Like several MSR products, the introduction of MSR snowshoes revolutionized snowshoe design and performance standards. Still at the forefront of their class, let’s take a deep dive into where it all began, from their history and impact on snowshoe evolution, to navigating the current models and helping you find the right snowshoe for the way you enjoy the sport. Let this be your ultimate guide to MSR snowshoes.
[MAYBE A TLDR Directory with hot links here]
Back In the Day…
Looking back in time, it’s almost no surprise that snowshoes were invented roughly 6000 years ago. The Bronze Age was just getting rolling, Egypt was becoming a thing, and such things as sailboats, the wheel and the earliest forms of writing were all taking shape then. At the same time, somewhere in a snow-covered, central Asia, someone probably watched one too many dinners escape across deep snow and was inspired to find out how.
Surely, it became apparent, after surveying the broad and furry feet of winter game, that the answer had something to do with surface area; the more your weight was distributed over a wider area, the less you would sink into the snow. Thus, the very first snowshoes were some combination of wood and a rudimentary system of tying them to one’s feet. Eventually, the wood frame became standard and the decking (the material within the wood frame that provides the “flotation” over snow), evolved from more wood and/or pine boughs, to more durable materials like leather and gut, resulting in the classic, racquet-like snowshoes that we’re all familiar with.
[photo of an old wood-frame snowshoe?]
Though this design varied greatly in shape, the basic idea remained largely unchanged until the 1970’s, when aluminum was first introduced in the form of crampons for added traction. By the 80’s, tubular aluminum frames and synthetic decking, ushered in the “modern” snowshoe.
However, the introduction of tubular frames also turned out to be a weakness, creating horrible traction while traversing slopes – a common situation in snowshoeing. In packed snow and icy conditions, this was at best a huge hassle and, at worst, dangerous.
By the mid 90’s, renowned climber and gear designer Bill Forrest began tinkering with the idea of a solid-deck snowshoe, allowing traction to be distributed more evenly across the bottom of the snowshoe and eliminating the problem of a round edge on the snowshoe, famously stating that “tubes don’t cut it.” He brought a prototype to the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in 1993, and two years later, after much refinement and bringing Forrest in-house to work with MSR, the world’s first injection-molded snowshoe, the Denali, was released.
MSR Delivers: Revolutionary Traction and Modular Flotation
Admittedly, people were skeptical of a “plastic” snowshoe at first, but after experiencing the night-and-day performance improvements in traction and durability that they offered, the industry would be changed forever. The injection molded decks not only provided an “edge” to the snowshoe, eliminating the slippery nature of a tubular frame, they also allowed traction to be molded into the deck itself. For good measure, serrated steel rails ran the length of the snowshoe, further enhancing grip. Combined, the traction boost was revolutionary.
[pic of Denali snowshoe, top and bottom, with caption: The original Denali snowshoe had a solid deck with traction molded into it, aggressive crampons, and steel traction bars on the underside, redefining the amount of traction a snowshoe could provide.]
Another major innovation of the Denali snowshoe was the ability to adapt its size to match the conditions. The bigger your snowshoe, the more “flotation” over the snow it provides. Given snow’s fickle nature, snowshoers would often end up with a snowshoe that was either too big or too small for the conditions at hand. To address this, the Denali® snowshoe introduced Modular Flotation Tails that simply screwed on to the tail of the deck. This let users tailor the performance of their snowshoes in real time, allowing them to adapt to changing snow conditions or the added weight of larger, overnight packs that demand more flotation.
In 2004, we re-set the bar again with the Lightning snowshoe design, incorporating a first-of-its-kind vertical aluminum frame. Laser-cut from aircraft -grade 7000 series aluminum, this 360 Traction™ Frame not only delivered traction along the perimeter of the entire snowshoe, it also reduced weight considerably, ultimately becoming (and remaining) the ultimate choice for people who demand the most from their snowshoes in remote environments.
[lighting frame image]
And finally, our latest deck and frame innovation came in 2014 with the release of the Revo™ snowshoe. This hybrid design combines the edge traction of the Lightning snowshoes, with the unmatched durability of an injection-molded deck delivering awesome traction and durability to meet the needs of frequent users with high expectations of their gear.
