Home / Gear Reviews by Manufacturer / MSR / MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review w/ New Paragon Binding

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review w/ New Paragon Binding

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe Review with Paragon Binding

MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are lightweight, durable snowshoes that are ideal for winter hiking and backpacking in mountainous terrain. They’re designed with a unique 360-degree traction system that allows you to walk up slopes or laterally across them without losing your grip. The Lightning Ascents were the first snowshoes to integrate serrated crampons directly into the snowshoe frame, in addition to more conventional crampon placements under the ball of the foot and the heel.

The Lightning Ascents revolutionized snowshoe design when the first came out about 10 years ago because they significantly improved the amount of traction that snowshoes could provide on icy trails and mountainsides. The serrated frame and lateral supports also prevented something called “snowballing” which occurs when snow and ice clump up in crampon teeth so it feels like your walking on top of bowling balls. This happens on any kind of toothed traction device, including microspikes, and the step-in or strap-on crampons that you attach to winter hiking and mountaineering boots. Since the horizontal rear crampons are not boxed crampons, but serrated horizontal struts built into the frame, snowballing can’t occur. It was ingenious.

How to carry snowshoes on a backpack
It is much easier to strap snowshoes to the side of a backpack if the bindings lay flat like those on the MSR Lightning Ascent

Televators

The Lightning Ascents also come with Televators that help relieve calf fatigue when snowshoeing up hills. This was also a huge innovation when it was first introduced but is now a standard feature on all backcountry snowshoes designed for use in mountainous terrain. The Televator is a wire loop that can be flipped up under your heel when you are ascending a steep slope and locks into the tread of your boots so it won’t slip. It raises your heel so that you feel like you are walking on a level surface and prevents your calves from burning out on climbs. It also exerts direct pressure on the horizontal bar-shaped crampon under the snowshoe’s heel so you don’t slide backward and lose ground when climbing on hills.

Although using the Televator feels like you’re walking in high heels, you quickly adapt to it. It doesn’t feel wobbly or anything, because the downward force of your weight is distributed laterally across the snowshoe and not on a single tiny point. Plus, you have trekking poles for balance. When you’re done climbing, you can strike your pole handles against the Televators to fold them back down flush with the snowshoe decking.

New Lightning Ascent Paragon Binding

MSR changed the binding system on the Lightning Ascent and Revo Ascent Snowshoes this year, switching from a three-strap binding to the net-like Paragon binding. The old binding consisted of three elastic ski straps that you’d strap and anchor across the top of your boots together with a rear elastic strap to lock your boot into place. The old binding had some advantages. First off, it folded flat when not in use, which made the snowshoes easier to strap to the sides or back of a backpack with the crampons facing out. This made it easier to maneuver through vegetation because the binding wouldn’t catch on bushes or tree branches, the crampons wouldn’t slice into your backpack, and the added weight of the snowshoes would remain centered nearer to your core muscles.

However, the old 3 strap binding had some problems too.

  • The elastic ski straps would pop off during hikes for no apparent reason
  • The ends of the straps would flap around annoyingly
  • You could experience hot spots under the straps on the top of your foot
  • It was difficult to get optimal foot placement over the front crampon
The front corners post position your toes over the front crampon and prevent your boots from sliding too far forward over them.

The new Paragon binding eliminates all of those problems while still packing flat against the side or back of a backpack. MSR replaced the straps with a flexible net made with the same elastic stretch material that distributes pressure evenly across the top of your boot and eliminates binding hot spots. The front corners of the binding prevent your foot from sliding too far forward, ensuring that the ball of your foot is positioned directly on top of the front crampon every time. That’s a great improvement, especially for beginners. The two corner straps on new binding are held closed with plastic clips and wider at the end than in the body, so they can’t slip through the clips. If you’re the only person using the snowshoe, you can fit the side binding straps to your boots, lock them in place, and never fuss with it again.

The heel strap is secured with a plastic clip which prevents it from working loose.
The heel strap is secured with a plastic clip which prevents it from working loose.

The Paragon’s mesh netting feels very natural and you don’t have to make it super tight to hold your foot in place. The

The Heel Strap

The heel strap in the old 3-strap Ascent binding also had problems and would frequently pop open. Some of us would duct tape it permanently shut to prevent this and just use the top straps to secure the snowshoe to our feet. While you can still technically do this with the Paragon binding, I’ve found that the heel strap stays reliably closed in the new binding and doesn’t pop open, in part because MSR provides a plastic clip to help hold it in place and prevent it from working itself loose.

