MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes

MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes

MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes

I started using a different pair of snowshoes this year, switching from a pair of MSR Lightning Ascents to a pair of Evo Ascent Snowshoes, also from MSR. While the Lightning Ascents are great snowshoes for New England winter hiking and snowshoeing (click for my review), I needed a shorter, more maneuverable snowshoe for winter bushwhacking in dense vegetation.

Don’t get me wrong, the MSR Lightning Ascent is a bomber snowshoe that excels on mountainous terrain and hiking trails and I plan to keep using my current pair for that purpose. But the  off-trail nature of bushwhacking requires a very different set of capabilities from a snowshoe including unibody construction to avoid getting hung up on brush.

A Bushwhacking Primer

I dived into bushwhacking at the beginning of last winter and have continued doing it since. A four season sport, it is slightly easier in winter because the leaves have fallen of the trees and the heavy forest understory is covered with snow.

Whacking Off Trail

Bushwhacking Off Trail in Winter

While bushwhacking builds on all of your hiking skills, it is really hard on gear, puncturing, tearing, and scratching your clothes and equipment. It’s rare when I don’t come home from a bushwhack without shedding blood or ripping up some gear.

Snowshoes for Bushwhacking

When it comes to snowshoes for bushwhacking, less is more. Shorter length snowshoes are much more maneuverable through dense brush than long ones despite the fact that they provide less flotation in deep powder. Plus snowshoes with a smaller surface area are actually easier to pull out of deep powder than bigger ones. Further, climbing aids, like the MSR’s televator bails are even more important than normal because off trail routes can be very steep, unlike graded hiking trails.

But the most important requirement for a bushwhacking snowshoe, beside being indestructible of course, is that it not catch on protruding branches when you’re battling through brush. This requires a uni-body construction where the snowshoe frame and deck are molded from a single piece of material instead of the separate frame and riveted decking you commonly find on other snowshoes. It doesn’t take many face plants to figure this out. When bushwhacking through dense forest, little branches invariably get caught between the frame and decking and splat – down you tumble, into the snow, trapped until one of your hiking mates disentangles you.

Aggressive Snowshoe Crampons

Aggressive Snowshoe Crampons

As you can see above, there is no separate decking on the MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe which is basically a big piece of plastic with aggressive size crampons riveted to the underside of frame.  The orientation of the crampons prevents snow from balling up under them.  In addition, there are several horizontal plastic ribs on the underside of the snowshoe that also provide some traction,  but mainly act as brakes when coming down steep slopes with packed snow or in slushy conditions.

MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe with Televator Raised

MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe with Televator Raised

Lengthwise, the Evo Ascents come in one size, 22″ long, which I’ve always found a little frustrating because they’re a great snowshoe for regular trail hiking as well as bushwhacking. Still, if you need more flotation for deep powder, you can buy a pair of add-on flotation tails that attach to the rear of the snowshoe. My only caution with doing this is that the combination may be heavier than a standalone snowshoe that is sized appropriately for your needs, and I would avoid carrying a pair of flotation tails around unless you absolutely know you will need them.

All of the “Ascent Series” snowshoes in the MSR product line including the Evo Ascent and Lightning Ascent snowshoes have a piece of wire that you can flip up under the heal of your boot when climbing up hills.  Called “Telvators”, they reduce the strain on your calves which causes lower leg fatigue making it much easier to climb steep trails while maintaining excellent contact between the crampons and the snow surface. I simply won’t buy snowshoes that don’t have this feature for New England hiking.

MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe Binding

MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe Binding

There’s a small plastic tab attached to the Televators on the Evo Ascents, that makes them easy to grab and lock into place under your heels. To lower them, I find that a sharp crack with the top of my trekking poles against the wire produces enough force to disengage them so I don’t have to bend down and do it.

Evo Ascent Binding Fold Flat against Backpack

Evo Ascent Bindings Fold Flat against a Backpack

Equally important for bushwhacking and mountaineering is the need to have a secure binding system that is compatible with many different sizes of footwear ranging from insulated winter boots and pac boots to bulky mountaineering boots. MSR’s binding system uses four plastic straps that lock your boot to the snowshoe and are easy enough to secure without taking off your gloves. Though not as fast as some other bindings,  the plastic straps are completely waterproof and unaffected by cold temperature.

The bindings also fold completely flat making them far easier to attach to your backpack and carry when not needed. That’s actually something I care about a lot about for bushwhacking because it lets me carry my snowshoes on the side of my pack, closer to my center of gravity, and helps reduces my profile when I’m bushwhacking off trail.

Conclusion

I have to confess, I didn’t discover the utility of using MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes for winter bushwhacking in New England on my own. Several of my off trail mentors use these snowshoes and I decided to try them to see why they like them so much. Bushwhacking with them is so much easier and more efficient than larger snowshoes, that I am also convinced that they’re the right snowshoe for bushwhacking in New England.