Along with superior craftsmanship, the hallmarks of unbeatable traction and Modular Flotation are still what separate MSR snowshoes from all others. Along with huge innovations in binding comfort and ease of use, MSR remains the gold standard for snowshoe design, performance and reliability.
Made In Market
You may have heard “Made in Market” from us before, but its role in allowing us to innovate rapidly and consistently deliver quality products is worth mentioning again. In a nutshell, this concept of making our own products, in our own facilities, close to the markets they’re destined for, allows us to innovate in real time–not over months or years as protypes get designed, shipped, tested, broken, sent back and refined repeatedly from off-shore.
Made in Market means we can take an idea and test it in the mountains in a matter of days. We can also spot issues with manufacturing and refine our processes in real time. This affords us the luxury of fixing things immediately, rather then being stuck with container loads of defective, off-shore product. The benefits of this method of manufacturing cannot be overstated and are key components of why our snowshoes lead the industry in performance, innovation, and reliability.
MSR Snowshoes at A Glance
Today, our snowshoe line has evolved with designs catered to the needs of every snowshoer. Our purpose-built snowshoes are divided into three distinct segments:
Best for: Essential traction and flotation for recreational users on mellow terrain.
[linked images of each snowshoe]
These snowshoes are built to deliver essential performance and comfort for day trippers spending the majority of their time on the flats and gently rolling hills. If you’re snowshoeing on established trails, forested areas, or maybe just need a few pair for getting you and your friends around your mountain hideaway, these are a great choice.
Best for: Added traction, lighter weight and all-day comfort for on and off-trail use in a wide variety of conditions.
[linked images of each snowshoe]
The Explore Series offers a great combination of the added traction needed to get deeper into the mountains in varied terrain, along with easy, intuitive and comfortable bindings for long days in the hills. They hit the sweet spot for most snowshoers that dabble in a mix of casual day trips and the occasional bucket-list adventure, be that a casual summit or a mid-winter backpacking trip.
Best for: Aggressive, backcountry use in mountainous terrain.
[linked images of each snowshoe]
The Ascent Series offers maximum performance with minimal weight for mountaineers, peak baggers, snowboarders and others that think of their snowshoes as a tool to get stuff done. With maximum traction and our most secure bindings, the MSR Ascent Series is the pinnacle choice for those that demand the most from their snowshoes.
Navigating the Differences
Lets take a look at the components of each series to understand how they differ, and which one if right for your style of snowshoeing.
MSR Snowshoes are unique by design. Our frames and decks are often the same thing, but that’s because we consider it all part of “Traction” and went about optimizing it in an outside-the-box kind of way.
The evolution of the game-changing Denali Snowshoe, Evo snowshoe decks are comprised of a tough and flexible, injection-molded polyethylene deck with horizontal traction bars under-foot built right into the mold.
[evo hero shot – top and bottom]
They also have two longitudinal traction bars of martensitic stainless steel for amazing side-hilling grip and lasting durability. The decks themselves have a hard edge and additional traction molded in throughout the underside. These shoes also flex slightly as you walk for added comfort, and their relatively slim, ergonomic shape provides maximum flotation with a more natural stride.
The Revo’s are a hybrid of the injection-molded Evo and our elite, 360 Traction Lightning frames. Just like you’d imagine, they offer the performance middle ground of the two, appealing to the widest range of snowshoers.
[revo hero shot – top and bottom]
The Revo features two vertical outer frame rails, similar to the Lightning frame, but bridges them together with toe and tail pieces of injection-molded polyethylene and a single, toothed steel bar underfoot for added strength. The result is aggressive traction, with the added durability and more forgiving flex of the Evo deck.
We like to say that Lightning snowshoes delivers more traction per ounce than any other snowshoe. There is no absolute way to quantify that, but we still like to say it because being ultralight with uncompromised traction is exactly what the Lightning frame does best.
[Lightning hero shot – top and bottom]
Light and strong 7000-series aluminum 360 Traction Frames deliver the ultimate, edge-to-edge traction and combine with aggressive cross bars underfoot to provide the best possible grip and strength when you need it the most. Combined with an ultralight Hypalon deck, the lighting frame delivers the best traction with the least weight possible.
