For winter snowshoeing on hiking trails and in the backcountry, you want a winter hiking snowshoe that is durable, with aggressive crampons for traction and a secure binding system that locks your boots to the snowshoes. If you’re interested in getting off the grid and snowshoeing through backcountry terrain, these are the 10 best snowshoes we recommend. For more information, see our buying advice below.
1. MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes
The MSR Lightning Ascents revolutionized snowshoeing when they were first introduced and MSR has continued to refine them since. They feature a unique 360 degree toothed crampon that’s built into the frame for traction when you’re walking uphill, downhill, or side-hilling across a slope. A flip-up heel bar makes it easier to climb hills, while the four-strap binding lays flat, and makes them easy to pack or strap to a backpack. A women’s model is available. Read the SectionHiker Review.
The Atlas Helium MTN is a lightweight, tear-drop-shaped snowshoe that has a wrap-around binding, aggressive traction, and a heel bar that makes it easier to climb hills. A Boa binding locks the front of your winter boots in place and while a rear strap keeps them properly positioned. A spring-loaded suspension system lets your foot rotate naturally with slope changes for maximum efficiency. An aggressive toe crampon and dual side-traction rails provide excellent traction on snow and ice. But the best feature of these snowshoes is the weight, which is surprisingly low for such a full-featured snowshoe.
The Tubbs Flex ALP has a simplified binding that is easy to use, comfortable, and compatible with all styles of boots. The Flex Alp has carbon steel toe crampons that maximize traction while long, toothed side rails (similar to the MSR Evo Ascent and Atlas Serrate) provide enhanced grip on hard snow and icy conditions. The plastic decking provides good flotation and has some flex to it which helps with balance when hiking across mixed surfaces and side-hilling. A heel bar is included. A women’s Flex ALP is also available.
The TSL Symbioz Elite is a favorite with mountain hikers because it has a flexible plastic footbed that adapts to varied terrain and a comfortable ratchet-style binding that remembers your boot size for easy on and off. They have a large horizontal front crampon, good for digging into slopes, with eight very aggressive stainless-steel cleats, diagonally oriented down the sides to prevent side slipping. This snowshoe is best for climbing steep and icy terrain. A heel bar is included. Unisex. Read our Symbioz Elite Review.
MSR’s Evo Ascent Snowshoes are made with a hard plastic frame instead of the flexible decking used by many snowshoes. This makes them extra tough and durable, and ideal for off-trail backcountry use. They use a strap-based, lay-flat binding that makes them easy to strap to the outside of a backpack and won’t freeze up. There are two long crampon rails along the sides of the Evo Ascent that provide excellent traction, in addition to a steel crampon under your foot, and rear braking bars. A heel bar is also included for hill climbing. Unisex. Read our Evo Ascent Review.
Tubbs Mountaineer Snowshoes have a teardrop design that provides excellent flotation, along with an aggressive front crampon, and specially designed heel crampons that are angled to help with braking down steep slopes. They have a ratchet-strap controlled step-in binding system w/ a rear heel strap to hold your boots in place. The Mountaineers are also available in a very large 36″ size, suitable for larger individuals, or if you need to carry heavy loads and need more floatation in deep powder. A heel bar is included. A women’s model is available.
The Atlas Montane Snowshoe is a backcountry snowshoe with aggressive toe, heel, and side rail crampons with a heel bar to relieve calf stress on hill and mountain climbs. The Montane has a simple pull strap binding with an easy-to-adjust rear strap and is well padded for increased comfort. This snowshoe is also available in very large sizes for larger individuals or people who need to carry heavy backpacks or need more flotation in deep and powdery snow. A women’s model is also available.
The MSR Revo Explore Snowshoe has a ratchet-strap style binding system that makes them easy to use with all types of footwear (contact MSR for longer replacement front straps to accommodate very large boots). They have an aggressive toe crampon, a toothed crossbar member, and a serrated frame that provides excellent traction on snow and ice. Plastic decking keeps them lightweight, while a heel bar is also included to reduce calf fatigue when climbing slopes. A women’s model is available. Read our Revo Explore Review.
Northern Lites Backcountry Snowshoes are 30″ ultralight snowshoes that only weigh 43 oz per pair. They’re lighter weight and less fatiguing to carry because they’re made with lighter weight aluminum framing, they have aluminum crampons, and plastic decking. They have simple bindings with three plastic straps and one heel strap that are compatible with all types of footwear. The Backcountry model is optimized for use in deep powder for users up to 250lbs in weight, including gear. We don’t recommend them for climbing mountains because they don’t have a heel bar. Read our Northern Lites Gear Review. Unisex.
