Gear Talk: MSR Lightning Ascent Snow Shoes

I've been waiting for some decent snow to arrive in Minneapolis so I can get out and do a spot of winter camping. We had a few inches at the beginning of December, but yesterday my wishes were answered - with snowmageddon.

During 8 years in Lapland, I never experienced the kind snowfall we had yesterday in a single day. Over 17 inches (43 cm) fell - and most impressively it was 17 inches of powder rather than the big fluffy stuff which easily builds up.  The streets were impassable in the kind of way I've never seen.

So with all that snow, today I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to break out the snow shoes!

I wanted snow shoes for many years, but they tend to be very expensive for something which appears to be quite simple. From a purchasing point of view, it's best to wait until spring time for the post-winter sales. Fortunately, when I live, post-winter sales take place while there is still plenty of snow on the ground, so last year I took advantage of an REI sale and picked up a pair of

MSR Lightning Ascents


I opted for the MSRs as they received many good reviews, were solidly-constructed, lightweight for their size, and had plenty of floatation. Floatation, for snow shoe newbies, is what keeps you from sinking into deep snow. The bigger and heavier you are, the more floatation you need. Different types of snow also require more floatation than others. As I'm tall, and planned to backpack in them (increasing my weight even more) I went for the long version. You can't have enough floatation in my opinion.

Unlike many cheaper snow shoes, these mean business. The outer rim is solid aluminium, with teeth cut into them for additional grip on icy sections. Sturdy, crampon-like teeth also protrude from under the pivoting footbed, and the heel-raising televator bar can be flipped up to make ascents less strenuous on your legs . I find these make a big difference on hills more than about 40 degrees.

The bindings are a little over-comlicated, but very secure, and once you've adjusted the fitting for your boots, it's fairly fast to slip in and out of them. Some people have complained that they come loose, but I've not experienced that yet.

MSRs new version of the Ascent, the Axis, have simplified bindings, and an 'axis gait' adjustment, which compensates for flat-footedness. As I waddle like a duck myself, I'd like to try them.

The Ministry of Silly Walks approved this review

Even the best floatation can't help with super-soft powder though. Yesterday's snow hasn't had a chance to settle yet, so I was struggling calf-deep through untouched snow until I found a trail which someone else had made. After that, it was much easier going.

There's not a lot more to say about the snow shoes. They are the kind of equipment that either works, or fails. These work well. There are lighter show shoes out there. MSR has a range of light plastic snow shoes which might be more suited to those using them only occasionally.


also make an interesting new model with a removable crampon/footbed.

My MSR Lightning Ascent 30s weigh 972g each - slightly less than spec weights. Not exactly lightweight, but certainly worth their weight. If you are in the market for  snow shoes, you could also check out some of

MSRs other models

, such as the lighter Lightning Flash models, which can be extended using flotation tails. My advice, unless you simply must have them now, is wait until the spring sales.

However, with snow shoes, I tend to think that the less there is to go wrong, the better. The last thing you want miles from anywhere is a broken grommet or other inconvenience. The Lightning Ascents are strong, sturdy, simple, and reliable.

They also make a good footpath for four-legged friends to follow. (Just look at that alliteration!)

I don't always look that angry.