Aside from binding sizes, the deck or frame is really what makes a women’s snowshoe unique. We partnered with a leading female exercise kinesiologist to design a snowshoe deck that accommodates the unique, and typically more narrow gait of female snowshoers. The result is a lower-profile snowshoe built for women that offers a more natural and efficient stride.
BINDINGS and CRAMPONS
All MSR snowshoe bindings are constructed of freeze-resistant materials and are designed to compress for easy, low-profile packing. We’ve also aimed to make each intuitive and easy-to-use with gloved hands–essential design elements for cold weather use. Crampons and under-side traction components are all made from Martensitic Steel for its high-carbon strength and corrosion resistant properties. You’ll find each of our user-specific series to feature a binding and crampon combination tuned specifically to the needs of that intended user.
Fixed or Hinged?
You generally see two styles of bindings on snowshoes, fixed and hinged. A fixed binding is typically attached to the snowshoe via straps. This allows the snowshoe to stay closer to the position of the foot while walking, creating a more efficient stride. While this is true in purely packed conditions, these snowshoes also snap back with each step, causing them to lift and launch any snow that falls onto them. In deep snow, this can be exhausting and causes snow to be thrown into the air with each step.
Because we build our snowshoes for backcountry and trail use, we opted for a hinged binding that pivots ion a steel rod, independent of the snowshoe. As you walk, the snowshoe tail drops, effortlessly shedding all the snow on it, and lifting easily to glide to your next step.
Trail Series: Paraglide Bindings
Our lightest bindings, Paraglide bindings were designed primarily to be easy-to-use and comfortable. They are best suited to those looking for all-day comfort on flat and rolling terrain. They feature a broad mesh panel across the top that comfortable hugs your foot ast-to-operate buckle straps for easy use. They’re set atop a broad, four-tooth crampon that delivers excellent traction without being overly aggressive for a more natural stride.
Paraglide Binding Size Range:
- Men’s Model: 3 M – 13 M / 36 – 47
- Women’s Model: 5 W – 15 W / 36 – 47
Explore Series: HyperLink™ Bindings
HyperLink bindings combine the intuitive ease of use and secure comfort for all day use. , Their easy-to-use ratchet buckle system is fast and easy to get on and off and allows for quick micro-adjustments throughout the day. An EVA-padded forefoot ensures comfort and a no-slip fit. They’re perfect for more aggressive use and, as such, are set atop an aggressive, two-point crampon for added security in challenging conditions.
HyperLink Binding Size Range:
- Men’s Model: 4.5 M – 13 M / 35.5 – 48
- Women’s Model: 5.5 W – 13 W / 35.5 – 48
Ascent Series: Paragon™ Bindings
All Ascent Series snowshoes feature our most secure offering– the Paragon binding. Like our Paraglide binding, the Paragon features the same, innovative stretch mesh strap of the Paraglide, holding securely without pressure points, paired with and our no-nonsense locking straps leave no guesses about security across a wide range of boots. Those straps also elevate their field maintainability, making it quick and easy to replace a damaged strap anywhere. They’re set atop an aggressive, two-point crampon that delivers the added penetration you want when dealing with sketchy conditions in the alpine.
Paragon Binding Size Range:
- Men’s Model: 6 M – 14 M / 39 – 48
- Women’s Model: 6 W – 12 W / 36 – 43
Paragon bindings come with 14-inch heel straps. If your footwear is larger than a Men’s size 14 or Women’s size 12 snowboard boot, our replacement 18-inch straps offer increased length.
An exception to the rule: The Evo Ascent Snowshoe
We’ve got a soft spot for history and for making sure great gear is accessible to as many people as possible. That’s why you’ll find the outlier of the Evo Ascent snowshoe still in out line-up. It combines a unibody Evo deck with the essential security of our legendary Tri-Fit™ bindings and Televator heels lifts, allowing you to conquer any terrain. While it doesn’t have our latest technology or our most aggressive traction, it does deliver plenty of all-terrain performance at a fantastic value.
