MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe: The Lightning Ascent represents the best in class of the already impressive lineup of snowshoes from MSR. This model comes in three sizes (22″, 25″ & 30″), two colors (black / silver) and are gender specific. The model tested was the mens silver 25″.
Verdict: If you’re looking for bear claws for feet that can handle ice, powder and anything in between then these snowshoes are a must have. Their rugged construction meets flawless performance resulting in a 9.25 / 10 on the gear closet breakdown. These snowshoes are the whole package and will keep you confidently plowing through any winter conditions for years to come.
Quality: As expected with all gear from MSR, these score high in the quality department. The design and craftsmanship surrounding the 360° Traction™ frame is noticeably distinct when comparing to other snowshoes on the market. Their saw like non-tubular frame and steel cross bars provide incredible traction and with the Torsion2™ crampons, PosiLock™ AT bindings and newly improved decking these snowshoes are backcountry ready for a multitude of conditions.
The terrain versatility lies in a combination of the 360° Traction™ frame and the Torsion2™ crampons. Each system contributes to a distinct grip profile leaving your footing secure yet flexible to adjust to unstable terrain.
After a typical season cycle starting with powder hiking and ending with spring rock patches these have shown little wear with the only disappointment being the PosiLock™ binding straps buckles. When compared to the general construction these seemed like a weak point in the design. This was proven true when one easily snapped during a binding adjustment. However, this should be considered a small blemish to a masterpiece painted over a full season of abuse.
Function: With the tested setup weighing in at a 4-pound pair weight they are light enough to keep you floating on the snow, but still perfect for strapping onto a pack when not needed. What’s most impressive however is the adaptability to such a wide range of conditions. These excel on equally both flat and steep terrain, and the icier the better. With much of their use in the ice prone White Mountains, they offered an immense sense of security in situations of 45degree boot pack backcountry ski approaches and ice coated rocky summits.
Another feature we really liked was the simplicity of the PosiLock™ binding system. Regardless of the snow conditions we found these easy to lock and extremely adjustable for a perfect fit. Most importantly the straps are interchangeable. Unlike some of the ratcheting bindings out there, if you break a strap in the backcountry you can manipulate one of the “non-critical” straps as a replacement.
Last but certainly not least these are extremely quite. I’ve come across the situation many times where the silence of a nice winter hike is shattered by the squeaking of an inferior tube frame snowshoe. With the 360° Traction™ frame, this will never be an issue.
On a side note, we want to mention that these are compatible with the MSR Modular Flotation tails. We have not tried these out, however, if you are looking for additional flotation for heavy gear trips, that is an option.
Comfort: The adjustability and adaptability of the PosiLock™ AT bindings provide a very comfortable fit. With a few trips, logging 3..5..7 plus hours of continuous use there were no feet issues that couldn’t be addressed with minor adjustments.
Over the season these were used with both hiking and snowboarding boots, the PosiLock™ AT bindings cared not which was strapped in. This is impressive considering the variation in size. For this reason, these are a great companion for backcountry snowboarders as many snowshoes will not accommodate such a large boot.
The only area of improvement in the comfort department would be with the Ergo™ Televators. Many times during the transition of steep ascents (35-45 degrees) to flats it would be welcome to have an additional (middle) height setting, allowing the heels to rest at a shallower angle with the ground allowing for a much more natural gait. It would also be convenient if they came with a trecking pole compatible hook to engage the heel lifts, allowing the hiker to more quickly activate the Televators from a standing position.
Dollhair$: When compared to similar tiered snowshoes these are priced reasonably in the high $200s. Keep an eye out for off season sales and coupons to snag these at a discounted price. Regardless, if you are looking for a true workhorse these will be worth every penny.
Conclusion: These are a must have for anyone looking for an all around snowshoe that can handle all winter has to offer. Their soviet era ruggedness meets modern day material engineering, resulting in a high-performance product that will demoralize all forms of frozen participation.