshoes.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by Penney Garrett. She holds a special place in her heart for tromping around in deep snow, exploring the natural world. When she's not hiking around in the winter, you can find her ice climbing in the winter months. During the summer, you can find her playing on long trails, backpacking, and hiking, in Colorado and the surrounding area. When's she's not outside, you'll find her dabbling in all sorts of hobbies and passions from home brewing to slurping coffee to painting. She brings 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. From there, we literally hike uphill in the wintertime when the snow is the deepest, evaluating key metrics along the way. With these objective observations and personal experience along the way, we bring a comprehensive and in-depth review. Our unbiased approach means we purchase we piece of gear for retail price and truly test it to see which is the best. We hope our recommendations help you in your search.
Related: How We Tested Snowshoes for Women
Analysis and Test Results
Are you itching to get out into some beautiful snowy terrain but need a good pair of snowshoes first? Curious what some of the best options are for women specifically? Well, you've come to the right place! Many avid hikers will pack their hiking boots away for the winter and wait patiently for spring, but why miss out on gorgeous hikes just because they're covered in snow? The right pair of these puppies can open up a whole world of backcountry adventures that would otherwise be impossible in the winter months.
Related: Buying Advice for Snowshoes for Women
Off we go in the Blizzard II, an excellent shoe well suited to all types of terrain.
The models we tested ranged from less expensive to pocket dwindling. 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 Atlas Elektra Rendezvous and MSR Evo. Alternatively, the MSR Lightning Ascent performed impressively across all our testing criteria but is a more serious investment.
In boots alone, this hike would have been miserable. Even in the Crescent Moon, which did not float very well, you can see what a huge difference the increased surface area makes. When we removed the snowshoe from our right foot we quickly sunk to our knee.
The term flotation makes it sound like snowshoes will have you hovering above the snow as though you're walking on water. In the real world, where we have things like gravity, what it actually means is how much or little you sink into the snow. The better the float, the less you sink. Sometimes it's easy to forget just how effective a snowshoe can be in this department because you'll be walking along and sinking into the snow quite a bit. But if you were to try to walk in the same snow with just hiking boots, you could easily find yourself sinking to your knees, thighs, or farther. This is the magic of a snowshoe and why we weighted this metric more heavily than any other testing point. It is flotation that will allow you to hike into terrain that would otherwise be impassable.
We tested the shoes side by side in deep snow to figure out which ones had the best floatation and which left us feeling tired from having to high step up out of the snow.
Flotation is determined by the length and shape of the shoe combined with your body weight and the quality of the snow. You will sink much deeper in light and fluffy snow than you will in dense and wet snow. The longer and wider the shoe, the more you will float, but keep in mind that sometimes these shapes are also heavier and a bit more awkward to walk in. If you plan to regularly visit varied terrain where you will need to both float and be agile on packed trail, we suggest looking for a shoe with optional add-on flotation tails. Both the Lightning Ascent and the Evo offer this feature. Many models are also available in multiple sizes, so it's important to figure out what your weight will be when suited up with your pack on and choose the correct size for your final load. This will make a huge difference in regards to achieving the best possible flotation.
Several models offer excellent flotation: the Lightning Ascent, Blizzard III, and both Atlas models, the Rendezvous and the Montane. The Rendezvous floated impressively for its small size. (It's one of the few models we tested in the smaller size instead of the larger, but it held its own).
The Evo was decent on its own, but with the addition of tails, it floated as well as the models listed above. Our score reflects its performance without the tails. However, this add-on is expensive which might deter many folks. Be sure to consider your final weight with all clothes and gear to ensure you purchase the correct size. This will also inform whether or not to purchase additions like tails.
With traction bars, aggressive crampons, and heel lifts, going up steep slopes in the Lightning Ascent was practically as easy as walking on flat ground.
Traction is of supreme importance. Whether you're on a packed trail, an icy slope, or some slick, fresh snow, you want to know that you can trust your feet at all times. We tested traction by comparing each shoe going up and down steep icy slopes, as well as walking on as many hilly rolling trails as possible.
The underside of snowshoes come in all shapes and sizes, but the burlier the crampons the better you can expect to stick. Here we see (from left to right), the Evo, Blizzard II, Montane, and the (previously tested) Mountaineer.
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 meant 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 frames made a noticeable difference in our ability to traverse slopes and hills. The Evo is also noticeably sticky because of burly side rails and traction bars. We had a lot of other contenders up at the top as well — all the models with the best overall scores in our review ended up there by having great traction and float.
