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MSR Snowshoe Guide: How to Choose

MSR Snowshoe Selection GuideMSR makes great snowshoes for winter hiking and backpacking that provide excellent traction and flotation over packed snow and ice in mountainous terrain and powder in higher elevations and drier climates. With an ironclad guarantee, MSR also has a great reputation for replacing snowshoes that fail, something that will save you money in the long haul if you are rough on your gear.

But picking the right MSR snowshoes and sizing them appropriately can be a real challenge since MSR has so many models available, they have similar product names making them hard to tell apart, and MSR’s fitting guidelines can sometimes push you into sizes that are much larger and heavier than required. If you’re doing any kind of serious snowshoeing in winter, the last thing you want is to hike in snowshoes that are too big and too heavy, or that don’t match the kind of terrain you hike in.

Here’s a table that lists MSR’s different snowshoe models, sizes, and features. It’s very helpful for comparing the different models that MSR makes, their features, and prices.

MSR Lightning Ascent22"ParagonLightningYes
MSR Lightning Ascent25"ParagonLightningYes
MSR Lightning Ascent30"ParagonLightningYes
MSR Womens Lightning Ascent22"ParagonLightningYes
MSR Womens Lightning Ascent25"ParagonLightningYes
MSR Revo Ascent22"ParagonRevoYes
MSR Revo Ascent25"ParagonRevoYes
MSR Womens Revo Ascent22"ParagonRevoYes
MSR Womens Revo Ascent25"ParagonRevoYes
MSR Evo Ascent22"3 StrapsEvoYes
MSR Lightning Explore22"RatchetLightningYes
MSR Lightning Explore25"RatchetLightningYes
MSR Lightning Explore30"RatchetLightningYes
MSR Womens Lightning Explore22"RatchetLightningYes
MSR Womens Lightning Explore25"RatchetLightningYes
MSR Revo Explore22"RatchetRevoYes
MSR Revo Explore25"RatchetRevoYes
MSR Womens Revo Explore22"RatchetRevoYes
MSR Womens Revo Explore25"RatchetRevoYes
MSR Lightning Trail22"ParaglideLightningNo
MSR Lightning Trail25"ParaglideLightningNo
MSR Womens Lightning Trail22"ParaglideLightningNo
MSR Womens Lightning Trail25"ParaglideLightningNo
MSR Revo Trail22"ParaglideRevoNo
MSR Revo Trail25"ParaglideRevoNo
MSR Womens Revo Trail22"ParaglideRevoNo
MSR Womens Revo Trail25"ParaglideRevoNo
MSR Evo Trail Snowshoes22"ParaglideEvoNo
MSR Shift Snowshoes19"2 StrapsEvoNo
MSR Tyker Snowshoes17"2 StrapsEvoNo

I have been using MSR snowshoes for over a decade, including testing and reviewing their products as they’ve changed the design and features they offer. I give a lot of advice to friends who are trying to decide which MSR snowshoes to buy for winter hiking and the information and recommendations below sum up the guidance I provide them.

Traction and Flotation

Snowshoes provide traction and flotation when hiking over powder, packed snow, and ice. They’re designed to help you save energy by eliminating the slipping, sliding, and post-holing that occurs when you try hiking on deep snow without snowshoes.

When choosing snowshoes, you want to select a traction system that is designed for the surface conditions you expect to encounter *most* of the time (unconsolidated powder, packed trails, ice and rock) and a size that provides the right amount of decking surface area or flotation to prevent you from sinking into the snow.

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshow with Paragon Binding
The frames of the Lightning snowshoes have serrated crampon teeth cut into them, providing a lightweight but aggressive alternative to heavier snowshoe traction systems.

Traction Systems

MSR snowshoes incorporate several types of crampons and traction. Each of these correspond to MSR’s Lightning, Revo, and Evo snowshoe product families. The snowshoes within each of these families differ from each other in terms of bindings, features, sizes, and prices.

  1. The Lightning traction system provides a full 360 degrees of traction with teeth cut into the frame of the and crossbars, with an additional crampon under the ball of the foot. This is the best traction system that MSR offers and is excellent in all conditions – powder, packed trails, and over mixed ice and rock. The Lightning frames can also handle a higher degree of torsional flex than any other MSR model making them excellent in mixed mountainous terrain where you’re likely to side-hill or snowshoe across uneven surfaces. The Lightning traction system is offered with the MSR Lightning Ascent, Lightning Explore, and Lightning Trail snowshoe models. The size of the serrations cut into the frame differs by model, with the Lightning Ascent being the most aggressive.
  2. The Revo traction system is similar to the Lightning except that teeth are only cut into the sides of the frame and not a full 360 degrees around the front and back. While the Revo system also has a crampon under the ball of the foot, the Revo traction system doesn’t have toothed crossbars under the heel providing the wearer with less traction than the Lightning models. The Revo traction system is best used on packed trails and flat or gently rolling terrain. The plastic on the bottom of the Revo traction system gets cut up very easily if you hike over rock ledge with them, so you want to avoid that. The Revo traction system is available with MSR’s Revo Ascent and Revo Explore Snowshoes.
  3. The Evo traction system has two aggressively toothed-rails that are bolted lengthwise on the underside of the Evo’s injection-molded plastic decking as well as a crampon under the ball of the foot. In practice, the Evo system proves traction that is comparable to that provided by the Lightning and Revo systems: the main difference between them is that Lightning and Revo snowshoes are lighter weight while the Evo injection molded decking is heavier and more durable. The Evo traction system is best-used off-trail, on packed trails, and on mixed ice and rock. It is available on MSR’s Evo Ascent and Evo Trail Snowshoes.
The Evo family of snowshoes has toothed metal rails that run lengthwise along the bottom of the snowshoe.
The Evo family of snowshoes has toothed metal rails that run lengthwise along the bottom of the snowshoe.

Snowshoe Sizing

MSR Snowshoes come in three primary lengths: 22″, 25″, and 30″. The degree of flotation provided by an MSR snowshoe is determined primarily by its length since there’s very little width variance between the models they offer.

If you expect to snowshoe on deep powder, you’re going to want more flotation than if you hike on packed trails or snow that undergoes frequent freeze-thaw cycles.

In sizing snowshoes, I’ve always found that you can almost always use a size smaller than the one recommended by MSR based on body weight unless most of the snowshoeing you do is off-trail on unpacked trails in deep powder, which is fairly rare since most people stick to packed out trails. For example, I use a 22″ MSR snowshoe for snowshoeing in mountainous terrain on packed and unpacked trails, even though MSR’s sizing guideline would put me into a 25″ or 30″ size, which is unnecessary weight to carry in my opinion.

If you’re on the border between sizes, get a smaller, shorter-sized snowshoe that accepts a tail attachment for those rare times when you feel you need more flotation. MSR tails lock on the back of a snowshoe and extend the length, providing more decking surface area, hence flotation. Larger snowshoes are almost always heavier and more awkward to use than shorter smaller snowshoes, especially on packed trails, and you’ll come to regret carrying a larger snowshoe if you get one that’s too big most of the time.

MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes feature a new Hyperlink Binding which only has two straps, that are secured with snowboard-style ratchet bindings over the front of the foot and behind the heel.
MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes feature the Hyperlink Binding which has two straps, secured with snowboard-style ratchet bindings over the front of the foot and behind the heel.


MSR provides four styles of bindings that attach your boots to the snowshoe.

  1. The Paragon binding has a flexible net-like panel that covers the top of your boots and a flexible rear strap that prevents your boots from sliding out the back. The front of the binding has two corner stops that optimize the placement of your forefoot over the front crampon and eliminates hot spots on the top of your boots. It packs flat which is important when you have to strap your snowshoes onto a backpack and won’t freeze shut in the cold. The Paragon binding is found on the Lightning Ascent and Revo Ascent snowshoes models.
  2. The 3 strap Posilock binding has three flexible plastic straps that run over the top of your boot and one in the rear to lock your heel in place. This provides a very secure binding that won’t freeze shut, won’t come undone when you put a lot of torsional stress on the snowshoe, and can be adjusted while wearing gloves.
  3. The ratchet-style Hyperlink binding has two straps, one that runs over the front of your foot and the other behind your heel to lock it in place. The ratchet binding is much easier to adjust than the 3 strap Posilock binding, but it can freeze shut when it gets wet and can be difficult to release without taking off your gloves. Once fitted, however, these ratchet bindings make it very easy to put on and take off your snowshoes, without the frustration of tensioning plastic straps.
  4. The Paraglide binding is the newest of all. It’s similar to the Paragon binding in that a stretch mesh covers the front of your boots and positions your foot properly over the front crampon. The heel strap is different with a rolling lock that pokes a plastic pin into the holes of the rear strap to hold it in place. Both the front and heel bindings are usable wearing gloves. The Paraglide binding is available on the Lightning Trail snowshoe.
MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe with Televator Raised
MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe with Televator Raised


A Televator is a piece of wire that flips up under your heel. It’s used when you hike uphill and positions your foot so that your heel stays level with your toes when hiking up an incline. This significantly reduces calf fatigue and increases the traction provided by the snowshoe’s rear crampon teeth, preventing slippage. Snowshoes with televators are a must-have in any kind of hilly or mountainous terrain and you’ll be glad you have them.

Men’s vs Women’s Models

MSR snowshoes are available in men’s and women’s models, which is a misnomer because MSR snowshoes are unisex and can be used interchangeably by men or women. The main difference between the two is that the women’s versions may have a slightly narrower width than the corresponding men’s snowshoe, although this varies by model, where the narrower width can more comfortable for people with shorter legs and a narrower gait. The women’s snowshoes also tend to be a bit lighter weight than the men’s snowshoes and provide a way for hikers concerned with gear weight to save a few ounces.

Snowshoe Selection Tips

Still confused? Here are the models I’d recommend for several common circumstances.

  • If you plan to hike in flat terrain in a front country setting like a golf course, local park, or ski resort, the Lightning Trail or the Revo Explore is probably your best option because it provides good traction with an easy-to-use binding.
  • If you plan to hike primarily on packed trails in mountainous or very hilly terrain, the MSR Lightning Ascent or Lightning Explore will be good choices because they both have televators and lightweight frames.
  • If you plan to hike off-trail in mountainous terrain, the MSR Evo Ascent snowshoe is the best choice because it has very durable decking, a secure three-strap binding, and a televator. Unfortunately, they’re only available in a size 22″. If you need a larger-size snowshoe, I’d recommend the Lightning Ascent.

If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.

See Also:

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  1. MSR steers people to the Explore bindings for less challenging terrain, but several of us AMC leaders use them for regular winter hikes, including 4000 footers. If you are leery of the binding breaking, replacement ratchet straps are available for about $12, weigh nothing and can be left in the bottom of your pack. I haven’t tried the new Paragon binding yet, but the ratchets are far better than the old rubber straps

    • I hike in the Whites too, how have you found the Explore series to be on the trails? I am trying to pick between the Ascent or Explore series in either the Lightening or Revo line.

      • I prefer the Lightning Explore’s over the new Lightning Paragon Ascent because the ratchet binding on the binding is more secure and you get a much tighter fit. I don’t think it makes a huge amount of difference whether you choose the Revo’s or the Ascents. The plastic rear decking wears astonishingly well, although I think you’ll get better traction with the rear ascent crampon which is mettle.

  2. What is the noise level on the Lightning Ascent VS Explore?

  3. Hi Philip,

    Great article as always. I have two related questions for you. First, is the 3-ounce weight difference between the 22″ and 25″ Lightning Ascents enough to justify purchasing the 22″ shoes for someone who weighs 175 lbs and carries 25-50 lbs when shoeing in NH (2-6 days per year) and Colorado (most of the rest of the winter)? Second, if I were to attach MSR tails to the 22″ shoes, would it feel like I’m wearing 25″ shoes (no flopping tails, no extra noise, etc.), or would I feel, hear or otherwise be aware that I have tails attached to my shoes? Thanks.


  4. What women’s snowshoe has the smallest width as I have short legs

  5. I’d rather be in the Lightning Ascents on variable and mountainous terrain any day of the week than the Revos. I think when quoting MSR marketing copy, you need to be very careful to differentiate between the different sub-models within each product. You don’t unfortunately which makes it hard to tell what itis you want to know.

    • What is the big difference between the Lightning, Evo, and Revo Ascents that on “variable and mountainous terrain” you would choose the Lightnings over the Revos “any day of the week”? I’m between the Lightning, Evo, and Revo for North East winter hiking. Thank you.

      • Evo Ascents – most defintely. They max out at 22″ however, so if you’ere a really big guy I’d go with the 25″ Lightning Ascents. The Evo Ascents are more indestructible. To answer your question…I don’t particularly like the flared front of the Revo Ascents which is wide than the rear.

  6. You can add tails to the Evo to make them longer for bigger people or packs, so only coming in 22″ doesn’t matter as much.

    • My experience with tails on the “Evo” model is that by adding lift only in the rear is that they tip me forward to the degree that I found them not useful. My use case might be different than yours. Usually I get enough lift without tails, but I was hoping they would let me use them in softer snow than I otherwise could travel in. For this, they did not help me. Tails stayed up. toes sank into the soft snow, i have to work way too hard not to fall on my face.

  7. Hi. Thank you for the wonderful review. I am looking for a snowshoe that is versatile and tough for off trail bushwhacking and mountainous trails here in Alaska. I am a 5’5, 120lbs without a pack and potentially 180 with one. Wondering which you would recommend? Thank you!

    • MSR evo ascent. No question about it.

      • Thank you, I really appreciate your review and expertise!

        • Why did you quickly go with the Evo ascents rather than the Revor or Lightening? I ask because I’m in a similar position as OP and deciding between those three.

        • I’ll answer for Sam. He needs a snowshoe that will stand up to off-trail hiking – the Evo Ascent is the toughest snowshoe MSR makes and its the favored snowshoe of Eastern Search and Rescue Teams because they are so durable. Nothing comes close. It’s what I use for just that reason. I’ve had a pair for going on 10 years and I use them several times per week.

  8. One more question…I just did a web search and they seem to be out of stock everywhere. Any suggestions on where to purchase? Thank you again.

    • Supply chain disruptions and massive demand means all snowshoes are out of stock everywhere in the US. Your best bet it to place a back order with MSR since they’ll get them first.

      • Thank you, Philip!

      • Thank you for posting all of this very helpful information. I am a 5’2” stocky senior lady, who will be using the snowshoes primarily in the NH White Mountains. I am wondering if the MSR Evo Ascents would work for me? The price is much less then the Lightning ascents, but are labeled Men’s.

        • They’ll absolutely work. They are unisex though. Women’s snowshoes, including the lightning ascents, are narrower and so fit people with a narrower gait better (distance between your thighs), but the price difference between the two is rather steep and I’d give the evo ascents a go and the sizing isn’t “that” different. Buy them at REI so if the sizing doesn’t work, you can always return them.

  9. As you know, the Lightning Ascent is sold out everywhere for at least a month. I found and have ordered a pair of the Lightning Explores. For anyone who’s tried both, how much harder to deal with is the Explore binding? I have found plenty of user reviews calling it a “medieval torture device,” etc., which gives me pause.

    • You need to be careful with user reviews, especially older ones, since the bindings have changed in recent years and the reviews are out of date. Many people like the Explore ratchet binding. I can’t imagine why people think it’s hard to use. Perhaps you can elaborate.

  10. Hi Philip
    I am petite and looking for snowshoe advice. Most of the time, I will be on a golf course with some rolling terrain. If we travel, I could be in Park City going on Snowshoe trails. I’m ready to make an investment so don’t want cost to be the factor. Also want to ensure I am in the shoe properly. Your recommendation please. I do see the Lightning Ascent and Explore indicate that are a narrow frame. Thank you!

    • I’d go with the Lightning Explore. The binding is easy to use and fine for more casual use.

    • “unless most of the snowshoeing you do is off-trail on unpacked trails in deep powder, which is fairly rare since most people stick to packed out trails.”

      This really baffled me. If you’re actually going to go snow shoeing, it is going to be on unpacked snow. Going on trails with snowshoes is like riding a dirt bike on a paved walking path, why??

      -guy in Alaska that actually uses snowshoes for snowshoeing.

      • WMNF trails turn into garbage, especially the 4ks. Trying to walk on boot tracks that have gone through a bunch of freeze/thaw cycles is a pain in the ass, nevermind the inevitable post holes. Snowshoes on those trails give you a considerable amount of stability. I opt for my 22″ LAs in lieu of microspikes 95% of the time.

      • My thought exactly. You want to get away from people not follow the herd. Who wants to snowshoe on a freeway.

        • “Who wants to snowshoe on a freeway.”

          Anyone who wants to hike the Four Thousand Footers in the White Mountains.

  11. Philip. Great article. Many many sub versions.
    I’m trying to find the significant different between the Lightning Explorer and the Lightning Trail. They are both priced the same.
    Btw. The Lightning Trails have televators as well

  12. 25” Lightning Ascents for me. I’ve taken them up several mountains in the Whites this winter and been thoroughly happy with the fit and performance. No issues with the Paragon bindings, rock solid secure and no hotspots. The Televator is no joke, it almost feels like cheating. You can immediately feel the relief it provides your lower leg as it removes the need to stay flexed for the entire ascent.

    I had my eye on them for months and would check REI’s webpage daily. Noticed they were in stock one day out of nowhere on REI’s webpage and managed to place an order with the quickness first thing in the morning. They were all sold out again by the afternoon.

    Recently went on a climb with a friend who rented a pair of Evos (non ascent, all they had, $18/day for members) from REI, and the difference was night and day. Both provided ample traction but the presence of Televators really made a huge difference.

  13. Good article with some great advice! I’ve had a pair of EVO Acsents for over 20 years and have taken them from bushwhacking trips to steep technical terrain. Replaced straps several times as expected and now for the second time have had one of the crampon/baseplates break (fixed it 10 years ago with a replacement ). These last, but given overall age I think I will replace. Debating on the new ascent models, largely as the new bindings look a bit more comfy, though the type on the EVO Ascents have never failed me. Do you think it is worth the upgrade? Durability always important though given mixed mountainous terrain often in.

    • If it’s just the pin holding the binding on, then yes I think they’re worth fixing. I did mine. That said, I have just bought a new pair of the Lightning Ascents because I’ve been having some pain on the top of my foot and the new binding is more comfortable. But I still keep the old Evo Ascents around and use them for off-trail hikes.

      • Thanks…not the pin, the whole metal plate that holds the crampon to the binding sheared off. Likely just wear and tear over the years. 2nd time. Amazed you could find then Lightning Ascents in stock.

  14. What is the difference between the men’s and unisex versions of the 22″ MSR revo explore snowshoes? The dimensions and materials are the same, yet the women’s is 4 oz lighter.

    • The latest MSR product page doesn’t list a women’s version, only unisex. REI which does list a women’s version may be selling an older model in which there was a sex difference or they just got the dimension specs wrong. The difference between men’s and women’s models is usually width, since women have a narrower gait than men. But there’s no reason why men can’t use womern’s snowshoes and vice versa.

  15. Hi Philip,
    We actually met once at the Carter Notch Hut.
    I am looking for your opinion on which model snowshoe would work best for our needs.
    I know from our sizes and packs that I will need a 25″ and my partner will need a 22″ set. We plan on using our snowshoes on a range of terrain — from MA/Trustees snowshoe trails to the White Mountains (though not the more difficult 4000s). My first instinct was to go for the Revo Explore model, but your other comments make me think the Lightning Explore might be better suited. My partner has shorter legs — will the narrower women’s Lightning model make much of a difference?
    Which model do you recommend? Thanks.

    • Headline – many of the smaller peaks are a lot harder than the 4ks. Better views too.

      The Lightning Explores will be fine for traction but the binding doesn’t pack flat and is very bulky and awkward. I’d just get the Lightning ascents or explore another brand.

      Your partner will benefit from a women’s model if they have a narrow gait and because they’re lighter weight. Smaller people usually need lighter loads.

      • Definitely agree. We’ve done all 48 of the 4ks and some of the 52 With a View mountains we’ve done were harder.
        I am definitely going for the Lightning model because she will benefit from the narrow width.
        The one thing I wasn’t sure about is an earlier comment where you said you prefer the Lightning Explore’s over the new Lightning Paragon Ascent because the ratchet binding on the binding is more secure and you get a much tighter fit.
        The packability of the Ascents outweighs the security of the Explores in your opinion?

        • The packability of the Ascents outweighs the security of the Explores in your opinion?

          -I think so. Especially if you have to carry the up a mountain because you don’t know what trail conditions will be like. I prefer them. Doesn’t mean you will.

          You can prevent the Lightning ascent heel strap from coming undone by taping it shut and just getting in and out of the front. But it is much more fiddly than the Lighning Explore and you maye even have to take off your gloves to adjust it.

  16. Thank you! I need new snowshoes and really wanted the 25 inch Revo Trails in case I am carrying a lot of gear, or if someone bigger wants to borrow my snowshoes, but they were out of stock everywhere for women, and reading this I realize it’s totally fine to get the mens’ version. :-) Plus, the mens’ were on sale somewhere, so that’s a win.

  17. Between the Evo, Revo and Lightening Ascents, which would you recommend for hiking the North East (Catskills, Adirondacks, etc.) for day hikes (so no heavy pack)? My understanding is that the North East, despite the smaller peaks, is more technical than the West.

  18. Philip,
    Thanks for a good article. I’ve had the Evo Ascents for 13 or 14 years and love them but the straps on the fore foot are kind of uncomfortable and have left an impression on my keen boots (no big deal). Do you know offhand if any of the new bindings could replace the three straps? I like to hike in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon NF which has some pretty good hills. The heel lifts are fantastic! Thanks again

    • The new Evo Ascent binding uses softer straps. I just reviewed them yesterday. In the past when I had forefoot pain (caused by morton’s neuroma) I wrapped the front strap in thin foam which really helped distribute the pressure – you might try that.

      • Thanks!
        I will try that as I don’t plan to drop $389 (yikes!) on new shoes. Thanks for so many great reviews and answering my first comment. I’ll have to get to the White Mountains sometime. At 70 I still love hiking and exploring new places.
        Happy holidays!

  19. Fellow New Englander, but larger size. Depending on where I’m at in terms of competition (powerlifter) I could be anywhere between 230 and 250. According to MSR, I’d need a 30” or 25” with tails full time. Wondering if it makes sense just to bite the bullet and get 30” or if there may be some times that I could get away with a 25” without tails.

    Any/all advice welcome!

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