For winter snowshoeing on hiking trails and in the backcountry, you 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 backcountry terrain, these are the 10 best snowshoes we recommend. For more information, see our buying advice below.
|Make / Model||Heel Bar||Binding|
|MSR Lightning Ascent||Yes||Mesh Net|
|Atlas Helium MTN||Yes||Boa|
|Tubbs Flex ALP||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|TSL Symbioz Elite||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|MSR Evo Ascent||Yes||Plastic Straps|
|Tubbs Mountaineers||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|Atlas Montane||Yes||Webbing Strap|
|MSR Revo Explore||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|Northern Lites Backcountry||No||Plastic Straps|
|Crescent Backcountry||Yes||Webbing Strap|
1. MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes
2. Atlas Helium MTN Snowshoes
3. Tubbs Flex ALP Snowshoes
4. TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes
5. MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes
6. Tubbs Mountaineer Snowshoes
7. Atlas Montane Snowshoes
8. MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes
9. Northern Lites Backcountry Snowshoes
10. Crescent Moon Gold 10
How to Buy Winter 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 and the Northern Lites.
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.
If you’re trying to choose between different snowshoes, there are four key properties that should guide your decision-making:
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 that 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 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.
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 are 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.
Snowshoes come in a wide variety of sizes. These are determined by the total weight you want to carry (bodyweight + 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 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.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
I have the original model of the MSR Lightning Ascent ‘shoes and love them.
**On steep sidehill transits they are FAR safer than tubular aluminum frame ‘shoes. On steep ascents the heel lift bracket is a leg saver.
Thank you for this article. Very informative!!
I have an older model of the MSR Evo’s and they are still going strong. I completely agree with your assertion that these snow shoes are super durable. I am not gentle on shoes and these suckers perform like they’ve got an vendetta.
The key selling point, for me, was that I’m able to put them on with mittens. And put them on fast. I have, luckily, not noticed an issue with the bindings coming loose. But I have a tendency to lash those suckers tight!
Hiking snowshoes differ largely from regular snowshoes. Hiking shoes will not float above powder like regular ones. You will sink more, but not posthole (unless you are in Maine in spring). Hiking snowshoes are purposefully narrower and shorter to allow more flexibility with trail navigation. 21 inches, I’ve found, is an excellent length to navigate trails.
As far as carrying them on a pack… just wear them on your feet! :) You avoid all headache inducing aspects of toting them around. But really, most models can be sinched on a pack with simple things like a bungee cord.
Philip, I’m curious why you included the Tubb alps but not the vrt?
I’m not a huge huge fan of boa bindings. When they fail they tend to do so fairly catastrophically.
Thank you! Interestingly, that’s one of the reasons I bought them, hopefully it works out.
BTW, Snowshoes with tubular frames (and no frame “teeth”) have VERY little sideslip resistance. I know, I slid 20 yards down a steep traverse and injured my left shoulder using ATLAS tube framed ‘shoes. A few years later with my then new MSR Lightning Ascent ‘shows the was no problem on the same slope.
Actually, it’s the crampons you need to look at. Tubular frames with long-side crampons work just fine.
Philip, who is clearly an experienced winter hiker, provided in-depth analysis and comparisons of 10 popular snowshoe models, including the Atlas Montane Snowshoes, MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes, and Tubbs Flex ALP Snowshoes which are some of my favorite known snowshoes. They also included a comprehensive buyer’s guide that helped me understand the different types of snowshoes available and the key factors to consider when selecting a pair.
Appreciate the blog Philip!
Leaning toward the Evo Ascents… probably go with the 22″. How effective are the tails? How often do you use yours? Great article, very informative.. thanks!
I never use the tails. But we really don’t get much deep deep snow in NH.
Good point! The wait from Amazon is crazy, 1-2 months. I also noticed a lot of complaints about replacements straps not being available.
I’ve never had to replace the straps on the Evo Ascents and mine are probably over 10 years old. I suspect I’ve used mine a lot more than most people too.
Thanks for your reviews on the different models of snowshoes.
I live in the Adirondack mountains of New York. I am looking for a snowshoe that has good traction and floatation. My other need is a snowshoe that will be quiet on the trail.
I am 63 years old and weigh 170 pounds. Most of the winter hiking I do is on trails and do some steep climbs that can be ice and exposed rock.
I’m looking to narrow down the list with the options that will best suit my needs.
Thank you for your input.
I’d get the MSR Evo Ascents or the MSR Lightning Ascents. They’re both good climbers. The Evos are a little noisier than the Lightnings, but they’re more durable.