The Best Snowshoes of 2020: Review and Buyer’s Guide | GearJunkie

After hours of research and months of testing, we found the best snowshoes for every use and budget.

Whether you’re looking to explore local snowy trails or hike into the powder-filled backcountry, snowshoes are the answer. As technology continues to evolve, winter exploration opportunities continue to expand. And while we’re excited to see so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose.

After spending a year testing in the Rocky Mountains, we’ve narrowed down the field and found the best snowshoes of winter 2020-2021. While testing, we looked for durability, ease of use, packability, and comfort. We also paid attention to the overall value and extra features available.

And while there isn’t a single pair of snowshoes that’s best for everyone, we’ve broken the list into helpful categories to help you find the best fit. And if you need more help deciding, be sure to check out the buyer’s guide at the end of this article.

The Best Snowshoes of 2020

Best Overall: MSR Lightning Ascent

Built to conquer all terrain with a lightweight design, the Lightning Ascent ($320) is top of its class, with 360-degree Traction frames that provide a lot of grip, especially on traverses. Steel DTX crampons offer even more traction for steep and icy conditions, and Ergo Televator heel lifts are engaged to bring you up steep grades with ease.

The Lightning Ascents come with 22-, 25-, or 30-inch-length frames. And the optional tail additions allow for even more flotation in the deepest powder.

The Paragon binding is one of our favorite features. This freeze-resistant strap allows for a comfortable, secure fit without any pressure points. And the solid toe stop helps align your foot properly.

These aren’t the cheapest snowshoes available, but great functionality and quality build make them a worthy investment.

They’re available in men’s and women’s.

Weight: 4 lbs. 2 oz./4 lbs. 5 oz./4 lbs. 14 oz.
Lengths: 22″/25″/30″
Heel lift: Yes
Max weight: 180 lbs./220 lbs./280 lbs.
Pros: All-terrain traction, additional flotation tails, durability, binding security
Cons: Not ultralight, expensive

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Runner-Up: Atlas Apex-MTN

Atlas Apex MTN

These snowshoes tick all the important boxes. They’re comfortable, grippy, durable, and easy to use. The spring-loaded suspension makes for a more natural feel and energy-saving rebound.

The flexible frame maximizes grip on uneven terrain by allowing the binding and crampon to move independently. The heel lift is easy to use and makes the Atlas Apex-MTN ($300) well-suited to mountainous ascents.

The BOA binding system makes finding a comfortable fit easy. If you’re looking for a pair of snowshoes that can do it all, this all-mountain pair is a winner.

Weight: 3 lbs. 12.8 oz./4 lbs. 3.2 oz.
Lengths: 25″/30″
Heel lift: Yes
Max weight: 180 lbs./235 lbs.
Pros: Lightweight but aggressive, easily adjustable binding, spring-loaded suspension
Cons: Price

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Best Budget: Chinook Trekker

Chinook Trekker

If you’re a beginner who’s completely unsure if you’ll enjoy snowshoeing or only plan to go just once a year, this might be the right pick. They do well for short treks, but nothing further into the alpine.

From the bindings to the crampons, the Chinook Trekker ($71) is a budget buy. The aluminum teeth on the bottom have several limitations. First, as there are only a few traction teeth underfoot, traction is not as secure. We found ourselves slipping and sliding on steep terrain.

Second, aluminum is not an ideal material for the traction teeth. It bends easily and is really only suited to very light and fluffy conditions.

The ratchet straps were fairly easy to use, but not as simple or secure as higher-end models. If budget is your top consideration, grab a set of the Chinook Trekkers. But if you plan to snowshoe regularly, consider upgrading to a pair that will last longer and grow with you.

Weight: 3.91 lbs./4.01 lbs./4.3 lbs./4.95 lbs./5.43 lbs.
Lengths: 19″/22″/25″/30″/36″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: Unavailable
Pros: Price
Cons: Cheap build, aluminum crampons, less-comfortable bindings

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Best for Beginners: Tubbs Xplore Kit

Tubbs Xplore Kit

An inclusive kit is a great way to start out. And Tubbs provides an excellent option with the Xplore Kit ($183). Each kit includes a pair of Xplore snowshoes, trekking poles, and gaiters. Available for both men and women, this kit will have you trekking through snow in no time.

The Xplore snowshoes are perfect for easier trekking on trails. The Quickpull bindings are easy to adjust, and we appreciate that they release with a single press of a button. Our testers found the up-turned tails made for easier trekking and were more intuitive for beginners.

The adjustable poles worked well, and we found the gaiters compatible with a variety of boots. All in all, this is a great all-inclusive beginner-to-intermediate option.

Weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz.
Lengths: 21″/25″/30″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 300 lbs. (men’s)/ 250 lbs. (women’s)
Pros: Great introductory pair, ease of use, price
Cons: Not made for difficult terrain

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Beginner Runner-Up: MSR Evo

MSR Evo

The MSR Evo ($140) is one of the most versatile and affordable options out there. And it’s no surprise they’re a go-to for beginners. The steel traction bars are strong enough to withstand heavy use and provide dependable traction.

The bindings aren’t the highest tech option, but they work well. The straps stayed pliable even in frigid conditions, and we were able to adjust without removing gloves.

The Evo comes in a 22-inch length and has a max weight of 180 pounds. You can add on modular 6-inch tails for increased flotation and a max weight of 250 pounds. The plastic decking can be loud on hardpack trails. And while this isn’t a deal-breaker, it can disrupt your winter wonderland enjoyment.

All things considered, these are a quality set of snowshoes that can handle a variety of conditions. If you plan to snowshoe heavily throughout winter or take on big-mile excursions, it may be worth paying more for something with a more comfortable binding or lighter weight. But for general use, these are an excellent choice.

Weight: 3 lbs. 9 oz.
Length: 22″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: Up to 180 lbs., 250 lbs. with tails
Pros: Durability, quality traction, high-quality bindings
Cons: Need additional tails for deep powder, plastic decking is noisy

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Best Ultralight Powder Snowshoe: Northern Lites Backcountry

Northern Lites Backcountry

If you’re looking for an ultralight pair of snowshoes that can readily handle deep powder, these are the winner. The Northern Lites Backcountry snowshoes ($239) are ideal for any adventure where snowshoes will be on your back as often as they’re on your feet.

These come in a 30-inch size and can carry up to 250 pounds while still maintaining a lot of flotation. They weigh in at just 45 ounces (with Speed Bindings). Less than 3 pounds per pair is a great weight, especially considering the amount of flotation they offer.

There is no heel lift. And we have concerns that the aluminum crampons will wear down more quickly than steel. But we’ve never experienced any durability issues during a year of heavy testing.

They’re also available with a TruTrak binding, which is a traditional adjustable rubber strap system. Or we recommend the Speed Binding. This lightweight string binding is incredibly simple to use and easily fits a variety of boots. We were hesitant to rely on a small string in the backcountry, but it’s impressively strong. Even after regular use, there have been no signs of wear.

Weight: 46 oz. (TruTrak bindings)/ 45 oz. (Speed bindings)
Lengths: 30″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 250 lbs.
Pros: Incredibly lightweight, great flotation, options
Cons: Less-durable materials, no adjustments for steep terrain

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Best for Alpine Ascents: Tubbs Flex ALP

Tubbs Flex Alp

When you need grip, the Tubbs Flex ALP ($240) delivers. The micro-serrated rails and proprietary toe crampon provide superior traction. And the Torsion Deck technology allows the snowshoe to flex and stay grounded on uneven terrain. This is especially important in alpine situations and technical backcountry excursions.

We also found the ActiveFit 2.0 binding easy to use and comfortable. The cinch strap is easy to grip, so a perfect fit can be found without removing your gloves. We also never had any problems with snow or ice jamming it.

And for those steep mountain ascents, the 19-degree heel lift is invaluable. It decreases fatigue while keeping you securely moving uphill.

And while they do OK in powder, they aren’t our first choice for superlight, deep snow. We found these excelled on uneven, icy terrain.

They’re available in men’s and women’s.

Weight: 4.5-5 lbs. (men’s) / 4 lbs. (women’s)
Lengths: 24″/28″
Heel lift: Yes
Max weight: 190-220 lbs. (men’s) / 250 lbs. (women’s)
Pros: Extreme grip, lightweight
Cons: Not great for deep snow

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Best Running Snowshoe: Atlas Race

Atlas Race Snowshoes

The Atlas Race snowshoes ($300) are designed to allow anyone to, well, race. These are a must-have for sprinting in snow. The Z-speed race binding easily stays snug against any running shoe for long distances. And the zig-zag design means you can quickly tighten with one hand. Or you can remove the bindings completely and direct-mount running shoes for additional weight savings.

The adjustable spring-loaded suspension can be fine-tuned to find your desired level of rebound. And the titanium heel and toe crampons give plenty of grip without adding weight. They’re light, they’re fast, and they’ll make you as nimble as possible in the snow.

The only downside of the Atlas Race snowshoes is that they’re solely for racing and running. The sleeker shape means they don’t perform well in powder or for general use. But if you’re looking for a running snowshoe, the Atlas Race will have you sprinting on snow.

