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MSR Lightning Axis Snowshoe

MSR Lightning Access Snowshoe
MSR Lightning Axis Snowshoe

MSR has introduced a new variant of the successful Lightning snowshoe product line called the Lightning Axis snowshoe. It features a new snowshoe binding that is supposed to improve the efficiency of your gait and make it easier to put on and take off your snowshoes. Here’s a video, which shows how it works.

The “Old” Lightning Ascent Binding

The snowshoes I use in the mountains are MSR’s Lightning Ascent snowshoes, the predecessor to the new Axis. The Ascent has a simple but very reliable binding system. It consists of four rubberized straps that fit over the top and the back of your boots and lock them onto the snowshoe deck. It doesn’t matter if you go uphill or down, or even if you fall over, the simple binding system on the Lightning Ascent won’t let go.

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe
The Lightning Ascent Binding System

I really like my Lightning Ascents. They’re great for mountain climbing and long hikes over uneven, but icy terrain. But the one thing I find a little irritating about that old binding system is the way in which the ends of the straps bounce around when you walk. The clips that come with the snowshoes never hold the straps down very long and come undone. It’s not a showstopper though

The New Lightning Axis Snowshoe Binding

The Lightning Axis Speedlock binding replaces the front two rubberized straps on the Ascent binding with a wide plastic toe strap that you fit in advance, before you leave the house. Don’t try to set up this binding or change it at the trail head. You’ll go mad.

MSR Lightning Ascent Binding
New Lightning Axis Binding

MSR made the back top rubber strap optional, unless you want extra insurance for extreme conditions. Take my advice, you need this strap if you plan on hiking any hills, and I mean any hill, not the ones they call mountains in Scotland. Otherwise, your boot is going to pop out of the binding immediately, since there’s little to hold the rest of your boot to the snowshoe deck. It happened repeatedly to me during testing.

Axis Binding, with Optional Extra Strap
Axis Binding, with Optional Extra Strap

Additionally, be very careful with the little metal fittings that attach this “optional” strap to the rest of the snowshoe binding. They have a tendency to fall off and get lost in the snow. If this happens when you’re out on a hike, you’re probably going to have to posthole back to the car, unless you duct take the snowshoe to your boot.

I think you get my gist here. The new Speedlock Binding is not much of an improvement over the old Lightning Ascent binding, unless you only plan to snowshoe on a golf course.

MSR Lightning Axis Stud MSR Lightning Axis Strap

New Locking Strap Stud

I have to give MSR credit though: they did get rid of the flapping straps by adding a locking metal stud to the end of Axis’ rubber strap. You fit the flapping end onto the stud to hold it down.

It works great for me, so I called up MSR Customer Support to see if I could buy some to use with my Lightning Ascents. They told me that customers had been experiencing a lot of problems using them with the Lightning Axis and that they are going to replace them in future production runs with the old strap holders used on the Ascent. Oh well.

However, if you like the studs and can get them to work, MSR customer Support will be happy to send them to you for free! I’m expecting 10 of them to arrive any day.

Axis Gait Technology

The other improvement introduced on the Axis is Gait Efficiency technology. According to MSR, most people walk in snowshoes with their toes angled away from one another. To counter this you can realign the binding on the Axis so it points slightly in the opposite direction: it swivels on the snowshoe deck to produce the correction.

MSR Axis Gait - BottomMSR Axis Gait

After you set the correction, you’ll have the same gait, but the snowshoe will be pointed slightly inward so you won’t notice it when you walk.

To determine whether you toes points inwards or out, MSR advises you to walk in straight line on fresh snow and determine whether the outlines of your snowshoes point in or out. I’ve tried this multiple times on different types of snow and all I can determine is that I walk like a drunken man when I’m wearing snowshoes.

Just because I can’t figure this out, doesn’t mean that you won’t.


I’m not impressed with the new features on the Lightning Axis. The only thing wrong with the old generation Lightning Ascents were the flapping straps. Give us the new metal studs to fix that, and we’ll be happy customers.

Disclosure: MSR provided (Philip Werner) SectionHiker.com with a complementary pair of MSR Lightning Axis Snowshoes for this review.

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  1. I picked up a pair of these during a pre-christmas sale, but have only tested them once so far. I've been using 2005 Lightning Ascents since they were new, and they still work perfectly. Various reasons for getting the new pair, but I agree with most of your assessment of the Axis. I like the studs, although they do take a hefty amount of force to get the straps into them. I like the strap setup, though. My Ascents are old enough that they only have two top straps, and I didn't want to get the new Ascents because of the three top straps… seemed like overkill to me.

    Haven't tested the Gait Efficiency, nor do I think I will in the near future. Basically, I just like that they have a Lightning option with only two straps again (yes, I know I could have just taken one off of the new Ascents, but… I like not having to customize my hiking toys!).

  2. Great review! I haven't used them, but I've been studying/researching them in stores. The gait adjustment sounds like a great idea but I'm very skeptical about the new binding. It sounds good in theory that you just set it once and can easily step in and go. However what if you wear a different pair of boots that day, or borrow someone else's pair? The adjustment could maybe be done at the trail, but definately not with gloves on.

  3. Great review — replaced my Ascent snowshoes with the Axis hoping that the straps would be easier and more manageable. I like them and feel like I can almost "kick" into them as MSR suggests if the decking/biding is a little snowy making it slicker and easier to slide into the wide toe strap. Not perfect, but nice. I agree that the instep strap is necessary and wouldn't recommend the Lightning Flash series MSR has if you don't buy the instep strap that is optional in that model — it really locks down the foot. The design of the instep strap needs to be improved as you mentioned because it works its way out of its slot and I fear I am going to lose it very soon. I hope/wish MSR comes up with a simple design change for the attachment buckle of that strap so it can be more permanently attached because I don't foresee myself not wanting to use it. I like the new strap studs and would not go back to the plastic buckle clips!

  4. Hi Philip, nice review. I just picked up the new generation of Lightning Ascents, and have mixed feelings about the strap studs. While they are more secure than the old plastic clips seen on previous generations, I have a horrible time getting them setup when I'm wearing gloves. IMO they take a lot of precision to operate, and I usually have to strip down to my liner glove to be able to do so. Did MSR mention the specific problems that customers have complained about? I'm curious to know if if has to do with difficulty of operation, or if there is anything else that I should be cautioned about. Thanks! Hope you had as much fun as me digging out the car this morning!

  5. Konrad – I wasn't aware that the Ascents also had studs. Wow – MSR has got problems. Their customer support guy just said that people have issues getting them to work in cold weather (winter). Like Guthook said, you do need to apply some serious force to get them to lock in. I was going to try putting some hard soap on the stud to see if it makes it any easier. Nothing like a little consumer testing before you launch a product….

  6. I took my new Axes (plural of Axis, right?) up Monadnock on saturday, and I have to say I like them more and more. For the most part they're basically the same as my old Ascents, which is good. I've got the hang of pressing those studs in, so it's not terribly difficult anymore– just takes some practice.

    The thing that I really like right now is the front strap because I also just switched to sneakers for my winter hiking (sneakers plus VB liner… I'm so amazed at how well this works. I'll have to do a little post about it on my blog soon). With the old Ascents, I often crushed my toes with the front strap. With the Axes, my toes were very happy, and the only strap that I tightened enough to feel was the ankle strap, which is still key.

    That's all for now. I still agree that they're not too much different from the older Ascents, but that's not a bad thing!

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