Disclosure:  Cascade Designs provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample pair of MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes for this review. 

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15 Responses to MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes

  1. bob February 14, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    I agree, great snowshoe. And I think getting the modular tails provides a pretty good system for those who can only have one pair of ‘shoes. Add tails when more flotation is needed, go without when on crust or hardpack, or when more manueverability is needed. … And seriously, the televator heels rock.

  2. Sedona Trails February 14, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    Great review. Pretty much covers a lot. Now I know what to look for when I actually decide to go snowshoeing :) thanks.

  3. Uncle Tom February 14, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Love my MSR Lightning Ascents- the Televator is so good here in New England. Also, super customer service after the sale.

  4. Deb February 14, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    I have these, they are my first pair of snowshoes. The only issue is that I am a woman and the one time I tried the Televators just to test them I felt like they were placed just a little too far back and that my heel might just slip off to the front of the televator. Since it’s a unisex shoe there was no option for me to buy a women’s version. I would have to place the ball of my foot further back in the shoe and that would probably compromise my pivot action. So I haven’t really used the televators. Added the flotation tails once but we were on a tight packed trail with some really twisty turns and I almost tripped up a few times trying to go down some stepped sections so ended up taking the tails off and haven’t tried them in any deep powder yet. Still, they are an option and they made the workout even more intense for the short time we had them on. The braking action on downhills in phenomenal. They are crazy good on packed and semi-packed snow.

  5. Liz February 14, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Televators are the BOMB. I just bought a pair of Lightning Ascents and I am completely in love with the televators. Don’t know how I lived without them for so long.

  6. mazzachusetts February 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    I have these on my wish list for the televators and because they will fit snowboard boots.
    I have a really crummy pair of Atlas and though they have almost no traction, they rock for “Snowshoe skiing”. I’ve tried the Evo’s and they are a bit too grippy for this but 10 times better overall. Great review.

  7. Trevor February 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    thanks for the review. just bought a pair of MSR lighting ascents. What type of boots do you typically wear on winter hikes?

  8. John D February 16, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Back in the early eighties my buddies and I badly wanted snowshoes. At that time money was scarce and snowshoes were crazy expensive. These snowshoes were introduced in the late eighties and they were much less expensive. This drove down the cost of snowshoes since other brands rushed to lower prices in order to compete. I bought a pair of these (lower model) on sale in 88 for just under $100. They were awesome and my friends also bought them.
    I was impressed by the quality as well as the price. They are lightweight and the snow does not stick to the plastic. On ice the metal crampons give good traction. The bindings are easy to use with gloves and provide a tight fit. We have found them to be indestructible.

  9. PaulA September 3, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Phil, looking for a first pair of snowshoes for tromping the Cairngorms.
    At less than 180 lbs even with overnight gear thought the Evo’s looked a reasonable all-rounder, since you are aware of the general Cairngorms terrain your thoughts would be welcome.

    • Philip Werner September 3, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Paul,

      What is the snow depth like? Is it deep? Are the routes you will be walking broken out or will you be breaking them? If you need more flotation but want a good climber, I would recommend the MSR lightning ascent over the evo ascent. The evo would be better if snow depth is shallow and you will be torsioning the snowshoes on rocks.

      • PaulA September 6, 2013 at 10:08 am #

        Generally the Cairngorms only gets 6″ – 12″ of snow in one dump & normally wet stuff not the fine powder, drifting can be considerable in places but these areas are generally avoidable, other areas can be wind swept down to the heather & rocks. Usually a dump is followed by freeze/ thaw cycles that within a couple of weeks consolidates the pack (unless we get another dump).
        I’ll normally be breaking trail though quite mixed ground, areas where boots would ‘hole’ up to 12″ deep and then a few inches of snow, snow/ heather/ rock mix or bomber neve. This seemed more akin to your ‘bushwhacking’ experience than plodding along trails though 3 ft of fresh powder.

        • Philip Werner September 6, 2013 at 10:14 am #

          Thought so. Make sure you get the “evo ascent” and not the “evo” which is a recreational snowshoe. The heel bail is definitely worth getting if you have any ascents.

  10. PaulA September 6, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Thanks, a pair Evo Ascents is now on order…..now all we need is winter!

  11. Ben Weaver November 13, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    Phil, Great write-up! I am interested in buying snow shoes. I will be using the snow shoes in the Catskills and Adirondacks this season. Next year I plan on doing winter hikes in the Presidential range. I will not(at least Im not intending to) be bushwhacking. In your experience would the EVO ascents be a good choice, or would you recomend the Lightning Ascents? Thanks Phil!
    Ben in Lancaster, PA.

    • Philip Werner November 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

      The lightning ascents if you mainly hike on trails, the evo ascents if you mainly do bushwhacks.

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