‘Tis the season to strap on giant snow-stomping footwear and take on the wintry backcountry. If you’re buying a new pair—or upgrading or adding to your existing collection—here are two excellent snowshoes from MSR to consider. (If you’re new to snowshoeing, it can be useful to first brush up on the basics, including snowshoe terminology and features—especially the somewhat misleading concept of “flotation“—and the best footwear for snowshoeing.)
If you want a pair of snowshoes to go anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, these are the snowshoes for you. Better yet, MSR has upgraded the binding system on this ground-breaking (snow-breaking?) design for the 2019/2020 season.
What makes this particular model so distinct and rave-worthy? For starters—and unlike most other snowshoe models out there—it integrates terrain-gripping teeth into the frame itself. This provides superior traction around the perimeter of the snowshoe and makes them ideal for icy terrain, steep slopes, and times when you’re side-hilling or traversing slippery mountainsides.
Second, the binding system has been improved with MSR’s new Paragon binding system. Previous iterations of this snowshoe featured a binding composed of three individual straps that went over the top of your boots. Though simple and effective, this design had a few minor drawbacks, including difficulties positioning the ball of your foot over the crampons, flopping loose strap ends, and potential hot spots underneath the straps. To address this, the Paragon binding system features an ultra-durable, mesh-like binding that goes over the front of your boot and secures with two straps on either side of your foot. This helps place your foot in the proper position and eliminates the hotspot problem by more evenly distributing pressure. And, like its previous iteration, this binding also lies more or less flat when not in use, making it much easier to strap the snowshoes onto your pack when not in use.
Add in a heel lift bar to avoid calf burnout on steep climbs, plus aggressive crampons underfoot and across the back half of the snowshoe, and you’ve got a go-anywhere option. The big drawback is price. At $320, these are some of the priciest snowshoes out there. Available in three sizes: 22 inches (4 pounds, 2 ounces), 25 inches (4 pounds, 5 ounces), and 30 inches (4 pounds, 14 ounces). You can also purchase an accessory tail ($60, 9 ounces) that adds five inches of flotation as needed.
For more details, check out this comprehensive round-up from Outdoor Gear Lab, which gave the Lightning Ascent its Editors’ Choice award.
These snowshoes are a great all-purpose option for moderate terrain and conditions. They’re also a killer value at $140, less than half the price of their pricier Lightning Ascent cousins.
MSR pioneered the solid plastic decking used in the Evo decades ago with its original Denali snowshoes. (which I’ve used and abused) The design remains an ultra-durable, lightweight (3 pounds, 9 ounces), and easily packed option. Decent crampons under the forefoot, coupled with side-rail crampons that run the length of the snowshoe, provide adequate traction for most conditions. Horizontal plastic fins under the rear of the snowshoe provide some minor grip as well for downhill descents. They come in a standard 22-inch length, though you have the option of adding six-inch accessory tails ($50) to increase their flotation as needed.
For more serious ascents or conditions, however, the Evo Trail snowshoes don’t provide the teeth, locked-in binding, or heel lift bar that are really nice to have. If you don’t want to go whole hog on the Lightning Ascents, MSR does also offer the Evo Ascent for $200, which features toothier side-rails, an extra binding strap, and a heel lift bar.