Snowshoes: MSR Denali and Atlas BC24

November 11, 2009

When I head out winter hiking in the Northeast, I almost always carry a pair of snowshoes. They are essential travel and safety equipment. Oftentimes, however, I don’t end up using them. Trails are often packed down sufficiently for regular walking, which is always preferable to tromping around with several extra pounds on your feet.

Because I end up carrying them at least as much as I use them, one of the first things I consider when evaluating snowshoes is how packable they are. Many styles feature bulky bindings that make them difficult to pack or strap to the outside of your pack. Styles that tightly nest together on top of each other are easier to deal with in packing.

MSR Denali

As the name implies, the MSR Denali Classic ($140; 3 pounds, 10 ounces per pair) has been around for a really long time—more than a decade. The durable, flat decking is made from indestructible plastic. They have good metal crampons under the toes and underneath the rails. The binding is simple and easy to use, even with mittens (a key cold-weather criteria). The bindings lay flat and the pair nests as tightly together as any snowshoes available.

MSR also makes the EVO series ($170; 3 pounds, 13 ounces), cousin to the Denali. They’re essentially the same though the EVO features a more tapered cut to accommodate a narrower stride. Both lines feature an “Ascent” version, which includes a pop-up heel bar, for $30 more. This is a recommended feature if you plan on making any long sustained ascents—better than screaming, burning calves.

My quibbles are pretty minor. Both styles have minimal flotation in really powdery conditions, though you can add on 4- or 8-inch tails to the Denali, or 6-inch tails to the EVO (sold separately; $30) for extra surface area. My biggest complaint, though, is their downhill gripping ability. Instead of metal crampons, downhill traction is provided by several plastic fins, which I’ve definitely found to slide in some loose conditions.

Overall, can’t go wrong with these. I have a pair that’s more than 12 years old—and they’re still my go-to snowshoes for winter mountain adventure.

Atlas BC24

These are the snowshoes I currently covet. Unlike every other Atlas snowshoe, the binding on the BC24 (Backcountry 24) lies flat, making them much easier to pack. Though short (24 inches), they are wider than most snowshoes for extra flotation—perfect for a tall guy like me.

And man do these things have teeth! They’re more like crampons with a snowshoe decking. Perfect for any kind of icy or snowy terrain. Like MSR’s Ascent series, these feature a heel bar as well for support.

A little bit more money and weight, but worth it ($230; 4 pounds, 2 ounces.)

Keep in mind that these are my favorite snowshoes for the activities I like to pursue in the winter mountains: peak-bagging and strenous mountain trails. If you’re just planning on casual day-hiking or cruising the snow-covered woods, there are better options. More to come!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.