Gear Guy

Can you help me pick out some snowshoes?

I currently have an older version of the Tubbs Sierra snowshoes, but I find them to be too bulky and heavy for those trips where crampons are also required. How does the MSR Denali snowshoe compare to its competitors, and what is the "floatability" factor of the MSR snowshoes? It seems they're very narrow, so I'm curious if they will keep you from sinking in soft, deep snow. Scott Newmarket, New Hampshire


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MSR’s Denali snowshoes, which I think first appeared about six years ago, remain one of the more interesting designs out there. They really broke the mold, so to speak, employing a molded-thermaplastic design instead of the still common approach of using modern materials (aluminum frames, Hypalon decking) to replicate traditional bent-wood-and-sinew designs. Even more striking was the pricing. Today, the most expensive MSR Denali model, the Ascent, sells for $160, well below the price of most mid-range snowshoes from Atlas, Tubbs, or other companies. And they’re modular, so for $25 or $30 you can add one of two “flotation tails” that increase the surface area of the snowshoe, thereby increasing the float. They are slightly narrow, but not much more so than other snowshoes.

I haven’t used the MSR snowshoes for a few years. I generally liked them: good bindings, good “teeth” for icy conditions (and both bindings and crampons have been improved in the past few years). And they’re basically indestructible. On the down side, I thought they tended to skid a bit, particularly on downhill treks. And, when the tails were attached, the balance point shifted, making them somewhat nose-heavy. Silly as this may sound, they also aren’t terribly aesthetic, and they look a little cheap.

But they work, and well at that. Snowshoes are not a particularly “precise” tool anyway, so nothing out there is going to turn you into a winter ballerina. And really, nothing works well in very deep, soft snow. You just can’t get the pounds-per-square inch ratio down far enough for good float. So, I’d say the Denalis, on this count, will work as well as anything.

Check out REI’s range of MSR Denali snowshoes here.

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