Staff Picks: The Best Snowshoes of 2020 Hibernation is for bears. Tackle the trails this winter with our favorite snowshoes.

9 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars
Two snowshoers rocking the MSR Evo go for a hike.

Don’t let a little snow ruin your hiking season. Come winter, solitude descends on most backcountry areas, softening the landscapes with white. And this new playground is available to you—if you have a little know-how and a good pair of snowshoes. 

For the former, visit our Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing. For the latter, read on. We asked our team of experts to weigh in on their favorite ’shoes for everything from flats to steeps. They also pinpointed their top choices for beginners and kiddos, plus a great pick for runners. There’s a pair of snowshoes in this guide for everyone, which is good news because a season like this comes but once a year.

 

MSR Lightning Ascent

Best All-Around Snowshoe

MSR Lightning Ascent

  • Versions: Men’s 22 in., 25 in. and 30 in.; women’s 22 in. and 25 in.
  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Binding system: Adjustable rubber mesh around the forefoot with a heel strap
  • Weight: 4 lbs. (men’s 22 in.), 4 lbs. 3 oz. (men’s 25 in.), 4 lbs. 12 oz. (men’s 30 in.); 3 lbs. 12 oz. (women’s 22 in.), 3 lbs. 14 oz. (women’s 25 in.)
  • Price: $319.95

It can be tricky to find a snowshoe that performs well across the board—on fresh powder, melted slush, crunchy ice, steeps and more—but the MSR Lightning Ascent ticks all the boxes. It starts with a burly aluminum frame that’s ringed with small teeth. A steel toe crampon bites into terrain when you step down, while two underfoot traction bars stabilize the snowshoe when you weight your heel. It’s a whole heap of traction that keeps you upright in all but the toughest conditions.

That grip combines with an easy-to-engage heel lift to make the Lightning Ascent at home on climbs. “I feel like a mountain goat when I wear these,” says one staffer who’s based in Washington’s Cascades. They also boast ParagonTM bindings that are not only comfortable on longer hauls, but easy to adjust on the fly. If you’re planning on using your snowshoes a lot in a variety of conditions, there may be no better option on this list than the Lightning Ascent. Buy here.

 

MSR Evo

Best Snowshoe for Beginners

MSR Evo

  • Versions: Unisex 22 in.
  • Frame material: Plastic
  • Binding system: Two adjustable rubber straps to secure the forefoot with a heel strap
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 7 oz.
  • Price: $139.95

New to the world of winter walking? Take the MSR Evo for a stroll. A versatile design means these snowshoes float in most types of terrain and snow (no heel lift, though, so you’ll feel it in your calves on big climbs). A bombproof plastic deck, meanwhile, doesn’t need to be babied. True story: “I’ve seen the Evo get accidentally run over by a car and survive,” one staffer says. We don’t recommend that, of course, but the Evo is durable. Steel crampons and traction rails can handle rocks, bare patches and haphazard packing.

The Evo also has an intuitive binding and user-friendly shape. As a unisex snowshoe, it splits the difference between a men’s (which is straighter) and a women’s (which tapers more), so it should fit most folks. (Read more about gendered snowshoes below.) The binding should also fit most boots, thanks to three straps with a massive range of adjustability.

And for the newbie, you can’t go wrong with the price. Buy here.

 

Atlas Helium Trail

Best Snowshoe for Flat or Rolling Trails

Atlas Helium Trail

  • Versions: Unisex 23 in. and 26 in.
  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Binding system: Pull webbing around the forefoot with a heel strap
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz. (26 in.)
  • Price: $139.95

If crushing serious distance on sweeping valley floors is your prerogative, the Atlas Helium Trail is the snowshoe for you. At 23 or 26 inches, it’s long, and the bigger the dimensions, the better the float. But that size belies the Helium Trail’s light weight, which is designed to help you go far. Atlas shaves ounces from the snowshoe by carving out holes and slats across the decking, which also help it shed snow. That combo—big size and light weight—lend it to long missions on flat or rolling terrain. (It does have a heel lift but climbing in snowshoes this large can be cumbersome.)

