Rodney Lovette 2/25/2017

MSR Snowshoe Guide – How to Choose the Right Snowshoes for Winter Hiking and Backpacking

Review of: MSR Snowshoes
manufactured by:
Philip Werner
Version:1
Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On December 11, 2016
Last modified:February 23, 2017

Summary:

MSR has many different kinds of snowshoes. Why is the best for you?
MSR has many different kinds of snowshoes. Which one is the best for you?

MSR makes great snowshoes for winter hiking and backpacking that provide excellent traction and flotation
over packed snow and ice in mountainous terrain and powder in higher elevations and drier climates. With
an ironclad guarantee, MSR also has a great reputation for replacing snowshoes that fail, something that will
save you money in the long haul if you are rough on your gear.

But picking the right MSR snowshoes and sizing them appropriately can be a real challenge since MSR has
so many models available and MSR’s fitting guidelines push you into sizes that are much larger and heavier
than required. If you’re doing any kind of serious snowshoeing in winter, the last thing you want is to hike in
snowshoes that are too big and too heavy, or that don’t match the kind of terrain you hike in.

I have been using MSR snowshoes for nearly a decade, including testing and reviewing their products as
they’ve changed the design and features they offer. I give a lot of advice to friends who are trying to decide
which MSR snowshoes to buy for winter hiking and the information and recommendations below sum up the
guidance I provide them.

Traction and Flotation

Snowshoes provide traction and flotation when hiking over powder, packed snow, and ice. They’re
designed to help you save energy by eliminating the slipping, sliding, and post-holing that occurs
when you try hiking on deep snow without snowshoes.

When choosing snowshoes, you want to select a traction system that is designed for the surface
conditions you expect to encounter *most* of the time (unconsolidated powder, packed trails, ice
and rock) and a size that provides the right amount of decking surface area or flotation to prevent
you from sinking into the snow.

The frames of the Lightning snowshoes have crampon teeth cut into them, providing a lightweight but aggressive alternative to heavier snowshoe traction systems.
The frames of the Lightning snowshoes have crampon teeth cut into them, providing
a lightweight but aggressive alternative to heavier snowshoe traction systems.

Traction Systems

MSR snowshoes incorporate several types of crampons and traction. Each of these
correspond to MSR’s Lightning, Revo, and Evo snowshoe product families. The snowshoes
within each of these families differ from each other in terms of bindings, features,
sizes, and prices.

  1. The Lightning traction system provides a full 360 degrees of traction with
  2. teeth cut into the frame of the and cross bars, with an additional crampon
  3. under the ball of the foot. This is the best traction system that MSR offers
  4. and is excellent in all conditions – powder, packed trails, and over mixed ice
  5. and rock. The Lightning frames can also handle a higher degree of torsional
  6. flex than any other MSR model making them excellent in mixed mountainous
  7. terrain where you’re likely to side-hill or snowshoe across uneven surfaces.
  8. The Lightning traction system is offered with the MSR Lightning Ascent and
  9. Lightning Explore snowshoe models.
  10. The Revo traction system is similar to the Lightning except that teeth are only
  11. cut into the sides of the frame and not a full 360 degrees around the front and
  12. back. While the Revo system also has a crampon under the ball of the foot, the
  13. Revo traction system doesn’t have toothed crossbars under the heel providing
  14. the wearer with less traction than the Lightning models. The Revo traction
  15. system is best used on packed trails, and flat or gently rolling terrain. The
  16. plastic on the bottom of the Revo traction system gets cut up very easily if
  17. you hike over rock with them, so you want to avoid that. The Revo traction
  18. system is available with MSR’s Revo Ascent and Revo Explore Snowshoes.
  19. The Evo traction system has two aggressively toothed-rails that are bolted
  20. lengthwise on the underside of the Evo’s injection-molded plastic decking as
  21. well as a crampon under the ball of the foot. In practice, the Evo system
  22. proves traction that is comparable to that provided by the Lightning and
  23. Revo systems: the main difference between them is that Lightning and
  24. Revo snowshoes are lighter weight while the Evo injection molded decking
  25. is heavier and more durable. The Evo traction system is best used off trail,
  26. on packed trails and mixed ice and rock. It is available on MSR’s Evo Ascent
  27. and Evo Snowshoes.
The Evo family of snowshoes has toothed metal rails that run lengthwise along the bottom of the snowshoe.
The Evo family of snowshoes has toothed metal rails that run lengthwise along the bottom of the snowshoe.

