The 4 Best Snowshoes of 2013
Atlas Race Snowshoes
GEAR OF THE YEAR: At just a hair over two pounds per pair, the Race is one of the lightest snowshoes on the planet, and its fixed binding felt “practically spring-loaded,” according to one snowshoe-racing tester. (The downside is that it kicks soft snow up over your head when you’re moving quickly.) Of course, you don’t need to run in your snowshoes to appreciate the Race. In all but the deepest snow and the most technical terrain, it proved more than adequate. The light but surprisingly durable titanium crampons kept us sure-footed on icy hills, and the V-shaped, 22-inch-long frame (the Race comes in only one unisex size) provided ample float in up to eight inches of fresh snow. And it did all that while weighing roughly half as much as the average snowshoe. 2.1 lbs
Ease of Use: 5
Easton Backcountry Showshoes
BEST FOR: Technical terrain.
THE TEST: If your hike turns into an icy scramble, as ours did on Vermont’s Long Trail, that’s OK. These beefy shoes are made from aircraft-grade aluminum, and flexible plastic joints at the toe and heel allow the entire deck to flex slightly, increasing shoe-to-snow contact on uneven terrain. Plus, the two main crampons rotate independently for more precise and secure footing when sidehilling. Testers also loved that a one-handed pull is all it takes to tighten the partially floating binding and that the comma shape of the tail prevented stepping on it with the other shoe.
THE VERDICT: A versatile, user-friendly snowshoe. 4.9 lbs
Ease of Use: 5
DO I NEED DEDICATED SNOWSHOE BOOTS? No. Most snowshoes work with everything from running shoes to snowboard boots.
MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe
BEST FOR: Tackling a variety of terrain.
THE TEST: The Easton has bigger claws and thus looks badass, but the revamped Lightning Ascent has teeth all around the frame, and a new two-pronged toe crampon flexes to bite into uneven snow. Add in a sturdy heel lifter and a free-floating and supremely adjustable binding (four ultrasecure rubber straps are easy to manipulate in gloves), and you’ve got a shoe that’s up for just about any terrain. Smart: An add-on tail ($50) allows you to buy a smaller, more maneuverable snowshoe and attach more float when you need it.
THE VERDICT: “Highly adjustable, intuitive, field-maintainable, and awesome,” summed up one tester. 3.9 lbs
Ease of Use: 5
If you’re planning on tackling steep trails, look for a snowshoe with a heel lifted, which helps relieve calf strain and lessens fatigue on long climbs. Both the Easton and MSR have one.
Komperdell Mountaineer Snowshoes
BEST FOR: Knocking around with friends.
THE TEST: The Mountaineer isn’t as toothy as either the Easton or the MSR. But if you’re not looking to tackle the steepest and iciest trails you can find, that’s a good thing—big, aggressive teeth only get in the way of your natural walking gait on flatter ground. And the pintail-shaped Mountaineer has plenty of bite for moderate terrain. As one tester noted, there’s an “alligator’s mouth” of steel underfoot. The fixed binding accommodates all boot sizes but is poorly designed—it works fine but is unnecessarily complicated. Style note: The final production model is blue, not red.
THE VERDICT: If you’re after bang for your buck, look no further. 4.8 lbs
Ease of Use: 3