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10 Best Snowshoes for Winter Hiking

10 Best Snowshoes for Winter Hiking

For serious winter snowshoeing over hiking trails and in the backcountry, you’ll want a winter hiking snowshoe that is durable, with aggressive crampons for traction, and a secure binding system that locks your boots to the snowshoes. If you’re interested in getting off the grid and snowshoeing through steep terrain and mountains, these are the 10 best snowshoes we recommend. For more information, see our buying advice below.

1. MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

The MSR Lightning Ascents revolutionized snowshoeing when they were first introduced and MSR has continued to refine them since. They feature a unique 360 degree toothed crampon that’s built into the frame for traction when you’re walking uphill, downhill, or side-hilling across a slope. A flip-up heel bar makes it easier to climb hills, while the four strap binding lays flat, and makes them easy to pack or strap to a backpack. Suitable for all terrain types. A women’s model is also available. 

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

2. Atlas Serrate Snowshoes

Atlas Serrate Snowshoes
The Atlas Serrate is a tear-drop shaped snowshoe that has a wrap-around binding, aggressive traction, and a heel bar that makes it easier to climb hills. The binding sandwiches the front of your winter boots and locks in place with a rear strap. A spring-loaded suspension system lets your foot rotate naturally with slope changes for maximum efficiency. An aggressive toe crampon and dual side crampon bars provide excellent traction on snow and ice. A women’s Electra Serrate is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

3. Tubbs Flex VRT Snowshoes

Tubbs Flex VRT Snowshoes
The Tubbs Flex VRT is a popular snowshoe because it has an easy-to-use Boa binding closure that you simply twist to tighten. While the binding is easy to use, comfortable, and compatible with all styles of boots, it is on the bulky side to strap onto a backpack. The Flex has carbon steel toe crampon that maximizes traction while long, toothed side rails (similar to the MSR Evo Ascent and Atlas Serrate) provide enhanced grip on hard snow and icy conditions. The plastic decking provides good flotation and has some flex to it which helps with balance when hiking across mixed surfaces and side-hilling. A heel bar is included. A women’s Flex VRT is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
EMS | Moosejaw | Amazon

4. TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes

The TSL Symbioz Elite is a favorite with mountain hikers because it has a flexible plastic footbed that adapts to varied terrain and a comfortable ratchet style binding that remembers your boot size for easy on and off. They have a large horizontal front crampon, good for digging into slopes, with eight very aggressive stainless-steel cleats, diagonally oriented down the sides to prevent side slipping. Their floatation is good but not best-in-class. A heel bar is included. Unisex.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Amazon

5. Komperdell Summit Snowshoes

Komperdell Summit 25 Snowshoes
The Komperdell Summit is the hottest winter hiking snowshoe available this year because it is so lightweight. Weighing 1 lb 13 oz per pair, it is half the weight of the other snowshoes listed here, but provides just as much flotation and traction. Snowshoes are heavy, so lightweight technical ones like the Summit are a real win. The Summit has a step-in, wraparound binding system and rear strap to lock in your boots, with an aggressive foot crampon, and crampons along the side rails. A heel bar is included. Unisex.

Check for the latest price at:
REI

6. MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes

MSR’s Evo Ascent Snowshoes are made with a hard plastic frame instead of the flexible decking used by many snowshoes. This makes them extra tough and durable, and ideal for off-trail backcountry use. They use a strap-based, lay-flat binding that makes them easy to strap to the outside of a backpack and won’t freeze up. There are two long crampon rails along the sides of the Evo Ascent that provide excellent traction, in addition to a steel crampon under your foot, and rear braking bars. A heel bar is also included for hill climbing. Unisex.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

7. Tubbs Mountaineer Snowshoes

Tubbs Mountaineer Snowshoes
Tubbs Mountaineer Snowshoes have a tear drop design that provides excellent flotation, along with an aggressive front crampon, and specially designed heel crampons that are angled to help with braking down steep slopes.  They have a strap controlled step-in binding system w/ a rear heel strap to hold your boots in place. The Mountaineers are also available in a very large 36″ size, suitable for larger individuals, or if you need to carry heavy loads and need more floatation in deep powder. A heel bar is included. A women’s model is available. 

