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Dion 164 Modular Snowshoe Review

Dion Modular Snowshoes Review

Dion Snowshoes is a Vermont-based company that’s gaining traction (and flotation) with their lightweight and modular backcountry and racing snowshoes. While you can buy their snowshoes fully assembled, you can also customize and switch between different frames bindings, and cleats, depending on the type of hiking/running, footwear, or surface conditions you are likely to encounter. When fully assembled, all of their snowshoes are also considerably lighter weight than more mainstream snowshoes from MSR, Atlas, or Tubbs, they fold flat against a backpack making them easy to carry, and they’re just as durable, especially since you can replace the components if they wear out rather than buying an entirely new snowshoe.

In this review, I evaluate the Dion 164 Frame intended for hiking, Dion’s Quickfit Binding, and two of their cleats, the stainless steel Ice Cleat intended for ice and rocky terrain, and the aluminum Deep Cleat intended for powdery snow.

Dion sells a modular snowshoe with interchangeable decking, bindings, and cleats
Dion sells a modular snowshoe with interchangeable decking, bindings, and cleats

The 164 Frame

The Dion I64 Frame is a simple 8″ x 24.7″ aluminum frame with pre-attached decking and an aluminum heel cleat. The 164 frame has lightweight plastic decking which is securely riveted to the aluminum frame with redundant rivets and has a pre-installed cross-piece for mounting a cleat or what I’d called a snowshoe crampon. It’s much quieter to snowshoe with than the plastic snowshoes made by popular manufacturers.

The aluminum frame is quite stiff when snowshoeing, but still relatively lightweight at 2 lbs 5.8 oz/pair and suitable for loads up to 280 lbs (including a backpack). It does not come with a televator which is a piece of wire that can be flipped up off the decking to raise your heel and make it easier to climb slopes while relieving calf fatigue. The lack of a televator made me hesitate to evaluate Dion’s snowshoes since it is considered by many to be a must-have for mountain hiking in winter.

Anecdotally, I’ve been experiencing pain in my quads when using televators this winter, probably due to muscle tightness, but I can’t say I’ve missed them that much when snowshoeing up big peaks. Good traction in the form of aggressive cleats goes a long way to mitigating their absence.

The QuickFit Binding uses webbing straps with velcro patches that work even in snow.
The QuickFit Binding uses webbing straps with velcro patches that work even in snow.

QuickFit Binding

The Dion QuickFit binding (3.2 oz) has two webbing top straps and a heel strap secured with Velcro. I’m not sure how they did it, but the Velcro still works even when covered by snow. The binding straps are available in multiple sizes and replaceable, in small, medium, and large lengths corresponding to different boot sizes up to a size 14. This means you could use the QuickFit binding with 400-gram winter hiking boots, higher-volume mountaineering boots, or even higher-volume pack boots, simply by replacing the binding straps. The different-length straps also let you eliminate extra slack in your straps, which can be annoying, by picking the appropriate length for your footwear.

The QuickFit Binding has three webbing straps
The QuickFit Binding has three webbing straps

The QuickFit binding and all of Dion’s bindings fold flat which makes them easy to lash to the sides of your backpack since you often have to carry snowshoes on hikes when you don’t know what trail conditions ahead will be like (even if you don’t use them). I prefer fold-flat bindings but fewer and fewer snowshoes come with them, opting for much bulkier Boa or ratchet-based bindings. The downside of those bulkier bindings is that your pack’s compression straps aren’t long enough to strap snowshoes to the sides of your pack, which is the most convenient and efficient way to carry them.

In practice, the QuickFit binding is very easy to put on and take off while wearing gloves. It’s very stable and doesn’t create any pressure points inside your boots. It’s threaded through plastic ladder lock buckles, so you just want to make sure you don’t pull the ends out when taking off the snowshoes, as you will need to take your gloves off to rethread them, and that sucks in cold weather.

