The Northern Lites Ultralight Backcountry Snowshoe weighs 43 ounces per pair, less than half the weight of most conventional snowshoes from MSR or Tubbs. That’s a big deal because you can slash a few pounds from your winter gear list while reducing the fatigue of clomping around in heavy snowshoes. They are optimized for use in powdery snow and rolling terrain, rather than the icy, rocky, or high-angle terrain that many mountaineering snowshoes are designed for.
Specs at glance
- Weight: 45-46 oz
- Dimensions: 9″ x 30″
- Recommended user load: <250lbs
- Best use: deep powder, rolling terrain
- Boot compatibility: Universal
- Bindings: Two available – ski straps or speed bindings
The experience of snowshoeing in Northern Lites is different from other snowshoes. First off, they are unbelievably lightweight and therefore far less fatiguing in winter. But they also flex slightly when you step on a rock or log. This is due to the use of lightweight aluminum framing, aluminum crampons, and plastic decking that are used in their manufacture.
Northern Lites takes a very different design philosophy than other commercial snowshoe manufacturers. Rather than using a heavy aluminum frame, they use a thinner, lighter one, compensating for the lack of rigidity with decking that is 250% stronger and way lighter than the decking you find on other teardrop-style snowshoes.
Additional weight is reduced by using aluminum instead of steel for the crampons, which have anti-balling plates to prevent snow from clumping to them. The foot and heel crampons are augmented by adding plastic crampon teeth under each decking attachment point, increasing traction on ice and crusty snow. This can be good or bad depending on where you intend to snowshoe. The aluminum crampons and plastic teeth are weaker than steel and will dull quickly if you traverse a lot of rocky terrain.
The Northern Lites Backcountry Snowshoe is only available in one size, a 30″ snowshoe, and no other features are provided, such as televator bars for climbing steep inclines. This is by design to keep them as ultralight as possible.
The bindings on Backcountry Northern Lites fold flat like MSR’s Ascent bindings. When you put on a pair of Northern Lites, you should position your boot or shoe about 1 inch behind the edge of the front hole and tighten the three straps over your foot. Plastic keeper loops are used to keep the plastic straps from flopping around when you walk. An additional nylon strap loops behind your heel to keep your shoes from sliding out of the binding. It’s a very simple binding that’s easy to adjust while wearing gloves.
Optimized for Powder
While Northern Lites’ Backcountry Snowshoes provide a tremendous weight reduction over conventional snowshoes, they’re optimized for snowshoeing in deep backcountry powder rather than on icy and broken-out trails, up steep inclines, or over mixed rocky terrain. If that describes the conditions you snowshoe in, I recommend you check these snowshoes out if shedding gear weight is a priority.
Disclosure: The author owns this product.
Updated: October 2022.
I’ve owned a pair of Northern Lites for two seasons, and love them. You’re right on about the conditions for which they are optimized. Manufactured in central Wisconsin, they work best in our rolling terrain, with plenty of traction for midwestern hills. These are my first aluminum snowshoes – all my life I’ve used traditional wood-framed shoes. wished I had more traction, but rejected the additional weight of conventional aluminum shoes. I recall that you reviewed Northern Lites a few years ago, and found them unsuitable for summitting in the Whites, and I would agree with that also. But for on- and off-trail in the foothills they are fantastic.
Going through my gear basement and catching up on reviews. I have a couple of different pairs of Northern Lites. :-)
Hi Philip, I’m loving your reviews, been following for a while now.
You said because of the thin aluminum there’s some flex when you step on rocks or wood, I’m just wondering did you notice any dents or scrapes from this kind of minor contact?
That would probably be my main concern before I buy some.
Looking forward to your future posts,
Never heard of these, they look to have been designed in a very streamlined manner. A bit pricier than MSR.
You pay more for less. :-)
I switched from a pair of Atlas snowshoes to the Northern LItes Backcountry 3 years ago. My snowshoeing has been in the western Great Lakes region (northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Northern Ontario) for day hiking, winter camping, and approaches to ice climbs. This has involved, at different times, deep soft snow, steep wind-packed slab, severely crusted snow, ice, on both open slopes and through the trees. These are by far the best snowshoes I’ve used yet. A couple points…
The binding rocks! Three of those rubbery Voile straps go over the top, making adjustment with gloves on possible. These straps don’t stretch or slip, so the fit doesn’t change. The only disappointing thing about the bindings is the nylon strap/ladderlock buckle around the heel. This does slip, and ices up pretty readily. I wish NL would use one of the rubber straps back there as well.
The frame tubing is smaller diameter than most, but also a stiffer, tougher alloy than most. I’ve noticed the same flex that Phil describes, but it’s minimal and the shoes seem to tolerate it just fine. The decking is lighter than the material used by other manufacturers, but seems plenty tough. I spend a lot of time in the trees, stepping over buried rocks, on downed logs, etc. The decks show no signs of abuse.
Our approaches to ice climbs often involve deep snow in open terrain (sometimes steeply uphill and down), tight going in trees and brush (often uphill), and windpacked or crusted snow in the talus below climbs, and sometimes ice. For all but the last the Northen Lites rock. Traction on all but ice is good, the solid binding makes maneuvering the shoes easy, and the light weight means I don’t tire out as quickly.
As noted, the aluminum crampon teeth and the plastic teeth molded into the deck retaining clips don’t have as good traction as steel crampon teeth would have. Also, these teeth will dull if you walk over rock very much with them. These factors would be my one caveat in recommending the Northern Lites for peak bagging use. I very seldom run into that sort of condition. By the time I deal with exposed rock the terrain has been hard snow or actual ice for a while. I’ve ditched the snowshoes and put on actual crampons. Also, no heel lifts, so continuous going on steep and hard terrain (where the ‘shoes can’t sink and ease the angle) might be hard on the calves.
I’ve used a bunch of snowshoes over the years, from ash/rawhide trads to models from virtually every manufacturer (Sherpa, Atlas, Redfeather, Tubbs, MSR). Northern Lites continue to be my favorites.
Cheesy traction. Good for sowshoe skiing!