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

8. Crescent Moon Gold 10

Crescent Moon Gold 10 Snowshoe
Crescent Moon’s Gold 10 Snowshoes also have a high flotation tear drop design. Loaded with traction, the Gold 10 has four crampons under the toe, forefoot and heel, as well as side crampons for traversing sloped terrain. They have a step-in binding system tightened on top with a single strap w/ a ratchet-style rear strap to lock your boot in place. Sizing runs large, fitting men’s boot sizes 10-15, including large-volume boots like snowboard or hard shell tele boots. For smaller sizes, see the Crescent Moon Gold 9 Snowshoes.  A heel bar is included. Unisex.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw 

9 Louis Garneau Versant 825 Snowshoes

Louis Garneau Versant Snowshoes
The Versant 825 is a tear-shaped crampon with a step-in Boa closure binding. It has a unique shock-absorbing front crampon which rotates freely giving you better bite in hard and icy snow. Rear V-shaped crampons under the heel provide additional traction and braking on descents.  A heel bar is included. Unisex.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

10 Atlas Sprindrift Snowshoes

Atlas Sprindrift Snowshoes
The Atlas Sprindrift has a slim profile and strap based binding system that folds flat, making them very easy to pack or lash to the sides of your backpack. The binding straps criss-cross over your boots and are quick and easy to secure. They’re also compatible with large bulkier boots, including mountaineering and snowboarding boots. Shovel shape crampon prongs under the toe provide deep biting traction, while the sides of the frame have crampons for extra traction. A heel bar is also included to reduce calf fatigue. Unisex.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

10 Best Snowshoes Comparison

Make / ModelHeel BarBindingWeight (25")Price
Atlas SerrateYesStrap4 lbs$290
Atlas Spindrift YesStrap3 lbs 13 oz$270
Crescent Moon Gold 10YesRachet Strap4 lbs 10.1 oz$269
Komperdell SummitYesPull Webbing1 lbs 13.3 oz$200
Louis Garneau VersantYesBoa4 lbs 11 oz$265
MSR Lightning AscentYesStrap4 lbs 3 oz$300
MSR Evo AscentYesStrap4 lbs 1 oz$200
TSL Symbioz EliteYesBoa4 lbs 5 oz$299
Tubbs Flex VRTYesBoa4 lbs 8 oz$260
Tubbs MountaineerYesPull Webbing4 lbs 11 oz$270

How to Choose Winter Hiking Snowshoes

Winter hiking snowshoes serve two key functions: they provide traction on icy trails and when climbing steep terrain, and they provide flotation over snow, so you don’t sink or posthole, which can be quite exhausting. While all of the winter hiking snowshoes listed above satisfy both of these requirements, some excel in the traction department, like the MSR Lightning Ascents, MSR Evo Ascents, Tubbs Flex VRTs, and TSL Symbioz Elites, while others emphasize flotation, like the Tubbs Mountaineers, Atlas Spindrifts, and the Crescent Moon Gold 10s. As a rule of thumb, tear-drop shaped snowshoes with synthetic riveted decks tend to emphasize flotation, while rectangular-shaped snowshoes are more traction-focused. If you’re going to be climbing ice-covered mountains predominantly, you’ll probably want a snowshoe that emphasizes traction, while snowshoes that focus on flotation, will be a better fit for areas where deep, powdery snow is the norm.

Snowshoes are bulky and can be difficult to pack
Snowshoes are bulky and can be difficult to pack

If you’re trying to choose between different snowshoes, there are four key properties that should guide your decision-making:

  1. Packability
  2. Weight
  3. Bindings
  4. Sizing

Packability

Most winter hikers carry multiple traction devices and switch between them during the day. If you’re hiking a packed trail, you might start out in bare boots, relying on your boot treads for traction because the less weight you have on your feet, the slower you’ll fatigue. If you encounter slick or icy terrain you might switch to microspikes, and then snowshoes, if you encounter fresh snow which hasn’t been packed down or is mixed up with slush.

In order to have these traction aids when you need them, you need to carry them. While microspikes are pretty easy to pack, snowshoes aren’t because they’re big and bulky. The bulk comes from their length, width, and thickness, which is primarily a function of the style of binding they use. Lay flat bindings like the simple straps on the MSR Lightning Ascent and the MSR Evo Ascent are the easiest snowshoes to attach or carry in a backpack, while snowshoes with Boa binding systems tend to be the bulkiest and most difficult to pack.

Weight

Weight is also a key factor when choosing which snowshoe to buy. Most snowshoes weigh four to five pounds, and they’re probably going to be the heaviest thing in your backpack, after water. That weight adds up during the course of a day, regardless of whether it’s in your backpack or on your feet.

Bindings

We’ve already considered the packability of snowshoe bindings, but there are other factors you should consider when making a selection, such as comfort, security, ease of use while wearing gloves, whether the binding can freeze and become inoperative, and how easy it is to repair if it does break. For example, some people worry that Boa closure systems can freeze up if they get wet and will cease to operate until they can be defrosted. It’s a valid concern. One of their advantages however, is that they easy to use while wearing gloves and provide a secure grip that’s unlikely to come undone once set. Contrast that to the flat straps used on MSR snowshoes. They’ll never freeze up, they’re easy to replace if torn or lost, but they can be hard to attach when wearing gloves, and they tend to pop open once or twice during a hike.

