Which ones will work best for you? We spent the snowy winter and spring months in Colorado reviewing six popular pairs side-by-side to find out exactly this. These shoes have certainly evolved from their leather and wooden origin to technically advanced pieces of gear. We evaluated each pair for floatation, traction, ease of use, and security on foot. If the snow is keeping you from enjoying solitude and exploring winter terrain, read on to see what we recommend.
Best Overall Snowshoe: MSR Lightning Ascent
Our best pick goes to the backcountry-oriented MSR Lightning Ascent for their versatility in all snow conditions and terrain. The aggressive traction system remains gripped in a range of applications from steep snow to slick slopes to groomed trails. We love the lightweight oval frames that offer incredible flotation in deep snow while also remaining easy to use on moderate terrain. Three rubber binding straps cross over the top of the foot to meet metal buckles along the outer foot. A rubber heel strap secures the back of each foot and stays in place for unrestricted movement.
The range of motion provided by the binding design is unparalleled. Regardless of the snow conditions, the Lightning Ascents provide excellent flotation, traction, ease of use, and security on foot. And if you’re looking for this snowshoe in a lighter, lower-profile for a narrower gait check out the Lightning Ascent- Women’s.
Best Budget Pick: MSR Evo
The MSR Evo is our best budget snowshoe choice. These affordable shoes function well in various snow conditions. The construction design is different from all of the other pairs we tested with a UniBody deck made from lightweight plastic. The simple design and ease of use excel for beginners, yet provides technical features such as a lateral crampon for those looking to venture into the backcountry.
The Evos come in a single 22″ size that is not suited for really deep snow as the flotation gained from a longer tail is lacking. Add-on flotation tails are an optional accessory that would add 6″ to the tail length for better flotation. Because of their short frame length and shape, they offer stability with or without poles. We favor the MSR Evos for trail travel and light off-trail use. All those features at a price nearly $100 less than the other pairs make the MSR Evos our Best Buy!
Best for Both Recreational and Backcountry Use: Tubbs Mountaineer
The Tubbs Mountaineer is our choice for their versatility in both backcountry and recreational applications. They lack the lightweight and technical features of the MSR Lightning Ascents but are suitable for deep snow traversing and intermediate slopes. The ActiveFit+ binding systems cover the top of the forefoot and toes with a single panel and then secure with two horizontal straps at the top of each side of the binding. This design offers incredible security on the foot. They are the easiest bindings to attach although, they can be kicked loose in stride.
The Mountaineers are bulkier in size and weight than other models in our review, and therefore not recommended for small builds, but a women’s version is available for a smaller frame size and weight.
These are available in the longest sizes with some of the highest optimal weight loads per size. For people hiking with heavy weight loads (including pack weight) or intending to travel in deep snow off-trail, the Tubbs Mountaineers are excellent! These great snowshoes are also available in a women’s specific model.
Top Pick for Trails: TSL Symbioz Elite
Especially as traffic into the winter backcountry increases, it is more and more likely that you may never, or very rarely, step off of traveled tracks. In that case, the largest and best floating ‘shoes aren’t necessary. The bulk, weight, and compromised stride of all-around backcountry tools may not be necessary. For that user traversing mainly packed tracks, the TSL Symbioz Elite is by far the best equipped. The binding is fast and easy, the traction is excellent, and the size is compact.
By far the best attribute, for trail use, of the TSL is the flexible deck. While still maintaining some float (though nowhere near as much as stiffer shoes of the same size have), the flexible deck of the TSL provides shock absorption as we’ve never seen.
Best Snowshoes for Specific Applications
- Deep Snow: MSR Lightning Ascent or Tubbs Mountaineer
- Spring Snow: MSR Lightning Ascent or MSR Evo
- Light Snow: MSR Evo or Alps Performance Lightweight
- Groomed Trails: Tubbs Mountaineer or Tubbs Wilderness
- Steep terrain: MSR Evo or MSR Lightning Ascent
- Walking the dog: MSR Evo or Alps Performance Lightweight
- Fresh Tracks: MSR Lightning Ascent
- Sharing with friends: MSR Evo or Alps Performance Lightweight
Why Wear Snowshoes?
Most hikers find themselves on the trail from spring through fall, but what if you could extend your hiking season to encompass all months of the year? These shoes open up this realm of longer hiking seasons and allow you to enjoy all of the things you love about hiking, in the winter.
Types of Snow Shoes
Though many shoes can be used for multiple applications, there are three main types tailored to specific winter outings.
Recreational use is classified by beginner to intermediate terrain with a balance of easy to moderate uphill and downhill travel. This includes groomed trails, park trails, easy to moderate hiking trails, packed snow, and off-trail travel in moderate terrain. Models for recreation should be comfortable and secure on foot. Choosing a pair based on the most difficult terrain you anticipate encountering will not necessarily offer the optimal comfort and enjoyment. When selecting a pair for recreation, consider the terrain you will spend the most amount of time in.
For this application, we recommend the MSR Evo, Alps Performance Lightweight, Tubbs Mountaineer, and Tubbs Wilderness models.
Backcountry travel gets you out to remote mountain basins, valleys, and secluded summits and demands models that have rigid traction, secure bindings, and durable construction. Skiers and snowboarders will travel miles into the backcountry in search of untouched snow, and shoes specially made for the snow can be a lightweight option for hiking through snow to access these mountain wonders. Backcountry terrain is more advanced than recreational terrain and may require some technical skills for avalanche awareness, climbing, and mountaineering. Models intended for backcountry travel have aggressive traction systems and crampon designs as well as features such as heel lifts for steep ascents. Most backcountry models can be used on beginner to intermediate terrain but also offer technical features for advanced snow travel.
The top pair for backcountry snow travel is the MSR Lightning Ascent.
Running in these shoes allows trail runners to extend their training into the winter months. These models focus on agility, the efficiency of stride, lightweight, and tapered tails. Running in this manner is typically enjoyed on groomed trails or packed hiking trails. None of the models in our review are specific to this category.
How We Chose
We trail tested all six pairs in varying conditions. Our rating metrics cover flotation on snow surfaces, traction on a range of terrain and conditions, ease of use for putting on and taking off, and the security on foot. Each criterion evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each pair and then compares them side-by-side.
Ease of Use
Both the Tubbs Mountaineer and the Tubbs Wilderness – Women’s have step-in style bindings. Like a belt, the MSR pairs have buckles and rubber strap bindings with perforated holes that align to a metal buckle. These require some adjustment by holding the extended strap out of the way with tabs.
All of the binding systems are suitable for use with gloves on and are easy to use right out of the box. Some require additional adjustment, which lowers the ease of use rating.
Another aspect to ease of use are any additional components such as heel lift bars and asymmetrical designs. The Atlas Elektra 12 – Women’s are one of a few models we tested that have heel lift bars, but they are incredibly stiff and therefore lowered the ease of use rating.
Security on Foot
The Tubbs Mountaineer is great on security on foot. The step-in binding system requires few adjustments but then remains tightened and secure while walking. The Mountaineers are men’s specific and fit well to a larger boot size, but they also come in a women’s version. One of our female testers used the men’s Mountaineer model while wearing large winter boots and still experienced incredible security.
A pair of snowshoes can open up an entire season for hiking lovers. Choosing the best pair to buy can be confusing yet rewarding, as a pair can add much enjoyment to your winters. Need more help deciding the size and shape to use? Have a look at our Buying Advice article for more tips on the different styles and types available today.