Uniquely MSR Snowshoe Features
Modular Flotation Tails
Aside from traction, flotation–the ability to not sink deeply into the snow–is the other key benefit that snowshoes provide. Your needs will vary based on how much you and your gear weigh, and the snow conditions you’ll be in. For instance, you’ll need more flotation in Colorado powder than in the dense, maritime snowpack of the Pacific Northwest.
However, we’ve removed most of the guesswork with our innovative Modular Flotation Tails. Available on all adult MSR snowshoes, they allow you to add flotation as needed. This means you can buy a snowshoe suited to your most common conditions, offering the best agility and ease of walking, and then add tails for added flotation in abnormally light and fluffy conditions, or when carrying a bigger load. The majority of people will thus be able to use a 22” snowshoe for day trips and packed conditions, then simply add tails for extensive off-trail use and overnight trips.
Check out this post for a more detailed discussion and a handy sizing guide.
Televator™ Heel Lifts
Trudging up a steep slope can be hard. Trudging up a steep slope with Televator’s is a lot less hard. These handy additions to our Explore and Ascent series snowshoes neutralize slope, allowing you to walk with a more natural, flatter foot up steep inclines. While it’s hard to quantify how much easier they can make your life, it’s easy to say that you don’t want to be without them in steep terrain. We also build our Televators with a small rise that sticks up of the deck when they are stowed. This makes them easy to deploy with a gloved hand or handle of a snowshoeing pole.
[images: televator in use and being lifted with snowshoe pole handle]
Choosing the Right Snowshoe
We have grouped our snowshoes into three main categories: Trail, Explore and Ascent. Each series is based on how aggressive you need your snowshoe to be. While all MSR snowshoes offer exceptional traction by design, the bindings, crampons and presence of Televator Heel Lifts really fine-tune each series for the task at-hand.
Choose Your Terrain
Trail – Recreational Users on Flat and Rolling Terrain
Tuned for flat and rolling terrain, Trail series snowshoes feature easy, intuitive bindings and our least aggressive crampons, offering a more natural stride on established trails and occasional off-trail use below treeline.
Explore – Aggressive, All-Around Performance
Explore series snowshoes add a more aggressive crampon and Televator Heel Lifts to boost performance in steeper terrain and the variable snow conditions found in the backcountry. Hyperlink bindings also offer more support and comfort for longer days in the hills.
Ascent – Pinnacle Traction with Minimal Weight
Ascent series snowshoes take the aggressive performance of the Explore Series and combine them with our lightest, most secure binding to shave weight. The result to ultralight reliability for peak baggers and long-distance travelers.
Choose Your Platform
Within each of the above series, you’ll find up to three styles of frame/deck to choose from.
Our most durable snowshoes are ideal for people who are hard on their gear or just good at neglecting it. These UniBody decks are made of extremely tough polypropylene, similar to what modern car bumpers are made from. If being able to abuse your gear without too much worry is your M.O., these are worthy of your attention. Evo decks also offer some torsional flex, allowing them to offer a bit more comfort over a more traditional snowshoe, as the deck will be a bit more forgiving over undulating and sloped terrain.
The Lightning platform is for snowshoers at the other end of the spectrum–those that prioritize weight savings over all else and want the ultimate security that a 360 Traction from provides. Don’t get us wrong – these things are tough enough for polar explorers and expedition use–but their (replaceable) Hypalon decks are just not as tough a solid deck. However if you value the weight and energy savings of a lighter snowshoe for longer trips and want to err on the side of added traction, go with a Lightning platform.
Still can’t decide? You’re likely a Revo kind of person. This platform combines the a bit of both worlds, delivering some of the lightweight, edge-to-edge traction of the Lightning platform, mixed with the added durability of a solid deck. This is the ideal choice for people that get out pretty frequently, but keep it to mostly a day or two in conditions that range from challenging to moderate.
