Can These Ultralight Snowshoes Take a Beating?

November 2, 2018
winter national trail hikes for winter
Amuthan Arulraj/AMC Photo ContestSnowshoers trek across New Hampshire’s Lonesome Lake, a great National Trails hike for winter outdoor-rec newbies.

As a general rule, snowshoes are heavy. Very heavy. Most models weigh anywhere from 3 to 4 pounds or more per pair, which greatly increases the amount of energy you expend lifting your snow-stomping Sasquatch feet over and over and over again. Given that every ounce on your feet matters way more than the equivalent weight on your back when it comes to energy expenditure, it’s easy to see why snowshoeing burns a remarkable 400 to 1,000 calories or more per hour.

An Ultralight Solution…

To address this weighty issue, Komperdell has released a new pair of ultralight snowshoes for the season that weigh just 21 ounces per pair. To get the weight down to near-feathery levels, the Komperdell Carbon Air Frame 25 makes extensive use of carbon and carbon fiber throughout the snowshoe—including in the decking, the steel crampons, and the hollow-core frames. A two-point toe crampon and side rail teeth provide grip and traction. Currently only available in a 25-inch length, the Carbon Air Frame snowshoes are rated for up to 220 pounds (person plus gear). And like most ultralight things in the outdoor world, you pay more to get less—in this case $369.95 for a pair (available online at REI, among other places).

 

…But Can They Take a Beating?

Such dramatic weight savings are potentially game-changing, but there are a couple things to consider before you invest. First, it’s important to realize that these snowshoes are designed primarily for rolling to moderate terrain rather than the steep, icy, or rocky conditions so common in the winter mountains of the Northeast. The two-point crampon, side rail teeth, and rear traction under the heel will provide adequate, but not exceptional, traction while climbing or traversing a slope. The harness system also relies on a relatively thin string system that looks potentially difficult to operate with gloved or mittened hands.

More significant, though, is the fact that carbon fiber can crack or completely fracture when it takes too much stress or impact—and stomping and tromping in rocky terrain certainly provides the potential for a shattering experience. The carbon fiber used in these snowshoes may well be more durable than other versions of carbon fiber out there, but only time and use and abuse will truly reveal how durable it is. Until then, I would be hesitant using them on any serious backcountry adventure where snowshoe failure would be a major problem. That being said, if you’re just snowshoeing on short outings in easy to moderate terrain, or are out on an adventure where you might need snowshoes—and carry them strapped to your pack for that possibility—they could work very well.

I’ll be watching this gear trend closely over the coming seasons. Stomp on!


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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.