More often than not, old-school shoes cause the user to adopt a duck-footed waddle. This comes from prioritizing to shoe's surface area to provide better float. While flotation is arguably the most important aspect, you still want to be able to walk without stepping on yourself all the time. Modern-day designs are much more streamlined, created with ease of walking in mind. But they are often still too wide for women because we tend to have a narrower gait than men. Thankfully, many companies are now making women-specific models that address this issue, and it's something we paid close attention to while testing.
We saw a wide range of performances in this category, but once again, many of our top scorers ended up there because they are easy and pleasant to walk in. Our favorites were the Lightning Ascent and the lightweight Tubbs Flex RDG. Every woman who used one of these shoes felt that they could walk almost completely normal with no widening of their gait.
The Crescent Moon Eva is a springy foam shoe that felt like none other. We tried running in them and had a pretty great time!
One contender stood out here for its sheer uniqueness. The Crescent Moon Eva All-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 base) give the shoe a bouncy feel that — on packed trail — helps propel your 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 that was fun and will make some people's day, it's important to note that this is a unisex shoe, and we did have to widen our gait a bit to keep one foot from running into the other.
The Elektra Montane has one of our favorite binding systems - simply slide your toe to the end and pull the large loop. You'll be secure and comfortable in no time.
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 is to use while kitted out in snow pants and gloves. Is it intuitive? Can we do it without taking our gloves off? Do we have to constantly adjust or attend to anything while walking?
The binding on the Elektra Montane is very easy to use, even with gloves on. The backstrap is simple to tighten quickly, and it stays put, delivering an easy non-frustrating experience. 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.
The Boa binding system on the Flex RDG is simple and quick to use, though the areas where the thin wire cables are exposed give us a bit of pause in regards to durability.
No model was overly difficult to use, though the toothed buckle system and many straps of both MSR models 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. While we love almost everything about the Lightning Ascent and the Evo, these strappy bindings could be improved.
Two models we tested 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.
The Crescent Moon binding system, a well made system designed with durable material, was our favorite for both security and comfort.
What good is a snowshoe if it doesn't stay snug on your foot? Even having doubts about a binding system's security can put a damper on an otherwise fun and carefree outing. A good system should inspire confidence and be durable enough to withstand all obstacles out in the elements.
Several bindings rose to the top in this category, making us feel super solid while also being easy to use. A favorite was the Crescent Moon Gold 13's Single Pull Loop (SPL) design that 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 and ski 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 materials. The way it hugs each foot tightly and evenly from all directions earned this shoe top scores.
Similarly, we love the Atlas Montane, which tightens with one easy loop and loosens with another smaller one. There's a ratcheting back heel strap that is easy to tension perfectly. All of these binding systems stayed tight, contained, and comfortable throughout our adventures.
The long tails on the Lightning Ascent are prone to flopping around in a messy way that can feel insecure despite the fact that the system is actually quite bombproof.
While we appreciate the ease and efficiency of Boa bindings like you see on the Flex RDG and Blizzard III, we don't feel they are as secure because of the thin wires that are fully exposed. If one of those wires breaks, it would render the entire shoe useless. And there is no way to do a field repair. On the other hand, you could break an entire strap on the Lightning Ascent, even TWO straps, and still be able to use them to get back to civilization. The only thing we don't like about the straps on the Lightning and the Evo is the way the tails tend to come loose and flop around while walking. Psychologically this makes the system seem insecure, even though it's quite burly.
The Atlas Rendezvous has straps that easily and evenly cinch down and provide a really comfortable experience.
No matter how bomber your binding system is, you won't love or appreciate it if you're not comfortable. A good binding should tension evenly around your foot without any part of it pinching or poking. Our favorites were the same two we felt the most secure in, the Gold 13 and Montane. Both have flexible straps that hug the entire foot uniformly, cinching you in so comfortably that you might forget you're wearing a snowshoe.
We also really like the Flex RDG and Blizzard II with their Boa systems that allow the tiniest of micro-adjustments. Some online reviews mention that the area where the dial is located can cause a pinch point. We didn't experience this.
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 All-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.
Both the MSR Evo and the MSR Lightning Ascent have a series of straps that need to be pulled tight and buckled like a belt. While we wouldn't call this uncomfortable, it's not as easy to tighten in a perfectly uniform manner, resulting in more variation across your foot and between your two feet.
Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away... with Snowshoes!
A good pair of snowshoes can provide hiking lovers of all kinds of 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.