Weight: 2 lbs. 14 oz.
Lengths: 22″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 190 lbs.
Pros: Minimalistic, lightweight, perfect for trail running
Cons: Not suited to general use

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Max Comfort: TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Elite

TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Elite

Looking for a pair of snowshoes that support your natural gait? Then you need to meet the TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Elite ($280). One of the major complaints about snowshoeing is hip and knee pain from walking awkwardly. The sleek ergonomics of these snowshoes do away with that.

Eight large stainless steel crampons provide strong traction. And the heel lift allows for comfortable uphill travel. We also found the heel lift comfortably positioned underfoot and easy to engage with our trekking poles.

The binding is among our favorites and provides excellent support. We like that you can set the toepiece to your boot size and then use the cam-lock release to enter and exit. This added security and made it easier to get going each time. And you can adjust both the width and length to accommodate most any boot.

Weight: 4 lbs. 1.6 oz./4 lbs. 12.8 oz.
Lengths: 20.5″/23.5″/27″
Heel lift: Yes
Max weight: 180 lbs./220 lbs./300 lbs.
Pros: Comfort, traction
Cons: Shorter models have less flotation

Check Price at Backcountry

Best of the Rest

Crescent Moon EVA Snowshoes

Crescent Moon Eva Snowshoes

These all-foam snowshoes ($159) are unlike anything else out there. Boulder, Colorado-based Crescent Moon made quite the splash when it introduced these unusual snowshoes in 2017. The upper layer of foam is softer for better rebound and cushioning. And the lower foam is sturdier and more durable.

As one reviewer noted, “Unlike rigid aluminum or carbon snowshoes, the soft, upturned foam deck comfortably cruises over hardpacked snow and encourages agility. Below deck, hard plastic cleats bite into icy terrain, providing plenty of grip, especially on hillsides.”

They don’t do as well on technical terrain as other options. And without a heel lift, they aren’t as suitable for uphill climbs.

Weight: 3.2 lbs.
Lengths: 24″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 250 lbs.
Pros: Fun, lightweight, unique design, good for everyday use
Cons: Not good off groomed trails, traction worse than other options

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Northern Lites Elite

Northern Lites Elite

The Elite ($219) weighs in at around 2.5 pounds and is the lightest 25-inch snowshoe on the market. It’s also an all-around workhorse of a snowshoe. The Elite is a full-size backpacking snowshoe — complete with an aggressive crampon — yet light and nimble enough to be used for racing.

You choose between the TruTrak binding or the Speed binding for quicker on and off. And we like that Northern Lites backs up its snowshoes with a lifetime warranty.

The one downside is that this pair is only recommended for a maximum load between 175 and 190 pounds.

Weight: 2.5 lbs.
Lengths: 25″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 190 lbs.
Pros: Incredibly lightweight, lifetime warranty, options
Cons: One size, lower weight limit, not for tough terrain

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Atlas Helium Trail

Atlas Helium Trail

These unisex snowshoes are an excellent option for something that’s more affordable but will also deliver on the trail. The Helium Trail ($140) uses a composite deck that sheds snow efficiently without adding weight. They aren’t made for intense, steep, or icy terrain, but they excel on the trail.

They also prove light at only 3 pounds 5 ounces. And the Wrap bindings are simple and easy to use.

Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
Lengths: 23″/26″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 200-250 lbs. (men’s) / 160-200 lbs. (women’s)
Pros: Extremely lightweight, price
Cons: Not made for technical terrain, no heel lift

Check Price at REI

Fimbulvetr Trailr X

Fimbulvetr Trailr XFimbulvetr created the Trailr X ($249) for optimum recreational play. The unique shape allows for maximum flotation without making the snowshoe difficult to manage. The Hugin bindings are guaranteed to give a tight fit without any pressure points bothering you while trekking.

Fimbulvetr developed a unique all-direction hinge to move to the angle of the ground underfoot. The binding isn’t our favorite and tended to loosen more easily. These are quality snowshoes, but overall we preferred the previously mentioned models on this list.

Weight: 4.2 lbs.
Lengths: 24″
Heel lift: Yes
Max weight: 220 lbs.
Pros: Maximum flotation, eco-friendly
Cons: Could have better traction, bindings less secure

Check Price at REI

Flashtek Snowshoes

Flashtek

Another choice for beginners is Flashtek’s snowshoes ($120). This kit comes with a carrying bag and trekking poles, but unlike the Xplore Kit, there are no gaiters included. The Flashtek snowshoes sport an aluminum frame as well as aluminum crampons for added stability.

