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An MSR Snowshoe Comparison

Many of my articles are about footpaths, journeys, and outdoor adventures around the globe.

Here is a detailed comparison of MSR's snowshoes.

Here is a detailed comparison of MSR's snowshoes.

Walking On Frozen Water: MSR Denali Versus MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

I snowshoe a lot. Not only do I love getting out on fresh snow in the pine forest and on the meadows here in northern Arizona, but I also use my snowshoes on many winter Search and Rescue missions. And I snowshoe on everything from flat terrain to steep mountainsides.

For the past five years, I've been using MSR Denali snowshoes, but recently I tried a pair of MSR Lightning Ascents and definitely noticed a difference. Differences, actually, which I'll share with you here, along with a new version of the Denali and other models of MSR Snowshoes. The link also pulls up other 'shoeing gear you may need or find helpful, like a strap kit and trekking poles.

MSR Denali Classic Snowshoes—A Reliable, Quality Pair of 'Shoes

After using my Denalis for the past several years, I can't imagine going back to basic snowshoes—you know, the kind that look like tennis rackets—or to any others without "teeth." These MSRs have crampons at the toe as well as on the sides, which means you can negotiate steep and icy terrain, either going straight up or down or traversing, without ending up in an unintended slide.

I find the Denalis fairly easy to put on, and, in my experience, they rarely come off or need to be adjusted in the field. You do have to be careful, however, not to place your foot too far forward, or else your toe can get stuck under the front of the 'shoe, especially going downhill. This can cause a fall and potentially an ankle or knee injury.

These snowshoes apparently have a left and a right, but I often put them on backward by mistake and never notice a difference in performance.

FYI: It appears that MSR has discontinued the Denalis, but you will still be able to find them for sale and for good prices on eBay or other resale sites. The links should still provide you with detailed specifics on each style of 'shoes.

MSR Denalis: These are perfect for the "average" snowshoer.

MSR Denalis: These are perfect for the "average" snowshoer.

The MSR Denalis Have Been Replaced by the MSR Evo Snowshoes

Like a new and improved Denali Classic

The MSR Evo's are very similar in design as the MSR Denalis. I've seen a few of my Search & Rescue teammates using them, and they look like my Denali Classics. I haven't tried these, myself, but I'm told by my friends who've also used the Classic model that the Evo Ascent perform at least as well as, if not better (and some say better) than their predecessors.

This new model is built on the improved "Unibody Traction frame," which is also used on the more expensive MSR Evo Tour and MSR Evo Ascent models. These also have the new PosiLock binding system, which you can manipulate even with your gloves on, and the bindings won't freeze up.

The increased performance of this model is due to a streamlined, ergonomic frame with tapered tips and tails to help you walk with a more natural gait.

Snowshoe Comparison: MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes—Noticeably Different From the Denalis (and Evo Snowshoes)

During a recent climb up to 11,500 feet on Mt. Agassiz, a Search & Rescue teammate of mine offered to let me try his MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes with the heel risers. At first, the slope wasn't steep enough to warrant putting those risers to use, and I didn't feel a difference between the Lightning Ascents and my Denalis.

When the slope steepened, however, and I flipped up the bars, wow! A definite difference indeed. The climb was still very aerobic, but no longer did I feel the burn in my calves. And when we got to the top, though my lungs were sure ready for the rest, my legs felt full of energy and ready to climb on.

The risers basically make a steep ascent feel like climbing steps, keeping your feet flat rather than at the angle of the slope. When you descend, you pop the risers back down, level with the base of the snowshoe, and don't even know they're there.

Another noticeable difference between these Lightening Ascent snowshoes and my MSR Denalis was the performance of the Total-Traction frame, which is made from one vertical, serrated blade of aerospace-grade aluminum. It definitely provided the superior 360-degree traction the manufacturer claims. My Denalis do a fine job in the traction department, but not to the extent of the Lightning Ascents, which I'd rather be wearing on very steep and/or icy slopes.

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Read More From Skyaboveus

Get out and hit the snowy mountains in your MSR snowshoes!

Get out and hit the snowy mountains in your MSR snowshoes!

The Lightning Ascents

The Lightning Ascents are certainly pricier than the Denalis, but if you'll be doing a lot of snowshoeing on steep terrain, I'd say they'll be well worth the extra expense.

Features include:

  • Serrated Total-Traction frame for an unprecedented 360-degree grip
  • Elevator heel lifter to reduce calf fatigue, making climbing easier and more efficient
  • 3-strap step-on binding that fits a variety of boots and is fast, secure, and easy to use
  • Lightest snowshoe in its category.
  • True-Hinge steel crampon enhances foot stability and minimize heel drift, resulting in a more efficient gait and less expended energy.
  • Materials that won't soak up water and freeze, meaning straps remain easy to use in all conditions

Lightning Ascent snowshoes come in three different lengths—22, 25, and 30 inches.

More MSR Snowshoes

Other Options With and Without Risers

Regardless which model you choose, MSR snowshoes are excellent quality.

These snowshoes similar to the Evos above, but they also have the heel risers.

A Carrying Case for Your MSR Snowshoes and Poles

I've strapped my snowshoes onto my backpack with bungee cords, but having a carry case like this one is so much more convenient and less cumbersome, not to mention keeping your snowshoes and poles together.

This case is made specifically for MSR snowshoes.

Features include:

  • Rugged, breathable Materials: long-lasting Ripstop nylon and mesh for great ventilation.
  • Easy to Carry: Adjustable shoulder strap and carry handle
  • Convenient internal pocket for storing flotation tails, plus exterior snowshoe pole attachments
  • Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz. (567g)

MSR Snowshoes or Another Brand?

Share your opinion. Which snowshoes do you prefer? Do you have a pair of MSRs (any model)? Or do you recommend another brand and model?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Do You Snowshoe? Comments and Questions Welcome

OutdoorLily on March 10, 2011:

Kudos on the lens! Glad to hear you mention the Ergo Televator Lifts which is quite helpful in reducing fatigue but it also helps to reduce the chance of injury as well! Which is vital in the back country, as I'm sure you know. Thanks again!

javr from British Columbia, Canada on December 23, 2010:

I just started last year. I'm planning a couple of trips next month. What a great time it is. This lens has been blessed by a Squid Angel.

dustytoes on May 18, 2010:

I love the advice - but what about the poles? Any suggestions there, or are they all pretty much the same?

lakshyaa on February 01, 2010:

Useful and indepth review of snowshoes!

Samantha Lynn from Missouri on January 30, 2010:

I've used these before...they were fantastic!

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on January 30, 2010:

Well done review of what look like excellent snowshoes. I can see that the Lightning Ascents for the MLB Snowshoes, besides being a helpful aid when climbing steep slopes, would be almost a necessity if you want to have the energy to continue your trek.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on January 30, 2010:

No, I don't Snowshoe but imagine that it would be fun! If I did I would surely take your advice and get me some MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

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