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MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes at the summit of Mt Tom, NH
MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes at the summit of Mt Tom, NH

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

Weight
Durability
Binding
Traction
Flotation
Comfort

Excellent

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are mountaineering style snowshoes designed for snowshoeing and climbing steep terrain. Complete with televators and a toothed frame that acts like a crampon, these snowshoes will power you to new heights!

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MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are lightweight, durable snowshoes that are ideal for winter hiking and backpacking in mountainous terrain. They have three different crampon types:  a conventional hinged crampon under the ball of the foot, 360 degrees of teeth built into the outer frame, and two horizontal bars behind the ball of the foot and under the heel that have teeth and add rigidity.

Lightning Ascent Teeth

When compared to other snowshoes, it might seem like there is less crampon for your buck here: other makers tend to put a toothed crampon under the heel. The problem, I’ve found with the heel crampon is that it ices up and ceases to add any traction.

This happens on any kind of toothed traction device, including step-in or strap-on crampons. The crampon base plate has teeth on both sides and snow/ice gets stuck between the three surfaces, a condition referred to as balling up.

To combat this, some snowshoe makers add plastic anti-balling plates to the underside of the metal base to prevent the snow from sticking, but it still does, and it’s a problem on ascents when you need heel traction. But since the horizontal rear crampons on the Ascents are not box shaped, balling can’t occur. It also heightens the impact of another unique feature on the Ascents, called a Televator, shown below in the up position.

MSR Lightning Ascent Televator

The Televator is a wire loop that can be flipped up 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, while you are climbing, and prevents your calves from burning out. It also exerts direct pressure on the horizontal crampon under your heel and it works particularly well on the Ascent since the heel crampon actually bites and isn’t balled up with snow or ice.

Although using the Televator feels like you’re walking in high heels, you quickly adapt to it. It doesn’t feel wobbly or anything, probably because the pressure downward force of your weight is distributed laterally across the shoe and not on a single tiny point. Plus, you have trekking poles for balance. When you’re done climbing, simple stand on your toes and use your poles to flick the Televator down flush with the plastic flotation layer.

Plastic Boots and MSR Lightning Ascents

There’s not much else to the mention about these snow shoes except the bindings, which are very sturdy and can be cranked down tightly.Plus all of the binding straps have clips to hold down any excess length so they don’t flap around when you’re walking. The back binding is a little tricky to lock in, but you only have to set it once, the first time you put on the snowshoes. After that, you can leave it locked in at that length and just secure the top straps when you put the snowshoe on.

I’ve used the MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes in a variety of terrain and I’ve also done quite a bit of trail breaking in them on fresh powder. The shorter length does help significantly with maneuverability, and the Televator has to be experienced to make you a believer.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
Updated 2017.

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8 comments

  1. after reading your evo ascent review, would it be better to get the lightning in 22? looking at the weight, I would be able to use the 22 but if i got a big load and lots of snow, I would need the tails. with the 25, I wouldn’t need to get anything. i’m completely new to snowshoes.

  2. Hi
    Using different snowshoes over the 6-7 last years, Atlas,and now GV. Allways 36″. The snow in Norway demands 36″ or more. In som cases I use GV 42″ widetrack.
    My question is: Can You float under this conditions with using MSR. How Long are they, included tails?

  3. How would these compare with the MSR lightning flash? Other than the absence of televators and another binding, are they similar? I can get the flash at 50% now, so that’s tempting :-)

  4. Hi,

    So I am from the Northeast but located out in the Rockies (Tetons to be exact) where 2′ powder dumps are not uncommon. I am 6’1″ 170lbs. Looking for one shoe to rule them all. ;) My plan is to do day hikes (an additional 20lbs) and overnights (an additional 70lbs). I see that you can get 5″ extensions for these shoes and everything else about them looks great as there are some steeps to climb here which can be hard and icy. I am wondering about your thoughts on buying the 25″ + extensions vs the 30″. I get the feeling the 30″ will be a pain for day hikes given my frame. I have plenty of time on running snowshoes (on packed trails) but no reference for backcountry shoes. I appreciate your review and thanks for any opinions you can offer!

    • I’d get the 25″ shoes and use the tails when you need them, for the reasons you indicate. They’ll be fine for a 240 pound max load.
      If you plan on breaking 2′ of powder though, I recommend hiking with at least 15 other people so you can take turns.

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