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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



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.

Comparable Winter Hiking Snowshoes

Make / ModelHeel BarBindingWeight (25")Price
Atlas SerrateYesStrap4 lbs$290
Atlas Spindrift YesStrap3 lbs 13 oz$270
Crescent Moon Gold 10YesRachet Strap4 lbs 10.1 oz$269
Louis Garneu Blizzard IIYesBoa4 lbs 11 oz$200
Louis Garneau VersantYesBoa4 lbs 11 oz$265
MSR Lightning AscentYesStrap4 lbs 3 oz$300
MSR Evo AscentYesStrap4 lbs 1 oz$200
TSL Symbioz EliteYesBoa4 lbs 5 oz$299
Tubbs Flex VRTYesBoa4 lbs 8 oz$260
Tubbs MountaineerYesPull Webbing4 lbs 11 oz$270


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.

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  1. It depends on where you hike. I bushwhack so the evos make more sense. The lightnings are good for more snow. Both are excellent for uphills.

  2. You can float. Cascade Designs has all the specs for the different sizes and models on their web site.

  3. The flash is a good entry level snowshoe for level winter hiking. The ascent is a bomber snowshoe for hardcore snowshoeing in the mountains.

  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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