The heel strap even stays secure when you break its plastic keeper clip, which I managed to do the first time I used the new Paragon binding at the end of last winter. (Contact MSR for a replacement if you break one.) Regardless, I suspect that the new Paragon reduces the amount of torsional flexing of the heel strap enough so that it will stay closed even if you bust or lose the clip.

The Lightning Ascent has a hinged crampon assembly which digs into the snow:ice and mimics your stride
The Lightning Ascent has a hinged crampon assembly which digs into the snow/ice and mimics your stride. Note the raised televator above.

I started testing the new binding last winter and held off on reviewing it until this year because I wanted to make sure that the heel strap stayed closed after additional use. I can’t say that it won’t open unexpectedly for you, but I’ve really tried to make it fail like it does on the old 3-strap binding and it hasn’t, which I’ve found encouraging.

Paragon Binding Upgrade

MSR does not have an upgrade path that would allow you to switch from the old 3-strap Lightning Ascent binding to the new Paragon Binding. If you want the new Paragon binding, you have to buy a new pair of Lightning Ascents or Revo Ascents.

There have been some rumors floating around that MSR would offer an upgrade-kit to add the Paragon binding to an old pair of Lightning Ascents, but those are red herrings. Here’s what MSR told me when I asked my contacts about whether they would ever offer an upgrade-kit:

“The Paragon binding isn’t sold separately in a retrofit kit. Retrofitting (or upgrading) your old snowshoes with the new Paragon binding would mean the whole binding unit would have to be replaced. That unit includes the mesh strap, baseplate, and the crampons. Together, these add up to a significant cost of the whole shoe. Some people have confused the red mesh strap as the “whole binding,” but it’s not.

Additionally, retrofitting your old snowshoes with the new binding makes your current bindings, essentially, waste. If you’d like to upgrade to the Paragon binding, we believe the better—and more sustainable course of action—is to keep your current snowshoes intact so that they can be repurposed to a new user and have a second life.”

MSR Lighting Ascent Snowshoes w/Paragon Binding

Weight
Durability
Binding
Traction
Flotation
Comfort

Rugged and Durable Snowshoes

MSR's Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are designed for use in rugged and hilly terrain with aggressive crampons. They have a new Paragon Binding system which is easier to use than the previous binding and is compatible with all forms of footwear.

Shop Now

Comparable Winter Hiking Snowshoes

Make / ModelHeel BarBindingWeight (25")Price
Atlas SerrateYesStrap4 lbs$290
MSR Revo Explore YesRachet Strap4 lbs 2 oz$220
Crescent Moon Gold 10YesRachet Strap4 lbs 10.1 oz$219
Louis Garneau PremiereYesBoa5 lbs 6.4 oz$235
Louis Garneau VersantYesBoa4 lbs 11 oz$250
MSR Lightning AscentYesMesh Net4 lbs 3 oz$319
MSR Evo AscentYesStrap4 lbs 1 oz$200
TSL Symbioz EliteYesBoa4 lbs 5 oz$280
Tubbs Flex ALPYesBoa4 lbs 8 oz$240
Tubbs MountaineersYesRachet Strap4 lbs 14.4 oz$270

Recommendation

I’ve used MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes for trail breaking and on packed trails with the new Paragon binding and they are better than ever. The new binding is simpler to adjust and stays reliably closed even in the toughest conditions. It’s very comfortable, eliminates the hot spots of the previous model, and is designed to provide optimal foot placement over the front crampon for maximum stride efficiency and traction. Once fitted to your winter boots, you really never have to fuss it again and you’ll experience the same perfect fit every time…which is a big improvement on the older model.  I was leary when MSR originally announced changes to the Lightning Ascent Snowshoe, because I feared that they’d diminish its legacy as a breakthrough product, but I needn’t have worried. MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes with the new Paragon Binding are better than ever.