Choose Your Size
As previously mentioned, choosing your size in an MSR snowshoe is pretty straightforward. As the chart below shows, most people under 175 pounds should start with a 22 in. snowshoe and use Modular Flotation Tails to compensate for softer snow and/or extra gear weight as needed. If you’re considering larger sizes, remember to buy the snowshoe that will be easiest to walk in during the majority of your time on the trail. Ask any backcountry skier–deep powder is not as easy to come by as you might think, so buying a large snowshoe should really be reserved for bigger snowshoers and those carrying heavy loads.
|Your Weight||Packed Snow||Soft Snow||Soft and Deep Snow|
|90-125lbs. / 41-57kg||22 in / 56 cm||
22 in / 56 cm
|25 in / 64 cm or
22 in / 56 cm + Tails
|125-175lbs. / 57-79kg||22 in / 56 cm||
25 in / 64 cm or
22 in / 56 cm
|25 in / 64 cm or
22 in / 56 cm + Tails
|175-225lbs. / 79-120kg||22 in / 56 cm||25 in / 64 cm or
22 in / 56 cm + Tails
|30 in / 76 cm + Tails or
22 in / 56 cm + Tails or
25 in / 64 cm + Tails
|225lbs.+ / 102kg+||22 in / 56 cm or
25 in / 64 cm
|22 in / 56 cm + Tails or
25 in / 64 cm + Tails or
30 in / 76 cm + Tails
|30 in / 76 cm + Tails or
25 in / 64 cm + Tails
Kids love snow, so building pint-sized snowshoes so you can take the little ones with you was a natural. We offer two options, from the simplicity of an introductory model for toddlers, to adult-spec performance packed into pre-teen sizes.
The Tyker is our most basic option. It features a solid deck, only molded traction bars and rails for added safety (in lieu of steel) and a fixed binding with a basic crampon that allows the snowshoe to follow the foot with no dragging. These are great for introducing the little ones to the idea of snowshoeing.
The Shift is a proper snowshoe, delivering big time performance for budding adventurers. A fully hinged, backcountry-friendly binding works with shoe sizes up to 7 (USM) and a solid deck assures they’ll stand up to years of big abuse from small people. They include the same traction features as our most aggressive Evo snowshoes, giving you and your kids confidence and security across a range of snow conditions and terrain.
Snowshoeing Poles are a mandatory addition to any snowshoeing kit for stability and safety. You’ll need adjustable poles so you can change length to match the slope of the terrain you’re on: shorter for steep ups and longer for steep downs. You’ll also want that adjustability to be secure, freeze-resistant and glove-friendly. It’s no surprise that our DynaLock™ poles are built to be exactly that. They are segmented in the same way our snowshoes are (Trail, Explore, Ascent) so choosing the right ones should be easy now that you know your priorities. You can even grab one of these snowshoe and pole kits for one-stop-shopping, adding a handy, protective storage bag that will serve you well getting to and from the trailhead.
Care and Feeding of Your MSR Snowshoes
Fortunately, there is very little attention needed to ensure your snowshoes provide many years of trouble-free adventure. However, there are some basic guidelines to follow:
Before Each Trip
Inspect each snowshoe for wear and damage. This includes all rivets and clevis-pin attachment points on the binding pivot rod. Check Lightning decks for tears or rips and Evo and Revo decks for any damage. Be sure your Modular FlotationTails thread on easily and inspect crampons and binding straps for signs of wear. Old binding straps can crack and loose elasticity over time, so be sure to replace them as needed. You’ll find most anything you need to keep your snowshoes in top condition on our Snowshoe Accessory page.
After Each Trip
As with most gear, allowing your snowshoes to dry fully before storage will set you up for years of enjoyment from them. Towel-dry them after use and then hang them in the open to dry fully. Ideally, separate your snowshoe pole segments too, allowing them to dry inside and out.
Customer Support and Warranty
If you broke something that isn’t available on our Accessory Page or are curious if it’s covered under warranty, feel free to reach out to our Warranty and Repair team for an assessment. By design, much of what we build can be repaired, keeping your trusted MSR gear out of the landfill and in the hills where it belongs.
There’s definitely something special about the simplicity of snowshoeing. In a lot of ways, it’s just like going for a hike in summer, but with more clothes and bigger shoes. Sure, there are some objective things to be aware of, but it can be incredibly simple in a lot of places, opening up an entire season of opportunity by just strapping them to your feet and heading out into winter. Enjoy!