Sizing

Snowshoes come in a wide variety of sizes. These are determined by the total weight you want to carry (body weight + pack weight) and the amount of flotation you require. Men’s sizes are usually larger than women’s sizes, because men are taller and heavier, while women’s snowshoes tend to be narrower than men’s, because their gait isn’t as wide.

If you’re buying a snowshoe that’s more traction oriented, you can sometimes drop a size below the manufacturer’s recommended sizing, especially if you’re hiking in an area that doesn’t get a lot of snow or you’re hiking on trails are that have been broken out by other hikers. Sizing is directly correlated to gear weight and this is a tactic you can use to lighten your load. If flotation is a priority, you can sometimes buy tails, which are add-on snowshoe extensions that make them longer and increase their surface area. This is another way to cut down on the weight of a snowshoe, because you can bring your tails when you need more flotation, but carry a lighter weight snowshoe in less challenging conditions.

Got a question? Leave a comment and I’ll reply.

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10 comments

  1. A few comments on your next to last photo – strapping snowshoes on your pack in the manner of the fellow sitting down will make them feel heavier than they actually are due to leverage exerted. And anyone following the hiker in red should be careful lest they get a faceful of crampons.

    The best way to attach snowshoes is on the sides of your pack, crampon facing inward, tips toward the sky. Best weight distribution, and safest for you and your companions. If your don’t have built-in straps, use bungy cords.

    • Kevin, completely agree with you. That’s how I carry mine. I think it’s the most efficient too because it’s closest to your core muscles.

      I think you probably know the guy with the blue snowshoes. That’s Joe Commuzzi on the Jefferson Summit. Next time you see him you can explain how he should carry them. Chuckle.

      • I do know Joe but it’s been many years since our paths have crossed. Didn’t know he was still hiking. When I would run into him he’d usually have his dog with him – a golden, IIRC.

      • Working on his over 60 (2nd) Grid.
        Pretty sure both paprika and pork chop (the golden) are in doggy heaven.
        I haven’t hiked with Joe in a few years, but we’re still in touch.

  2. Interesting review. I was disappointed to see that Northern Lites snowshoes didn’t make the cut. I’ve been using a pair of their Backcountry ‘shoes for about 10 years, and have been impressed with both the toughness and the light weight. I see that this year Northern Lites have introduced a new series, the Predator series, with tougher steel crampons to replace the lighter aluminum crampon on the Backcountry model. And 3 lb for a 9″ x 30″ snowshoe pair is pretty impressive.

    • I’ve owned multiple pairs of Northern Lites over the years and they just don’t cut it for the mountainous terrain. For deep powder yes, but they don’t have heel bars because the decking and frame is not strong enough to support them. That’s why the Komperdell Summit is such an interesting alternative. I have them and they’re a definite step up from the Northern Lites in terms of traction, and they have heel bars. Super lightweight too.

  3. The Komperdell Summit is very light weight, and very reasonably priced. I believe I saw they also make a Carbon Fiber framed shoe now. That must be super light. I’m 6 feet 185 pounds, and hiked with a MSR Revo Trail plastic shoe, and also a large Tubs Adventure 30” neither has seen anybserious steep terrain. There are add on tails available the all the MSR models, would you have any opinion on how much more floatation they provide? And for recreational trail hikes, do you think they are even worth having? Thanks..

    • The Komperdell Summit is very lightweight and pretty high flotation in the 25″ size. I have a pair. Komperdell also makes a CF snowshow, but it doesn’t have a heel bar, which makes it pretty worthless in my world for going up mountains. The MSR tails provide plenty of extra flotation, but you wouldn’t need it for recreational trails that have already been packed out by other people. The MSR Ascent Series snowshoes (Lightning Ascent and Evo Ascent) are definitely a more durable and able climbers than the Komperdell Summit or just about any other snowshoe. Are tails worth buying It really depends on how much snow you have. In New England, and if you weigh 185..No. Probably not.

      • Your “packability” column is so true. Going up to Ethan Pond last winter, having only my Micro-spikes, I left the snowshoes in the truck, didn’t think I’d need them, about 3/4 the way up, I was post holing up to my waist, ready to turn around for fatigue, when a group of 8 that spent the night at the pond shelters were returning in snowshoes, they saved my hike by packing down the trail ahead for us. We Went from a dusting at the trailhead, tto almost 2 feet of fresh snow in about 2 miles. Live and learn.. always great info Phillip,. Thanks,

  4. I have a pair the original Lightning Ascent ‘shoes plus the tail extensions. Best snowshoe I’ve ever used and that includes Atlas, MSR plastic ‘shoes, US Army Maine style aluminum and cable ‘shoes, and Michigan style wooden and leather ‘shoes.

    I hope Atlas has changed the composition of the plastic they use for their bindings B/C mine totally disintegrated after 12 years!

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