This ’shoe also has a really easy-to-use binding that’s quick to adjust on the fly, which earned praise from multiple staffers. A webbing crisscrosses the foot and is tightened by simply pulling the glove-friendly loop. By its nature, the webbing secures the foot evenly with no pressure points. To loosen it, you simply pull the same tab the other direction, across the foot. Like the MSR Evo (above), it has a unisex shape that should fit most snowshoers. Buy here.

 

MSR Revo Explore

Best Snowshoe for Mountain Trails

MSR Revo Explore

  • Versions: Men’s 22 in. and 25 in.; women’s 22 in. and 25 in.
  • Frame material: Steel
  • Binding system: Plastic ratchet straps around the forefoot and heel
  • Weight: 4 lbs. (men’s 22 in.), 4 lbs. 4 oz. (men’s 25 in.); 3 lbs. 12 oz. (women’s 22 in.), 4 lbs. 2 oz. (women’s 25 in.)
  • Price: $219.95

Looking to go up, up and away? You’ll need something with maximum traction. The MSR Revo Explore boasts two steel crampon rails along its inner and outer edges and a steel underfoot traction bar (for braking), plus a big ol’ toe crampon. That all means that you’ll stick like glue when climbing, descending or sidehilling. Another bonus for vert-seeking snowshoers: a heel lift that’s easy to engage with your pole.

The Revo Explore has a burly plastic deck, much like the Evo, so it will stand up to chance encounters with granite, ice or other mountain hazards. (“Including parking lots,” one editor says of trailhead pavement.) The binding is also durable (you cinch it via glove-friendly ratchet straps), but it won’t provide as snug a fit as some of the other options here. Buy here.

 

TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Phoenix

Most Comfortable Snowshoe

TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Phoenix

  • Versions: Unisex 20.5 in.; 23.5 in.; 27 in.
  • Frame material: Plastic
  • Binding system: Ratcheting cable lace around the forefoot with a ratcheting heel strap
  • Weight: 4 lbs. (20.5 in.), 4 lbs. 3 oz. (23.5 in.), 4 lbs. 10 oz. (27 in.)
  • Price: $289.95

Longer hikes require more time in your snowshoes, so if that’s in your future, take a flyer on the TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Phoenix. The snowshoe’s unique hourglass shape is more like a standard boot, which, combined with a flexible plastic deck, allows for a more natural, heel-to-toe stride. The binding follows suit and is also more shoe-like with a wider plate that snugs down on the foot via an easy-to-operate toggle.

As for the tech specs, the Symbioz Hyperflex Phoenix is a model in versatility, declares one co-op employee. In addition to a steel toe crampon, the ’shoe has a patterning of small metal teeth on the underside for good traction in packed snow, plus a heel lift. Siping and some cutouts in the deck shed snow. Nice touch: This snowshoe is made with recycled plastic, so you can feel better about your purchase. Buy here.

 

Atlas Run

Best Snowshoe for Running

Atlas Run

  • Versions: Unisex 22 in.
  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Binding system: Ratcheting cable lace around the forefoot with a heel strap
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
  • Price: $249.95

If you’re of the mindset that a little snow can’t stop you or your fitness goals, check out a pair of running-specific ’shoes like these from Atlas. The Run is a lightweight (just 2 pounds, 5 ounces for a pair) snowshoe with a tapered shape and spring-loaded suspension that allow for a more natural gait. When you lift your foot, the snowshoe tail follows, eliminating drag. That’s obviously great for running, but it’s nice for leisurely romps, too, when maneuvering around tight trees or otherwise making tighter turns on packed trails. (The small shape leaves little to be desired in the flotation department—these snowshoes are best for groomed paths.)

Note: The spring-loaded suspension, although great for moving fast, means you will almost certainly fling loose snow into the seat of your pants, so make sure to wear waterproof trousers or tights or a shell with a drop hem that covers your butt. Buy here.

