When trails and mountains are covered with snow, hiking becomes much more challenging and requires additional equipment and skills. Traversing areas with deep soft snow will slow you down significantly and cause exhaustion and muscle fatigue, but this can be mitigated by using snowshoes. Snowshoes allow you to hike on a snowy terrain without sinking in too deep by redistributing your weight over a flat surface area (usually 55-75 cm in length). A snowshoe consists of a rigid frame with a more flexible deck inside and bindings while crampons are distributed along the frame and under the bindings. Therefore, snowshoes also provide you with some traction besides flotation. Some models also allow you to attach modular tails which can be used when increased flotation is required – like for example when carrying a heavy backpack or hiking on a terrain covered with powder snow. Snowshoes can be used with any hiking boots but work best with boots that have fairly stiff soles and good ankle support. When hiking with snowshoes on, hiking poles are usually used for better balance and gaiters for keeping the snow out of the boots. Please also check out our respective reviews of the best hiking poles and gaiters.
Those who are new to winter hiking often face a dilemma: “Should I get snowshoes or crampons?”. The big and important difference between snowshoes and crampons is that snowshoes are primarily designed for terrain covered with soft and deep snow where flotation is required while crampons are designed for terrain covered with firm and slippery snow or ice where traction is required. Even though snowshoes also provide some traction, they are not the best option for icy surfaces as they provide inferior maneuverability and traction in comparison to crampons. Furthermore, they are also significantly heavier and bulkier. Thus, what you need depends on the conditions on the trail where you will be hiking. We have already made a list of the best C1 crampons elsewhere; in the following we will focus on the best snowshoes for winter hiking.
1. Buying Snowshoes for Hiking – What is important?
In this review we only listed snowshoes which provide superb flotation-to-weight ratio. All snowshoes listed in this review weigh less than 2.5 kg per pair.
Snowshoes have either oval or tapered frames of different sizes. The frame size is not relevant to the hiker’s footwear size, but should be selected according to the hiker’s weight (the heavier, the larger frame size), the expected type of snow cover (the softer, the larger frame size) and the required maneuverability (e.g. you need more maneuverability in terrains with a lot of vegetation or big rocks blocking your way). A large frame size will of course impede your maneuverability and in general you should try to aim for the smallest size to fit your needs. A (very) general rule of thumb is that for every kilogram of body weight, a snowshoe should cover a surface of 14.5 cm2. However, this rule doesn’t take type of snow cover and required maneuverability into consideration.
Most snowshoes come in different sizes in order to cater to various groups of hikers. However, some snowshoes come only in one size but can be increased in size by adding different modular tails to them.
The tail is the back part of the snowshoe which is very important for flotation. Some snowshoes have integrated tails (part of the frame) while others have modular tails. A modular tail can be attached to increase the flotation and detached when high maneuverability is required.
The decking is the material that fills out the frame and is usually made of synthetic materials or composite materials. At some snowshoes the frame and the deck are a single component. The deck should provide good puncture- and impact-resistance.
The bindings are used to secure the snowshoes to your boots and are usually made of straps that go over the foot and around the heel. There are two types of bindings – rotating bindings and fixed bindings.
Rotating bindings pivot at the point where they are attached to the snowshoe, so that the end of the snowshoe drops down when you lift your foot. This allows you to maintain natural movement and walk uphill. Snowshoes with this type of bindings are recommended for all terrain types as they allow you to hike comfortably and efficiently. The only downside of snowshoes with rotating binding is that it’s hard to cross obstacles (fallen trees) in them as the tail drops down whenever you lift your foot.
Fixed bindings don’t pivot and thus they make sure that the snowshoe is always aligned to your foot. This allows you to easily cross obstacles but on the other hand makes ascending as well as walking fairly difficult as you have to move in an unnatural manner – not unlike that of trying to walk properly with (short) skies on. Another disadvantage of snowshoes with fixed bindings is that the snow tends to gather on their tails.
Snowshoes are equipped with crampons in order to provide some traction. Usually the crampons are placed under the bindings, in the heel area and on the sides. Crampons under the bindings cut into the snow when you lift your heel (they pivot with your foot) thus allowing you to walk forward without slipping. Crampons in the heel area slow you down during descends and crampons on the sides provide you with the traction when traversing.
Heel lifts are metal bars that can be lifted under the heel when ascending. They place you heel higher and thus reduce calf strain when ascending steep slopes.
Snowshoe frames are made either of metal (aluminum, etc.) or composite materials (plastic, carbon fiber). Snowshoes with frames made of composite materials usually also feature decking made of composite materials (single component) while snowshoes with metal frames usually have decks made of synthetic material such as impregnated nylon, rubber or synthetic leather. The crampons are usually made of stainless steel or aluminum while bindings in most cases are made of durable nylon.