Snowshoe Sizing

MSR Snowshoes come in three primary lengths: 22″, 25″, and 30″. The degree of flotation
provided by an MSR snowshoe is determined primarily by its length, since there’s very little
width variance between the models they offer.

If you expect to snowshoe on deep powder, you’re going to want more flotation than if you
hike on packed trails or snow that undergoes the frequent freeze-thaw cycles (common in
the Eastern US).

In sizing snowshoes, I’ve always found that you can almost always use a size smaller
than the one recommended by MSR based on body weight, unless most of the
snowshoeing you do is off-trail on unpacked trails in deep powder, which is fairly rare
since most people stick to packed out trails. For example, I use a 22″ MSR snowshoe
for snowshoeing in mountainous terrain on packed and unpacked trails, even though
MSR’s sizing guideline would put me into a 25″ or 30″ size, which is unnecessary weight
to carry in my opinion.

If you’re on the border between sizes, get a smaller, shorter sized snowshoe that accepts
a tail attachment for those rare times when you feel you need more flotation. MSR tails
lock on the back of a snowshoe and extend the length, providing more decking surface
area, hence flotation. Larger snowshoes are almost always heavier and more awkward
to use than shorter smaller snowshoes, especially on packed trails, and you’ll come to
regret carrying a larger snowshoe if you get one that’s too big most of the time.

MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes feature a new Hyperlink Binding which only has two straps, that are secured with snowboard-style ratchet bindings over the front of the foot and behind the heel.
MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes feature the Hyperlink Binding which has two straps, secured with snowboard-style ratchet bindings over the front of the foot and behind the heel.

Bindings

MSR provides three styles of bindings that attach your boots to the snowshoe.

  1. The 3 strap Posilock binding has three flexible plastic straps that run over
  2. the top of your boot and one in the rear to lock your heel in place. This provides
  3. a very secure binding which won’t freeze shut, won’t come undone when you put
  4. a lot of torsional stress on the snowshoe, and can be adjusted while wearing gloves.
  5. The ratchet style Hyperlink binding has two straps, one the runs over the front of
  6. your foot and the other behind your heel to lock it in place. The ratchet binding is
  7. much easier to adjust than the 3 strap Posilock binding, but it can freeze shut when
  8. it gets wet and can be difficult to release without taking off your gloves. Once fitted
  9. however, these ratchet bindings make it very easy to put on and take off your
  10. snowshoes, without the frustration of tensioning plastic straps.
  11. The 2 strap Duofit binding has two flexible straps  that run over the top of your
  12. boot and one in the rear to lock your heel in place. This provides a secure binding
  13. which won’t freeze shut and can be adjusted while wearing gloves. While a little
  14. less secure than the 3 strap Posilock binding, it’s more than sufficient for keeping
  15. your boots attached to your snowshoes in flat terrain, even with rolling hills.
MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe with Televator Raised
MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe with Televator Raised

Televators

A Televator is a piece of wire that flips up under your heel. It’s used when you hike
uphill and positions your foot so that your heel stays level with your toes when hiking
up an incline. This significantly reduces calf fatigue and increases the traction provided
by snowshoe’s rear crampon teeth, preventing slippage. Snowshoes with televators
are a must-have in any kind of hilly or mountainous terrain and you’ll be glad you
have them.

Men’s vs Women’s Models

MSR snowshoes are available in men’s and women’s models, which is a misnomer
because MSR snowshoes are unisex and can be used interchangeably by men or women.
The main difference between the two is that the women’s versions may have a slightly
narrower width than the corresponding men’s snowshoe, although this varies by model,
where the narrower width can more comfortable for people with shorter legs and a
narrower gait. The women’s snowshoes also tend to be a bit lighter weight than the
men’s snowshoes and provide a way for hikers concerned with gear weight to save a few ounces.


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