 

MSR Shift

Best Snowshoe for Big Kids

MSR Shift

  • Versions: Kids’ 19 in.
  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Binding system: Two adjustable rubber straps to secure the forefoot with a heel strap
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Price: $89.95

Everything we love about the Evo, we love about the Shift, which is basically just a 19-inch version of the MSR favorite (above). It sports the same burly, plastic deck and aluminum and steel components, which make it perfect for youngsters who are getting after it this winter.

The Shift uses the same binding as the Evo: two adjustable foot straps and a heel strap. It accommodates most boots and provides a secure fit, but it can be tough to operate for younger snowshoers. MSR lists the weight capacity for these around 125 pounds. Buy here.

 

Tubbs Snowflake

Best Snowshoe for Little Kids

Tubbs Snowflake

  • Versions: Toddlers’ 14 in.
  • Frame material: Plastic
  • Binding system: Pull webbing around the forefoot and heel
  • Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
  • Price: $39.95

Step one: Learn to walk. Step two: Learn to walk on snow. The Tubbs Snowflake is designed for the littlest snowshoers (the brand estimates a 50-pound capacity). It’s 14 inches long and made primarily of hollow plastic—enough to keep kiddos afloat—but there’s no traction. That’s good news, though, because sharp objects aren’t awesome when Junior takes a digger. Think of these more as an introduction to snowshoeing, so your kid figures out the technique early before graduating to more technical (expensive) snowshoes. Buy here.

 

Shop All Snowshoes

 

Buying Advice

Consider these factors when choosing the best snowshoes for you.

 

Terrain

Snowshoes are generally designed for flat, rolling or mountain terrain. Casual users can get away with flat-terrain snowshoes, which are easier to use (and often less expensive). They tend to skimp on traction and features in favor of more float. They also have simpler binding systems. The MSR Evo is a great flat-terrain snowshoe.

Mountain snowshoes have more bells and whistles designed for climbing, plus more durable materials. The snowshoes designed for more mountain use in this guide are the MSR Lightning Ascent and MSR Revo Explore.

The Atlas Helium Trail and TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Phoenix live somewhere in between with enough features for basic climbing—or rolling terrain.

 

Size

Snowshoes often come in several sizes, which will translate to varying levels of float. In general, the bigger the snowshoe the better it floats. You’ll want a big snowshoe if you’re planning on tromping through deep powder.

The flip side is that bigger snowshoes are often more cumbersome and awkward. If you’re sticking to packed snow or groomed trails, you can get away with a smaller model, which will feel more natural.

The other thing to consider is that different-size snowshoes often have different weight capacities. These are not hard-and-fast rules but a brand’s assessment of the amount of weight the ’shoe can handle and still perform (read: float) as advertised. Heavier hikers and hikers hauling a lot of gear will require a greater surface area to float in soft snow.

 

Profile

In general, snowshoes are created in three categories: unisex, women’s and men’s. Think of women’s snowshoes more as snowshoes for folks with narrower stances. They’re widest at the toe and taper toward the tail, which allows for a more comfortable, natural stride. This shape also helps reduce hip and knee stress and can lessen the chances of a painful, snowshoe frame-to-ankle encounter.

Men’s snowshoes—or snowshoes for hikers with a wider stance—don’t taper.

If a snowshoe is considered unisex, it likely splits the difference.

 

Learn more in our How To Choose Snowshoes article.

 

Methodology

We asked REI Co-op experts and snowshoeing fans for their favorite models on shelves at REI. They reported back with their top picks for mountain climbs, runs, kids and everything in between. These eight pairs are their faves.

 


Article by Maren Horjus. Maren is the at-large gear editor for REIs Co-op Journal, Expert Advice and Uncommon Path, presently chasing powder and a humidity-free lifestyle in Boulder, Colorado. She worked as an editor at Backpacker magazine for six years and wrote some books before joining the squad. She thinks winter camping is underrated. REI member since 2012.


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