2. The Best Snowshoes for Hiking Review
- MSR Lightning Ascent
- MSR Revo Explore
- Tubbs Flex VRT
- Atlas Endeavor
- Atlas Treeline
|Feature/Product||MSR Lightning Ascent||MSR Revo Explore||Tubbs Flex VRT||Atlas Endeavor||Atlas Treeline|
|Available Sizes||22, 25, 30||22, 25 ||24, 28||24, 28||25, 30|
|Best Use||Mountainous Terrain||Flat/Rolling Terrain||Mountainous Terrain||Backcountry||Flat/Rolling Terrain|
|Weight (pair)||1.73 kg (22); 1.8 kg (25); 2.08 kg (30)||1.75 kg (22); 1.88 kg (25)||2.04 kg (24); 2.27 kg (28)||1.84 kg (24); 2.03 kg (28)||1.89 kg (25); 2.08 kg (30)|
|Width||20 cm||20 cm||20 cm||20 cm||20 cm|
|Length||56 cm (22); 64 cm (25); 76 cm (30)||56 cm (22); 64 cm (25)||56 cm (24); 64 cm (28)||61 cm (24); 71 cm (28)||64 cm (25); 76 cm (30)|
|Binding Type||PosiLock (Rotating)||HyperLink (Rotating)||DynamicFit (Rotating)||PackFlat (Rotating)||Wrapp Lux (Rotating)|
|Optimal Load||Up to 80 kg (22); 54 - 100 kg (25); 68 - 127 kg (30)||Up to 80 kg (22); 54 - 100 kg (25)||Up to 86 kg (24); up to 100 kg (28)||Up to 82 kg (24); 61 - 100 kg (28)||Up to 91 kg (25); 68 – 113 kg (30)|
|Optimal Load With Tails||Up to 114 kg (22); 54 - 127 kg (25); 82 - 136 kg (30)||Up to 114 kg (22); 54 - 127 kg (25)||/||/||/|
1. MSR Lightning Ascent
- Ski mountaineering
The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes are extremely popular not only among hikers but also among mountaineers who prefer ascending fairly steep snow-covered slopes. The snowshoes feature a lightweight aluminum frame that provides superb durability and traction. The whole frame is basically a crampon – there are three rows of split teeth across the sole as well as split teeth along its edge. This design provides 360° traction and allows you to safely ascend, descend and traverse slippery slopes. The decking inside the frame is lightweight but durable. The snowshoes use PosiLock freeze-resistant rotating bindings which securely attach your hiking boots to the snowshoes. The bindings consist of three straps that go over the foot and one strap that goes around the heel. Under the bindings there are two additional crampon teeth that cut into the snow when you lift your heel. The snowshoes are also equipped with heel lifts (Ergo Televators) which can be easily lifted with a hiking pole. The snowshoes can be used in various conditions as they are compatible with 13 centimeters long MSR tails (sold separately). The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes are best for those who want a high-quality solution for hiking in snowy conditions – they can deal with deep snow as well as with icy terrain.
2. MSR Revo Explore
The MSR Revo Explore snowshoes are in comparison to the MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes less expensive but on the other hand they also don’t offer as good traction and are slightly less durable. The snowshoes feature a lightweight aluminum U-shaped frame that is equipped with crampon teeth along its edge and one row of crampon teeth across the sole. The crampon teeth are less aggressive than those on the Lightning Ascent model. The decking is made of a lightweight plastic material which offers good durability at low temperatures. The snowshoes are equipped with a HyperLink rotating binding system that is super easy to use as it consist of two straps that come over the heel and the front part of the boot. Under the binding system there is an additional rotating crampon with two teeth. For easier ascends the snowshoes are equipped with heel lifts (Ergo Televators). The MSR Revo Explore snowshoes are also compatible with MSR modular flotation tails for good performance in various conditions. This product is perfect for those who mainly hike on flat and semi-steep steep terrain and want good snowshoes for their adventures.
3. Tubbs Flex VRT
- Ski mountaineering
The Tubbs Flex VRT snowshoes are very durable and offer great traction, even on steep icy slopes. The snowshoes feature a U-shaped aluminum frame which is equipped with traction rails (crampon teeth) along the edges. The tail (made of composite materials) is fairly flexible and thus it efficiently absorbs shocks from heel strikes when walking. This significantly reduces the stress on your joints. The snowshoes use rotating DynamicFit bindings with Boa closure system for precise fit and optimized control (your boot is tightened to the snowshoe simply by rotating a button on the bindings). Under the bindings there is a Viper 2.0 carbon steel crampon with a jagged tooth construction which offers great traction on icy surfaces. In comparison to the MSR Lightning Ascent crampons, the Tubbs Flex VRT snowshoes have much bigger crampon under the bindings but on the other hand they are not equipped with the rows of split teeth across the sole. The Tubbs Flex VRT snowshoes are best for those who need snowshoes for traversing over deep snow as well as for hiking on icy surfaces.
4. Atlas Endeavor
The Atlas Endeavor snowshoes are very durable and provide great performance on various terrains. The snowshoes have an elliptically shaped frame which is made of aluminum and thus provides good durability. The frame features a decking made of a lightweight composite material and is equipped with crampon teeth on the sides. In comparison to the MSR and Tubbs snowshoes the Atlas Endeavor snowshoes have less crampon teeth on the edge of the frame, but also bigger and more aggressive crampons (Holey-1) under the bindings. The snowshoes also feature Spring-Loaded Suspension which absorbs the impact when walking and enhances the traction (deeper crampon penetration). They are equipped with PackFlat bindings that are easy to use and collapse flat for easy storing in/on a backpack. The snowshoes come with Atlas BC Ultility Strap that allows you to secure them to a backpack. The Atlas Endeavor snowshoes are best for those who want very versatile snowshoes for a very reasonable price.
5. Atlas Treeline
The Atlas Treeline snowshoes differ from the brand’s Endeavor snowshoes by using different bindings and different crampons. Instead of having crampon teeth along the edge of the frame, the Atlas Treeline snowshoes use a relatively large heel crampon which is placed directly underneath the heel lift (for deeper penetration). In addition to the heel crampon, the snowshoes are also equipped with a large rotating crampon under the bindings (All-Track). The snowshoes use Wrapp Lux bindings which are easy to use and provide good comfort. They consist of silicone straps that tighten with one easy pull. The frame is made of aluminum and uses Nytex decking. The Atlas Treeline snowshoes also feature light-ride suspension for maximum comfort. The Atlas Treeline snowshoes are best for those who want simple but well-performing snowshoes for their winter adventures.
3. The most attractive product in the review