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TSL Snowshoes Symbioz Elite Snowshoes Review

TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes are designed for snowshoeing in mountainous terrain
TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes are designed for snowshoeing in mountainous terrain

TSL Snowshoes Symbioz Elite Snowshoes

Weight
Durability
Binding
Traction
Flotation
Comfort

Highly Recommneded

TSL's Symbioz Elite Snowshoes adapt to a hiker's gait and the terrain providing excellent traction in mountainous terrain. A comfortable ratchet style binding remembers your boot size for easy on and of, while providing a natural gait that uses less energy in winter conditions.

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TSL’s Symbioz Elite Snowshoes are designed for use in mountainous terrain with aggressive crampons and a heel lift for climbing steep and icy slopes. They have a large horizontal front crampon, good for digging into slopes, with 8 stainless-steel cleats (rotated 90 degrees) down the sides to prevent side slipping. But what sets these snowshoes apart from all others is the comfort and ergonomics of snowshoeing in them. It doesn’t matter if you’re snowshoeing along a packed trail or breaking trail in deep powder, it feels like you’re walking in a normal pair of shoes when you wear them, not bowlegged, or pronated, or duck-footed, the way that many other snowshoes make you feel. Snowshoeing with them is simply easier, resulting in less fatigue and greater comfort. Much greater comfort.

Specs at a Glance

  • Sizes (L, M, S)
  • Dimensions: 27 x 8.5″  / 23.5 x 8″ / 20.5 x 7.5″
  • Weight: 4 lbs. 12.8 oz. / 4 lbs. 4.8 oz. / 4 lbs. 1.6 oz.
  • Rec. Max Load : 150 – 300 / 110 – 260 / 65 – 180

There are several factors that make these snowshoes unique.

First is the hourglass shape, wider in the front and narrower at the rear, which keeps you from stepping on your opposite snowshoe as you walk. Slots in the decking help keep snow from accumulating on top, while the short length helps keep your gait normal. The shorter length of these snowshoes means that they have less flotation that much larger ones, something to consider if you’re looking for a less technical snowshoe designed for flatter terrain and deep powder.

The hourglass shape and short length help keep your gait natural
The hourglass shape and short length help keep your gait natural, while holes in the frame prevent snow from piling up on top and slowing you down when snowshoeing in deep snow.

Next is the adjustable binding system which can be set both length-wise and across your toes to precisely fit your boots. The binding “remembers” your settings, so you can just slip your boots into them without having to re-adjust the binding every time you use the snowshoes. Simply flip the plastic hinge above your toes to lock your forefoot in place and ratchet close the padded strap that reaches around the front of your ankle. Once set up, it’s as simple as slipping on a pair of loafers. Fast transition times are important in winter because you need to keep moving to stay warm. The last thing your hiking partners want to do is watch you fight with a snowshoe binding.

Binding closeup - front binding closes ove rthe toe box, while the rear binding closes with a ratchet mechanism.
Binding closeup – front binding closes over the toe box, while the rear binding closes over the front of the ankle with a ratchet mechanism.

The nice thing about the Symbioz Elite binding system is that you don’t have to make the toe or the ankle binding super tight when you strap yourself in. Both the toe and heel bindings lock your boot in without the need for a lot of pressure from the straps. This eliminates rubbing and hotspots inside your boot, while maintaining good blow flow, which will keep your toes and feet warmer.

The Symbioz Elite is like a lot of other mountaineering style snowshoes in that is has a heel lift, which can be deployed when you’re climbing up a hill. The function of the lift is to raise your heel, so it feels like you’re walking on level ground even though you’re hiking up an incline. This greatly reduces calf fatigue, so you can keep hiking longer. Rather than flip the lift up under your heel like MSR snowshoes, you push it down with Symbioz Elite, a process which is trivial to do with the handle or basket of your trekking pole. It’s equally easy to flip it up, again with your trekking pole handle.

Finally, there’s the Hyperflex frame, made with a springy plastic decking and carbon fiber strips, which allows the snowshoe to flex around ground features, keeping the crampons and cleats in the snow while reducing slippage. The flex also helps reduce the amount of balling (clumping of snow) that occurs on the bottom of the snowshoes when you get them wet or in warm conditions.

Snowshoeing in deep powder with the TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes
Snowshoeing in deep powder with the TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes

If there’s one gotcha with the Symbioz Elite, it’s the bulk of the binding which prevents stacking the snowshoes and lashing them to the back of your pack, the way you can with a lay-flat ski-strap-style binding. This means you need a backpack with sufficiently long side compression straps, so you can lash the Symbioz Elites to the sides of the pack when you have to carry them.

