MultipurposeThe MSR Denali Ascent (8 by 22 in.; 3 lb., 12 oz. per pair; $160) uses a burly, solid copolymer bodya polypropylene used in ski construction, and a deviation from the classic hard-frame/soft-deck snowshoe paradigm. The strap bindings attach easily, and the combination of stainless-steel cleats and traction bars gives these shoes an epoxy grip on ascents, descents, and traverses. What makes the Denali stand out, though, are the optional snap-on tails available in 4-inch (11 oz.; $25) and 8-inch (16 oz.; $30) sizes. Because you can match the Denali to snow conditions and pack loads with the tails, it's like owning three different-size snowshoes.
With its aluminum frame and rubberized nylon deck, the Crescent Moon 9 (9 by 27.5 in.; 3 lb., 4 oz.; $240) has far greater eye appeal than the Denalidespite its modern materials, it's a shoe you might hang over the cabin's fireplace. In addition to its aesthetic advantages, the Crescent Moon 9 has a teardrop shape that facilitates a smooth, more natural gaitno duck waddling to avoid clunking or stepping on your own feet. Another worthy feature: The binding relies on a snowboard-style ratcheting strap and goes on fast, centering the foot securely. Stainless-steel cleats underfoot give this elegant shoe adequate, though not exceptional, grip.
Running and RacingRedfeather's Falcon 25 (right; 8 by 25 in.; 2 lb., 8 oz.; $230), which Olympic gold-medal marathoner Frank Shorter and world-class snowshoe racer Tom Sobal both had a hand in designing, walks the weight/performance line successfully. The rubbery moisture-repelling Hypalon plastic decking is lighter than most, yet tough enough to endure seasons of heavy use (unless you regularly step on barbed wire). The titanium cleats below the toe and heel provide excellent grip at half the weight of most crampons. The bindingsalso cut from Hypalonare light, offer excellent torsional rigidity, and mold nicely to running shoes. A turned-up tail helps snow runners lengthen their stride.
The Northern Lites Elite (8 by 25 in; 2 lb., 6 oz.; $200) doesn't look as streamlined as most racing shoes, but when it comes to substance and value, few surpass it. Because Northern Lites designers used aluminum-alloy tubing, they were able to produce a smaller-diameter, lighter frame without sacrificing strength. The binding is a cradle built with Voilé binding strapsa simple, workable design that has prompted several manufacturers to copy the approach. The decking is a feathery but puncture-resistant polyurethane-coated nylon mesh secured to the frame's perimeter with cleats that do double duty by improving traction and, combined with the crampons underfoot, adding to the Elite's spiked-track-shoe feel.
Snowboarding and Steep SkiingVerts (8.5 by 18 in.; $75) may look like toys spit out of the Lego factory, but these tough nylon plates let you front-point up ungodly steep slopes, carving out a sturdy platform as you go. The bindings position your toes inches from the front for maximum step-kicking power. Going downhill, most Vert users are strapped to boards, but keep the shoes on and you'll find that the anchored heels plunge confidently into the slope. The downside? A small footprintwhich means that you'll posthole during a deep powder ascent. Two slightly modified versions of Verts are available: Da Kine's (2 lb., 8 oz.; $75) opts for a web binding strap (shown on right), while K2's (3 lb., 4 oz.; $160) features K2's step-in Clicker snowboard bindings that pair up with their Clicker snowboard boots.
The larger surface area of the Tubbs Mountain 25 (left; 8 by 25 in.; 5 lb., 2 oz.; $265) reduces the posthole factor, which can turn a pleasant outing into a winter death march. A curbed nose and hinged binding (think telemark bindings) also help the shoes float higher in the snowpack and make flat ground effortless to traverse. While the deck of the Mountain 25 resembles the nylon of other high-end shoes, it's actually a nearly indestructible copolymer skin called ArcTec. For a hinged snowshoe, the Mountain 25 climbs superblyits aggressive front crampons stick to snow and ice like Velcro. Nevertheless, the hinge prevents users from kicking the steps that make the Verts unparalleled climbing tools.