Disclosure: MSR provided the author with a pair of snowshoes for this review.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

Most Popular Searches

  • MSR Lightning Ascent
  • 2019 msr lightning paragon bindings
  • atlas ascent paragon binding

23 comments

  1. After looking at them in stores, I remain skeptical.

  2. I think the “sustainable” option would be for MSR to create a trade in program where you could send in your old lightning ascents and receive the new model for a modest fee. Then MSR could refurbish the old models and sell them at cost to people who want less expensive, less expensive snowshoes. Concentrating the resale of old snowshoes would help ensure they’re passed along to new consumers rather than getting thrown into a landfill or gathering dust in a garage.

  3. Have you experienced or heard of any issues with the durability of the two large crampon teeth? I’ve come across broken teeth a few times on the trail and last year, both teeth broke off my lightning ascents.

    • I’ve never broken the teeth of an MSR snowshoe and I’ve been using them for over 10 years. I think most people who do break them break the binding mount. Did you contact MSR support about them? I suspect that would be covered under their guarantee. (What in god’s name did you do?)

      • I broke one tooth last April. The first time in 5 years of ownership of the same pair of shoes. MSR customer service was great about it.

    • MSR updated the crampons several seasons ago to address the issue of broken and bent teeth. Shoes for the past two seasons have implmeneted that change. The new binding is built on the updated crampon.

  4. For all of us who own either the Lightning Ascents or Revo Ascents with the older bindings, we can only hope that MSR comes around to supporting us who have purchased their product(s) instead of hiding behind the “sustainable course of action” excuse. From a corporate standpoint it makes more sense to their bottom line for us all to have to buy the new snowshoes instead of only profiting from the smaller sale price of a retrofit. MSR is discounting the goodwill that it could obtain by offering the retrofit.

    • MSR has started trying to sell direct to consumers via their website but hasn’t had much success at getting people to buy from them instead of REI. Imagine if a $$ upgrade or conversion kit was only available thru their website and not through retail outlets….that would certainly provide a boost to their ecommerce strategy, not to mention a huge boost in customer loyalty. Just saying. I understand the established channel model that MSR operates under, but that was a missed opportunity.

    • If you can afford it and covet the new bindings, why not buy new snow shoes and donate the old ones to charity?

      In the Northeast, the AMC Youth Opportunity Program (YOP) would probably love to get your old gear and lend it to under privileged youth to get them Outdoors.

      • If you currently have a pair of LA’s and there is nothing wrong with the frame you can buy the cheaper Revos and move the new binding/crampon assembly over to the older LA’s.

  5. How adjustable is the new binding for large feet? My old pair of Revo’s broke last season and I’ve been skeptical about the new binding design

  6. I have heard that the new Paragon binding system may be an issue for people with big feet. I take a size 12 wide shoe but have to use a size 13 winter boot to get the width. So my Koflack double boots are pretty big. Do you think these would work with the new binding system? Does MSR give any information on the new binding system and boot size?

  7. I dunno about the new Lightning Ascents but my Gen. 1 pair are still going strong with no breakages.

  8. It’s a bummer to have the next year’s shoes get better bindings after buying them, which seens endemic as a lot of learning is apparently going on.

    I bought the Flex Alps last year (thinking i was getting something that wouldn’t be upgraded soon) and love them. But see this year’s has already improved on the binding. Again, love the shoes, but nust feel slightly jilted…

  9. The new MSR bindings look great.

    I have two pairs of older MSR (Lightning & Evo’s) that I had to replace the bindings straps on due to wear and tear but they lasted a long time. My Lightning straps were replaced with the newer ratchet straps which I preferred.

    I’m surprised that no snowshoe maker has used the standard universal snowboard like bindings. I have them on a pair of 125cm Altai short ski/snowshoe hybrids and now a 160cm pair of OAC ski’s (OEM for Black Diamond skis) and they are fantastic- dialed in fit with comfort and very sturdy – see https://us-store.altaiskis.com/product/hok-ski-updated-2016/

  10. MSR doesn’t want to waste the bindings of your old one so they won’t sell a retrofit kit for “sustainability” reasons…… Lets get real, they won’t sell it because they want the money from you to buy a whole new snow shoe, then your old snowshoe gets left…. so instead of wasting just a binding, you waste the whole damn snow shoes. MSR don’t act like it’s for sustainability when we all know it’s for your bottom dollar cash amount.

    • I think MSR blew it, but if there’s anyone to blame it’s probably Google. Why Google? Because google encourages brands to reuse product names so they come up in searches. I think MSR would have done better if they’d just come out with a new product called the Paragon Ascent.

  11. Which length snowshoe do you use?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *