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MSR Snowshoe Guide – How to Choose the Right Snowshoes for Winter Hiking and Backpacking

MSR has many different kinds of snowshoes. Why is the best for you?
MSR has many different kinds of snowshoes. Which one is the best for you?

MSR 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 and MSR’s fitting guidelines 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.

I have been using MSR snowshoes for nearly 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.

The frames of the Lightning snowshoes have crampon teeth cut into them, providing a lightweight but aggressive alternative to heavier snowshoe traction systems.
The frames of the Lightning snowshoes have 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 cross bars, 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 and Lightning Explore snowshoe models.
  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 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 mixed ice and rock. It is available on MSR’s Evo Ascent and Evo 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 the frequent freeze-thaw cycles (common in the Eastern US).

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 three styles of bindings that attach your boots to the snowshoe.

  1. 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 which 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.
  2. The ratchet style Hyperlink binding has two straps, one the 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.
  3. The 2 strap Duofit binding has two flexible straps  that run over the top of your boot and one in the rear to lock your heel in place. This provides a secure binding which won’t freeze shut and can be adjusted while wearing gloves. While a little less secure than the 3 strap Posilock binding, it’s more than sufficient for keeping your boots attached to your snowshoes in flat terrain, even with rolling hills.
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 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.

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.

Lowest Price (Click)Length (inches)BindingTractionTelevatorWeightMSRP (USD)
MSR Lightning Ascent223 StrapsLightningYes3 lbs 13 oz$289.95
MSR Lightning Ascent253 StrapsLightningYes4 lbs 0 oz$289.95
MSR Lightning Ascent303 StrapsLightningYes4 lbs 9 oz$299.95
MSR Womens Lightning Ascent223 StrapsLightningYes3 lbs 9 oz$289.95
MSR Womens Lightning Ascent253 StrapsLightningYes3 lbs 12 oz$289.95
MSR Revo Ascent223 StrapsRevoYes4 lbs 1 oz$239.95
MSR Revo Ascent253 StrapsRevoYes4 lbs 5 oz$239.95
MSR Womens Revo Ascent223 StrapsLightningYes3 lbs 14 oz$239.95
MSR Womens Revo Ascent253 StrapsLightningYes4 lbs 3 oz$239.95
MSR Evo Ascent223 StrapsEvoYes4 lbs 1 oz$199.95
MSR Lightning Explore22RatchetLightningYes3 lbs 15 oz$259.95
MSR Lightning Explore25RatchetLightningYes4 lbs 2 oz$259.95
MSR Lightning Explore30RatchetLightningYes4 lbs 11 oz$269.95
MSR Womens Lightning Explore22RatchetLightningYes3 lbs 11 oz$259.95
MSR Womens Lightning Explore25RatchetLightningYes3 lbs 4 oz$259.95
MSR Revo Explore22RatchetRevoYes3 lbs 14 oz$199.95
MSR Revo Explore25RatchetRevoYes4 lbs 2 oz$199.95
MSR Womens Revo Explore22RatchetRevoYes3 lbs 11 oz$199.95
MSR Womens Revo Explore25RatchetRevoYes4 lbs 0 oz$199.95
MSR Lighntning Trail222 StrapsLightningNo4 lbs 0 oz$219.95
MSR Lighntning Trail252 StrapsLightningNo4 lbs 0 oz$219.95
MSR Womens Lighntning Trail222 StrapsLightningNo4 lbs 0 oz$219.95
MSR Womens Lighntning Trail252 StrapsLightningNo4 lbs 0 oz$219.95
MSR Revo Lightning Trail222 StrapsRevoNo4 lbs 0 oz$179.95
MSR Revo Lightning Trail252 StrapsRevoNo4 lbs 0 oz$179.95
MSR Womens Revo Lightning Trail222 StrapsRevoNo4 lbs 0 oz$179.95
MSR Womens Revo Lightning Trail252 StrapsRevoNo4 lbs 0 oz$179.95
MSR Evo Snowshoes222 StrapsEvoNo4 lbs 0 oz$139.95
MSR Shift Snowshoes192 StrapsEvoNo2 lbs 8 oz$89.95
MSR Tyker Snowshoes172 StrapsEvoNo2 lbs 1 oz$59.95

Snowshoe Selection Tips

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

  • 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 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 in flat terrain in a front country setting like a golf course, local park, or ski resort, the Revo Explore is probably your best option because it provides good traction with an easy to use binding.

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

See Also:

Updated 2018.

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  1. As someone who has used both the Lightning and Evo Ascents in the White mountains the EVOs are better suited for that terrain. Even without winter bushwacking the Lightnings were getting beat up on exposed rocks while the Evos are able to take quite a bit more beating. Of course you pay for it in weight but its worth it.l

  2. I bought one of the MSR model snowshoes from REI with the ratchet style Hyperlink binding and on my 2nd snowshoe hike, the binding broke — they use a nylon or plastic locking “handle” or “lever”, which can break. I took them back to REI. I wish they’d have used a metal locking “handle” or “lever” and I’d buy them again. I emailed them about this but they ignored the feedback. I lead snowshoe hikes, I tell those looking for snowshoes to go with the 2 strap Duofit binding as you have a “fallback” if one fails and I consider 3 straps (on the top of the foot) overkill and too much of a hassle. In the 4 years I’ve snowshoed, I’ve only seen use of the televators once, and hiking in the West Coast mountains, not even once have I seen a need for the televators.

    Thanks for this great overview of snowshoes. I learned a lot though. Very helpful. I’m sharing this with our 2200 members of the Sierra Club in Reno.

  3. Tubbs Mountaineers for me, thanks.

  4. Philip, thanks for this! These would all be huge upgrades over my 10+ year old Atlas Recreational snowshoes (about 28″). I’ll have to wait until I have an excuse to pick up a pair.

  5. Excellent overview, I have my eye on the Lightning Ascent snowshoes, but I have been content with my smaller British milsurp shoes thus far…

  6. I just bought a pair of the Lightning Explore and was really stuck on whether to get the 25″ or the 30″. I used your past articles for reference on bindings and length (which were fantastic) and finally decided on the 30″ because I want to use them in the spring for when I check my tree taps (after 2 years of post holing up to my waist I finally broke down and bought a pair). I realized I was going to be carrying buckets of sap and would be walking up into the field in potentially 3-6′ of snow that was not already packed down, so the longer snow shoes seemed like a better choice. If I was just using them for hiking on packed down trails I definitely agree the shorter ones make much more sense.

  7. This is a valiant effort, but it still fails to explain why each model has THREE submodels PLUS wide and narrow versions. Someone at MSR needs to stop the madness and slim down the product line.

  8. I found a pair of Revo Lightning Trail 22s “new” on Ebay for $100. with only $8 shipping, I think I got a pretty good deal. I will see if they are as good as the large Tubbs 30s I been clomping around on. I mostly use for trail hiking, not mountain climbing in winter, so these should be sufficient for my 170 pound frame.. hopefully!

  9. I have been very frustrated with the buckle straps on my MSR Denali 22 in., snow shoes……………the straps keep getting undone even with the black plastic movable
    insert on…………. Please help, thanks for your advice………….Shirley

    • Try pulling them tighter. If that doesn’t work, call MSR support. They deal with these kinds of issues every day and are VERY helpful. Ask for a replacement pair if they can’t solve the problem.

  10. Hi. I purchased a new wand pair for my Grand Canyon trim I just did last week. There was a lot of snow and I found myself breaking trail and sinking deeper and deeper. When I got through the supai tunnel I had to camp for the night because one mile was waist deep and took me six hours to get through. In the morning the snow was even deeper so I had to turn around. I was shocked and dismayed. I was 25 pounds below the max. I don’t think the extensions would have helped much. Looking back I should have brought my very wide tubbs and dealt with another 2 pounds of weight. They have never gone below a foot in any conditions on me. I did not realiZe in my wildest dream a snowshoe could sink so deep. So I am returning the lightenings and sticking with my oldies but apparently goodies until I find something better. It was a huge disappointment to be kept from the north rim yurt because I naively choose to save 2 pounds of weight by buying a product whose claim was insufficient.

  11. Hi there. Last season I purchased a pair of MSR Ascent Lightning snowshoes with the ratchet binding. Love them. The issue I’m having though is that I can’t wear a soft boot because the binding puts too much pressure on my baby toes. I actually bruised both baby toes last year. I do 15km daily and need to solve this problem. Can you recommend a boot that will solve this issue?

  12. All right I am a newbie here. I am planning to do the PCT in 2018 and leave in early March. I recognize the snow pack may be slightly daunting but I am looking to get adequate prep and practice time over the next year. Given the trail conditions in the HIgh Sierra I think one of the Lightning models would be best from your descriptions. Any advice would be helpful, especially from any hikers who have been there in that time frame.

  13. Phil,
    What can you tell me about MSR Denalis? I found a new pair online for what seems to be
    a good price . . .
    Charlie in Lake Tahoe

  14. Hi, I’m planning to snowshoe on packed trails with hills, with a a few sticks and rocks early in the season but mostly clear. One local retailer recommended the Revo Ascent as he said that the Lightening Ascent base is less durable and likely to puncture on rocks or sticks. Another person said the Lightening Ascent is more durable as the plastic on the Revo Ascent easily gets damaged. What do you think?

  15. Hi, if you were a 200 lb man (weight without adding pack or clothing) going snowshoeing around New York and Vermont, so East Coast, would you go for the 22 inchers (with tails) or 25? I don’t have a fixed use case in mind, but a mix between on and off trails but likely mainly on trails. Powder conditions in Vermont are rare wherever you are. I had in mind 22 inches based upon your advice. A lot of people complain of the tails falling off, hence my wondering about a 25.

    Thank you for this summary of choices. It seems like too many from MSR, as good as they might be as a manufacturer.

  16. Philip is right about the sizing. I prefer my TSL Symbioz Elites over the MSR Lightning Ascents for multiple reasons, including being lighter, having a better adjustable binding, having more flexibility and being shorter in length, than my 25 inch Lightning Ascents. MSR needs to adjust its sizing chart which I unfortunately adhered to.

    • Hi, I’m looking at TSL Symbioz elites but wonder if you would recommend them for the following terrain? It’s the mountains in Scotland when the snow is soft and varies from 10 cm to 150cm and can cover bogs, streams and often has grass and rocks poking through. I sank on a total of 27 occasions over my knees or up to my waist on my last trip (according to viewranger). After 4 hours my strength was sapped. I just worry that there’s not typically enough coverage for snowshoes or that they’d get caught in grass or damaged on rocks.
      What would you say?

  17. MSR Denali Ascents for me. With additional tails, and no stupid breakable bindings. This line has turned into gimmicks made to sell. Being able to change amount of surface area, is awesome. (I winter camp in a floorless tipi with a stove, a 22″ shoe = disaster in the making) I’ve got the heel elevators, and the metal rails with teeth cut. All of the other *upgrades*, um, yeah, keep telling yourself.

  18. Hi Philip
    I am planning on getting the MSRs this winter. I live in central NH and want to use them mainly on softer deeper snow, when this combination occurs! I weigh around 205, so with gear about 210 totally. Which model and size would you suggest?
    Thanks for your help.

  19. I’ve been really happy for years w/ the military version of the Denali Classic…they are less expensive, have televators, replacement options & are tough as nails.

  20. I am looking for snowshoes for Washington around the north Cascades and throughout the valley. I have been looking at the msr lighting accents for the two of us (I really like the televators). But I’ve also seen lots of great reviews for the Evo. What would be best? And what size? I am 135lbs and my boyfriend is 200lbs?

    • If walking mostly on trails get the Lightning Ascents. If off trail get the deckless Evo Ascents.
      I’ve included sizing instructions in this post.

      • You REALLY need televators if you are hiking up hills.

      • I see that the Evo accents only come in size 22? But I do think they will be our best option since we will be doing more off trails. I was hoping to get a set for my boyfriend and I, but again he is 200lbs and I’m 135. Should I get us both 22 and get him the tails or get him the lightning ascents?

  21. I have the Lightening Explore (Canada) and they bite like crazy descending on steepish, deep powder. Crampon, toothed frame and transverse toothed cross bars. I weigh 200+ lbs and find them very stable, (with a 20L pack w/camera gear.) But I haven’t used them in heavy back country though. I hope we get heavy snow in eastern Canada this year. It does get very icy.

  22. Looking at northern Minnesota. What would you get for mostly off trail, wooded, hilly terrain. As well as open lakes (frozen of course) and wind swept ice?

  23. I’m 6’1 and roughly 230 lbss with 13 size boot and i really want the Evo Ascents but i’m not sure if a 22″ will be good enough as far as weight. Do you have any suggestions?

  24. Bought MSR Lightning Ascents last spring on sale based on your review. Waited until now for trial hike.

    I’m 225 lbs. and usually carry 15-20 lb. pack. The 25″ mens shoes are perfect for the dense and crusty snow here, normal walking gait, expected sinkage, terrific traction. The televators make climbing so less fatiguing.

    I am sorry I waited so long to switch from the 30 inch shoes I used for decades, surprised by how noisy the Ascents are but couldn’t be happier.

    Your review is spot-on. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  25. Hello, I’m new to snowshoe’s, been gearing up for a trip down in the Smoky mountains this December I have narrowed down my selection to the MSR lightening accents and the the MSR Revo Accents, any suggestions would help, thanks

  26. I have new MSR Evo Ascents used for first time today. I wasnt able to go very far because as I pushed forward on flat terrain, there was snapping and therefore pounding on my legs to make a step……Hard to describe, but in moving forward I would put toe down then in lifting heel and putting heel back down, there was at that point a snapping to push my heel back down. Thought it had to do with televator but up or down it did same thing. Not easy walking and after reading all these good reviews, I’m wondering what I am doing wrong. Please help as I am frustrated in Maine!

  27. I rigged my shoes with webbing instead of the plastic bindings. I fixed the back binding so I never have to deal with them. I step in and kick my heel tight and fix the front 3 straps. I wish I could send a picture of my rig but this description should help any climber out there.

    • I would love to see a picture. Have an older pair of evo’s and am tired of fighting the 4 strap system

      • They have a new strap system coming out next year called the paragon binding. I’m just testing it know to see if its an improvement. Basically snowshoeing to see if the the straps come undone. It’s still fold flat, which is good.

  28. So, for mountainous off trail would you suggest the EVO Ascent over the Lightning Ascent? I’ll probably be 50/50 on/off trail. The EVO seems to be a lot less expensive. I’m 5’5″ 155 lbs, so the sizing of the EVO isn’t an issue.

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