Recommendation

The TSL Snowshoes’ Symbioz Elite Snowshoes are optimized for use in steep technical terrain with aggressive crampons and a comfortable binding system that can be preset to match your precise boot size. But what makes these snowshoes unique is the comfort and ergonomics of using them. They facilitate a very natural stride that feels a lot more like hiking than snowshoeing, helping to conserve your energy across a wide range of snow conditions.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product with his own funds.

Written 2017.

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Last updated: 2018-07-20 13:49:36
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20 comments

  1. Hi Pilipp,
    How would you compare them to the MSR Lightning Ascent ? Are they good enough to snowshoe into hills (not mountains) ?

  2. They seem pretty small to provide much flotation…
    In the pic you are sunk into the snow to the top of your ankle.
    But how firm was the snow – Ie: how deep were you sinking without the snow shoes ?

    • I’d be postholing without those snowshoes. I would have sunk about 8 or 9 inches.
      The TSLs are not the greatest floaters. I tried to make that clear. They’re sufficient, but I have MSRs that provide significantly better flotation but have a frustratingly unreliable binding. If you want to get the TSLs and have more flotation, consider getting them in a larger size. There’s not that much of a weight difference between the sizes.

  3. Very helpful review! It sounds like you thought the flotation was sufficient for backpacking in the NE. I was wondering which size you used, and how that was in respect to your approximate weight (if it’s not too personal). Thanks.

  4. How did the Pacerpoles work for snowshoeing ?

  5. I’ve been using Atlas 25’s for years and they’ve been fantastic. The binding is flawless, light weight, agressive crampons, good float and silent. I want some 30’s for the deeper stuff then with three pairs between my girlfriend and me we will have flexibility for different conditions. I went with a friend who has some cheaper Yukon shoes that were noisy forcing me to forge well ahead.

  6. I’m adding a pack of 25lbs max, plus winter clothes, to come to max wt of 150-155. Would you say the 20″ length would be sufficient for the Whites…and/or similar winter conditions?

  7. Do you prefer the TSL snowshoes over the MSR?

    • I have a nuanced answer. I do like the TSL’s better for trails and the MSR Evo Ascents for off-trail use because they get caught less in the brush.
      But it also depends what pack I use. The MSRs are easy to pack on packs without side compression straps because you can stack them. The TSLs not so much (IMHO).

  8. I needed a new set of snowshoes with a heel lift, and had narrowed my choices to the MSR Lightning Ascent and these TSLs. Based on this review and some others, i ordered the Symbioz Elites a couple of weeks ago.

    Was going to take them for a test spin today, but the problem i’m having is that with any of my winter boots (size 11.5 and 12), the top binding strap is too short to easily insert into the ratcheting mechanism to get it caught and started. It takes some fussing to get it inserted, even indoors in a heated room and without gaiters on. With the added bulk of gaiters, it’s going to be an uncomfortable wrestling match outside in the cold.The strap would need to be another 1–2 inches longer to solve this.

    I think the parent company is based in France, but there is supposedly a Vermont-base satellite operation, though i can’t seem to find any contact information for them. I’m wondering if they can retrofit a longer strap, if one is available. The other end of the strap is riveted to the back part of the snowshoe, so this wouldn’t be a user fix. And i don’t even know if a longer strap exists.

    Does anyone have contact information for a U.S. branch of TSL? TIA!

    • Never mind; found them. “Find a Store” button on the parent-company page gives the Vermont contact info. Will report back on the upshot.

    • The other side of the strap adjusts as well. Pull back (open) the red tab forcefully and it will let you lengthen it. Then lock it back in place.

      • Cool! Thanks so much for the tip! This adjustment was not readily evident, and the little user manual doesn’t mention it. That little red plastic tab does require some encouragement to release.

        Ready for testing, now (and figuring out how to attach to my pack).

  9. I bought a large pair of TSL Symbioz and I love them. We haven’t has as much snow this winter in northern UT but I’ve been in all kinds of conditions! These float as well as my MSR 22″ for sure and walking in them is a dream in comparison. The guys I go with are all impressed – particularly with the binding which is terrific! A major downside to my MSRs was that my heal kept slipping around on side hills and steeps giving me a feeling of insecurity with each footfall but my TSLs hold my heal right where it should be. I recommend these to anyone and if you get them from REI and don’t like them, they will take them back within a year.

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