There is a special place in our hearts for gear that has no learning curve, the kind of thing you just intuitively know how to use, and when you do use it the gear allows you to do something you absolutely could not without it. Snowshoes may be the best example of this gear magic: just strap them on, start walking and the previously impassable snow-filled backcountry opens up before you.
If anyone has snowshoes dialed in, it’s MSR. They have gender-specific snowshoes in various lengths as well as shoes for youth and smaller kids. They offer tails for heavy loads and deep powder, carry bags, poles and a complete assortment of replacement parts. Simply put, you just can’t go wrong with MSR snowshoes.
The pinnacle – pun intended – of their snowshoe line is the Ascent series, with features and construction intended for steep, technical terrain. Within that series the showpiece is the Lightning Ascent, available in 22, 25 and 30 inch lengths and newly revised with the very slick Paragon binding. The binding is key, because no matter how well every other feature on a snowshoe performs, if the binding is a pain in the ass to put on, take off and walk in you’re not going to be happy. The Paragon is none of those pains. It goes on quickly and easily over any boot without creating pressure points. The Paragon adjusts just as easily, and if for some reason you had to replace it no tool is required: just twist the pins on the toe stops and off it comes.
The nylon decking and aluminum frame are lightweight without giving up any durability. The 25 inch model weighs in at 4lbs 5ozs verified on our scale, and is rated for 220 pounds slick or 280 pounds with the optional tails. The Ascent Lightning is solid no matter the angle or surface. On ice the dual frontpoints and four underfoot points provide solid traction. On hard snow the frame edges engage for additional bite, and when the going gets steep the heel riser relieves the tension on your calves.
Like all MSR products, the Lightning Ascent snowshoes come with clear and comprehensive instructions. Overall these snowshoes are an example of impeccable engineering and highly evolved design. If you’re looking for snowshoes that will carry you anywhere, MSR should be your first stop.