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MSR Lightning Trail Snowshoe Review

MSR Lightning Trail Snowshoe Review

The MSR Lightning Trail Snowshoe is an ultralight snowshoe designed for snowshoeing over rolling hills and level terrain, featuring a serrated 360-degree frame, horizontal struts, and toe crampon. MSR changed the binding on the Lightning Trails this year, replacing the former (fussy) DuoFit binding which used ski straps with the new Paraglide binding which holds the front of your winter boots with stretch mesh and comes with a locking heal strap that can be easily adjusted while wearing gloves. The added benefit of the Lightning Trail Snowshoe is that it is quite lightweight, only weighing 3 lbs 3 oz in the 22″ inch size and 3 lbs 5 oz per pair in the 25″ snowshoe length. That’s pretty light as far as snowshoes go.

Specs at a glance

  • Size tested: 25″ (also available in a size 22″ men’s and women’s models)
  • Weight: 3 lbs 5 oz (per pair)
  • Footwear size range: 3 M – 13 M / 5 W – 15 W
  • Televator: No

Lightning Trail Frame

MSR revolutionized snowshoe design about 10 years ago when they introduced the serrated snowshoe frame found on their Lightning series snowshoes including the Lightning Trail. The toothed frame is designed to augment the traditional toe crampon found under the ball of the foot and to prevent slippage when side-hilling across slopes in rolling terrain.  The frame also incorporates horizontal struts, also serrated, that provide traction, especially when braking on downhills.

MSR was the first company to put teeth into the frame for added traction.
MSR was the first company to put teeth into the frame for added traction.

The frame and the struts also prevent “snowballing” which occurs when snow and ice clump underfoot so it feels like you are 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’s still very innovative.

The result is a very stable, low-profile snowshoe that provides good flotation and traction on packed trails and in moderate powder. The frame has a moderate degree of torsional flex for climbing over obstructions like fallen timber or rock but lacks the traction of the heavier MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe which looks quite similar to the Lightning Trail but is much heavier and has more aggressive traction. But if you don’t need the televator bar on the Lightning Ascent, designed for climbing steeply inclined terrain, the Lightning Trail is a great option because it is so lightweight but still durably made.

The front mesh positions the front of your boot properly over the toe crampon
The front mesh positions the front of your boot properly over the toe crampon

New Paraglide Binding

The new Paraglide binding has two parts: a stretch mesh that positions your boot properly in the binding and a locking heel strap. Both are usable while wearing gloves. The stretch mesh distributes pressure evenly across the top of your boot and eliminates the binding hot spots that occurred with the old DuoLock ski strap binding found on this snowshoe. The new locking heal strap also replaces a ski strap which had the undesirable habit of frequently popping open.

The new Paraglide Binding has a locking mechanism that remains reliably shut.
The new Paraglide Binding has a locking mechanism that is easy to adjust without extreme contortions!

The straps securing the front mesh and the heel strap have a simple locking mechanism that inserts a plastic plug into a flexible strap with holes punched into it. Pulling on the ends of the straps repositions the plug along the strap, securing it in place so it won’t come undone. The locking mechanism has glove pulls attached to it and pulling on them releases the plastic plug, allowing the straps to move freely in the binding so you can remove your feet. While there is some extra strap length, it’s positioned on the outside side of the foot or in the rear, where it’s out of the way.

Here’s a video, published by MSR that shows the Paraglide binding in action. Fast forward to 1:04 for a demo of the new Paraglide binding.

I was little concerned when I got these snowshoes because I haven’t had the best of luck with the locking mechanism on the heel straps of snowshoes from other manufacturers because it has a tendency to pop open. The biggest issue is the position of the slack portion of the heel strap past the point where the pin locks into the holes in the heel strap. If it’s allowed to flap loosely, it will pull the locking pin out and the heel strap will come undone.

My Lightning Trail snowshoes came with a plastic clip, which keeps the slack portion of the strap adjacent to the portion of the strap on the inside of the locking pin so it doesn’t flap loosely. The problem is that these plastic clips break very easily. One hack is to use a jawed binder clip to hold the two sections of the strap together or to fashion a “tube” of duct tape with the sticky sides facing each other to replace the plastic clip with something that will last longer. You’d figure that MSR could supply a more permanent component for this purpose, but it’s easy enough to hack around if you experience it. Still, you have to wonder…

The plastic clip keeps the two halves of the strap aligned and prevents the heel strap from popping unlocked
The plastic clip keeps the two halves of the strap aligned and prevents the heel strap from popping unlocked


The MSR Lightning Trail Snowshoe is a lightweight snowshoe designed for rolling terrain that’s easy to carry with a backpack because it has a fold-flat binding. The latest model has a new binding which is much better and more reliable than the previous one which used elastic ski straps. If you don’t need to climb steep hills or mountains and want a snowshoe that is good for hiking along packed trails, the Lightning Trail is an excellent choice. It’s very lightweight and its fold-flat binding makes it easy to attach to the outside of a backpack, making it good for those days when you might require snowshoes, but don’t have enough information about trail conditions to know if they’ll be required.

I just wish MSR would put the new Paraglide binding used on the Lightning Trail on their more expensive and technical snowshoes, the MSR Lightning Ascent and the MSR Evo Ascent. It would be a definite improvement over the current models which still use elastic ski straps (which I’ve already communicated to them.)

Disclosure: MSR donated snowshoes for this review.

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  1. Any thoughts on the Lightning Ascent 22in + flotation tails vs the Tubbs Flex VRT 25in for hiking in WMNF for someone without much experience winter hiking over 3500ft.

  2. I wouldn’t bother with the tails. Just buy the 25″ ascents. Tails are a hassle.

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