Stainless Steel ice cleat (left) and Aluminum deep cleat (right)
Stainless Steel ice cleat (left) and Aluminum deep cleat (right)

Cleats (Crampons)

I’ve used the Dion 164 Frame/QuickFit Binding with two of Dion’s cleats – their stainless steel Ice Cleat (3.0 oz/each) and their aluminum Deep Cleat (2.4 oz/each). The stainless steel Ice Cleat is the more durable of the two and is designed for hiking on mixed ice and rock, making it ideal for mountain hiking in the Northeastern United States.

While the aluminum Deep Cleat is lighter weight, it’s designed for powdery dry snow and is much less durable.  In use, I didn’t find all that much difference between the two cleats: I attribute that to the fact that we tend to have mostly crusty snow in New Hampshire and not much powder, the result of intermittent thaws, rainfall, and snow in the mountain maritime climate.

The cleats are attached to the frame using two screws.
The cleats are attached to the frame using two screws.

But if you want a cleat that’s going to take abuse, I’d go with the stainless steel Ice Cleat. I’ve used aluminum mountaineering crampons pretty extensively and they get worn down quickly after a season or two of moderate use. You can’t sharpen them effectively and they must be replaced when they get worn down. Stainless steel is the way to go and the weight difference is negligible.

The cleats attach to the 164 frame with two locking screws that fit through pre-drilled holes in the cleat assembly. It’s pretty intuitive to assemble the frame, binding, and cleats but it helps to have a preassembled snowshoe as an example for easy reference.

The downside of Dion’s cleats is that they don’t provide the side-hilling traction that many heavier snowshoes like the MSR Lightning Ascent or MSR Evo Ascent provide. That traction in the form of a serrated frame or side rails, in addition to a front crampon, can be quite handy when crossing slopes or walking above deep chasms where an uncontrolled slide would be very bad. The Dion 164 is a much more conventional old-school snowshoe, and while lighter weight, it’s just not in the same league as a snowshoe that has several different crampon orientations.

The screws that attach the cleats to the frame only require a flat head screw driver to secure.
The screws that attach the cleats to the frame only require a flat head screw driver to secure.

Recommendation

Dion makes modular snowshoes with three components: a frame, a binding, and a cleat that you can mix and match for different snow/ice conditions, footwear choices, and gear weight requirements. Besides being lighter weight than most popular snowshoes, the advantage is that you can tailor their snowshoes to your exact needs or replace components if they break or wear out, without having to buy entirely new snowshoes. Dion’s bindings also fold flat against the sides of a backpack, making them easy to carry using the pack’s compression straps.

However, Dion’s snowshoes lack televators which many people feel is an important aid when climbing mountains on steep trails. They also lack cleats that are specifically designed for side-hilling. But if you’re willing to forgo those capabilities, they’re quite functional snowshoes and quite lightweight topping out at 3 lb 2 oz/pair which is a significant weight reduction over other mainstream snowshoes designed for mountain hiking.

If you don’t care about the modularity of Dion’s snowshoes and just want a complete snowshoe for mountain hiking that you never need to modify, I’d recommend getting their preassembled 164 Quickfit Binding/Ice Cleat model, which is quite reasonably priced, but can still be modified or easily repaired down the road.

Disclosure: Dion donated snowshoes for review.

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2 comments

  1. I love my Dions! Several years ago I had a pair (20.7 x 7.2) customized for snowshoe racing. Back then they didn’t offer any preassembled sets. The company was very easy to work with, and the product is of excellent quality. I ordered over the phone to make sure I chose the best options for my weight and use, and had them delivered to a local (Vermont) dealer for free. I use them for many of my winter running sessions, in addition to occasional racing, so they have had some hard use. Races are generally on mostly-groomed mountainous terrain, where they perform just fine. I can’t speak to their trekking snowshoes, but I can say that I wouldn’t hesitate to support Dion as a company.

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