Crescent Moon’s Backcountry Snowshoes also have a high flotation teardrop design. Loaded with traction, the Gold 10 has four crampons under the toe, forefoot, and heel, as well as side crampons for traversing sloped terrain. They have a step-in binding system tightened on top with a single strap w/ a ratchet-style rear strap to lock your boot in place. Sizing runs large, fitting men’s boot sizes 10-15, including large-volume boots like snowboard or hardshell tele boots. For smaller sizes, see the Crescent Moon All-terrain Snowshoes. A heel bar is included.
Winter hiking snowshoes serve two key functions: they provide traction on icy trails and when climbing steep terrain, and they provide flotation over snow, so you don’t sink or posthole, which can be quite exhausting. While all of the winter hiking snowshoes listed above satisfy both of these requirements, some excel in the traction department, like the MSR Lightning Ascents, MSR Evo Ascents, Tubbs Flex VRTs, and TSL Symbioz Elites, while others emphasize flotation, like the Tubbs Mountaineers and the Northern Lites.
As a rule of thumb, tear-drop shaped snowshoes with synthetic riveted decks tend to emphasize flotation, while rectangular-shaped snowshoes are more traction-focused. If you’re going to be climbing ice-covered mountains predominantly, you’ll probably want a snowshoe that emphasizes traction, while snowshoes that focus on flotation, will be a better fit for areas where deep, powdery snow is the norm.
If you’re trying to choose between different snowshoes, there are four key properties that should guide your decision-making:
Most winter hikers carry multiple traction devices and switch between them during the day. If you’re hiking a packed trail, you might start out in bare boots, relying on your boot treads for traction because the less weight you have on your feet, the slower you’ll fatigue. If you encounter slick or icy terrain you might switch to microspikes, and then snowshoes, if you encounter fresh snow that hasn’t been packed down or is mixed up with slush.
In order to have these traction aids when you need them, you need to carry them. While microspikes are pretty easy to pack, snowshoes aren’t because they’re big and bulky. The bulk comes from their length, width, and thickness, which is primarily a function of the style of binding they use. Lay flat bindings like the simple straps on the MSR Lightning Ascent and the MSR Evo Ascent are the easiest snowshoes to attach or carry in a backpack, while snowshoes with Boa binding systems tend to be the bulkiest and most difficult to pack.
Weight is also a key factor when choosing which snowshoe to buy. Most snowshoes weigh four to five pounds, and they’re probably going to be the heaviest thing in your backpack, after water. That weight adds up during the course of a day, regardless of whether it’s in your backpack or on your feet.
We’ve already considered the packability of snowshoe bindings, but there are other factors you should consider when making a selection, such as comfort, security, ease of use while wearing gloves, whether the binding can freeze and become inoperative, and how easy it is to repair if it does break. For example, some people worry that Boa closure systems can freeze up if they get wet and will cease to operate until they can be defrosted. It’s a valid concern. One of their advantages, however, is that they are easy to use while wearing gloves and provide a secure grip that’s unlikely to come undone once set. Contrast that to the flat straps used on MSR snowshoes. They’ll never freeze up, they’re easy to replace if torn or lost, but they can be hard to attach when wearing gloves, and they tend to pop open once or twice during a hike.
Snowshoes come in a wide variety of sizes. These are determined by the total weight you want to carry (bodyweight + pack weight) and the amount of flotation you require. Men’s sizes are usually larger than women’s sizes, because men are taller and heavier, while women’s snowshoes tend to be narrower than men’s because their gait isn’t as wide.
If you’re buying a snowshoe that’s more traction oriented, you can sometimes drop a size below the manufacturer’s recommended sizing, especially if you’re hiking in an area that doesn’t get a lot of snow or you’re hiking on trails that have been broken out by other hikers. Sizing is directly correlated to gear weight and this is a tactic you can use to lighten your load. If flotation is a priority, you can sometimes buy tails, which are add-on snowshoe extensions that make them longer and increase their surface area. This is another way to cut down on the weight of a snowshoe because you can bring your tails when you need more flotation, but carry a lighter weight snowshoe in less challenging conditions.
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