For such a cheap pair of snowshoes, they do perform relatively well. They don’t have great traction, and the bindings are reported to often come undone. That being said, if this is just for a beginner, especially in their youth sizes, it could be an affordable option.

Weight: Unavailable
Lengths: 21″/25″/30″
Heel lift: No
Max weight: 155 lbs./220 lbs./260 lbs.
Pros: Price
Cons: Cheaply made, not quality materials, low traction and flotation

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Snowshoes

When trying to decide what snowshoes will fit your lifestyle best, there are plenty of things to keep in mind.

Sizing

For proper snowshoe sizing, you need to consider both the maximum load on your snowshoes (your body weight plus the gear you’re carrying) and the type of terrain you’ll be navigating.

Check the specs of the snowshoes. They will list a “maximum recommended load” and the recommended type of terrain. If you’re only taking day trips, the max load should be around 20 pounds above your body weight. For overnight trips or mountaineering, it would be 30-60 pounds more than your body weight to accommodate your pack.

For the length, a longer snowshoe makes it easier to travel through powder because there’s a larger surface area. However, a longer snowshoe is more challenging to take up and down steep terrain. If you expect to travel on hardpacked snow in mostly flat terrain, a shorter snowshoe will do just fine.

Testing SnowshoesComparing snowshoe sizes while testing in the Rocky Mountains; photo credit: Matt Granger

Bindings

When snowshoe bindings are challenging to get in and out of, or they don’t stay tightened in place, a peaceful adventure can quickly turn into a frustrating experience. Most snowshoe binding systems are a rotating or floating model, meaning they move separately from the frame of your snowshoe. Running snowshoes tend to have a single flank to reduce the shoe’s flapping and increase cushioning and quietness.

The three main strap materials are made of either nylon, rubber, or cable lace. They’re formatted in a system of either straight straps, ratchet straps, pull webbing, or a BOA system.

The pull webbing and the BOA cable lace bindings both provide a snug and secure fit, as well as a quick and easy in-and-out of your snowshoes. (Snowshoes themselves are also made of different materials, but the most common are made of some sort of hardened plastic with carbon, steel, or aluminum.)

Traction & Heel Risers

Under the snowshoes, you’ll see the traction, which ranges from similar to a winter hiking shoe to the sharp teeth of a crampon for mountaineering. Running snowshoes are mostly foam and rubber with a few metal studs for traction. All others will have steel crampons underfoot (toe and heel), some with the addition of side traction along the frame.

This traction is crucial for any icy conditions or inclines. I’ve managed fine with just the toe and heel crampons, but the side traction is especially vital for traversing.

Heel risers are a key feature if you plan to do any ascents up steep terrain. Trying to snowshoe uphill without heel risers will result in immediate calf fatigue. You may think that hiking sideways up an incline to create switchbacks is a solution, but trust me, this is awkward unless there’s an established flat trail of switchbacks.

Poles

Snowshoeing without poles is possible but awkward, especially when traveling through deep powder or on a steep incline. The most important feature of snowshoe poles is the basket — the circular piece about 2 inches above the spike that stabs into the ground. Many trekking poles used for hiking come with baskets, but they’re often not made for light, fluffy, thick snow.

Ski poles will have a large enough basket, but the poles you use to ski may not be the correct height for you to snowshoe. The best option is to purchase trekking poles for use while hiking or backpacking. You can also purchase the additional snow basket to swap onto the pole during the winter.

FAQ

What Are the Best Snowshoes for Deep Snow?

The MSR Lightning Ascent with the additional 6-inch tails will provide incredible flotation in deep snow. Remember, snow is just frozen water, and we still want to stay afloat. Look for snowshoes with high flotation ratings.

Do You Need Poles?

While you may not need poles, they are highly recommended. When starting out, snowshoes can make the most agile person rather clumsy. Using poles will help increase the balance of the upper body and engage the arms in an otherwise very leg-focused sport.

On more aggressive and technical terrain, you will need poles. They can be a lifeline when you’re near precarious ledges and want the extra layer of security.

MalloryPaige_SnowShoeingWithKidsGear Editor Mallory Paige snowshoeing with her daughter; photo credit: Matt Granger

What Shoes Do You Wear With Snowshoes?

A good pair of hiking boots or winter boots is recommended for most snowshoeing situations. Look for something that will keep feet warm and dry without compromising mobility. Check out our reviews of the Best Men’s Winter Boots and Best Women’s Winter Boots for top picks.

Adding gaiters to your setup is also a good idea to keep snow out — because dry means happy.

Have a favorite pair of snowshoes we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article. 

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