- Snowshoeing is a fun and casual winter activity that’s easy to pick up, but it can also be extremely challenging.
- There are different types of snowshoes for various kinds of snow and tasks.
- But for most people, the versatile MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes perform well in various conditions, making them the best snowshoes you can buy.
Modern snowshoes are lighter, more efficient, and more highly specialized than ever before, allowing outdoor enthusiasts and mountain athletes to travel faster and more confidently in the backcountry. Snowshoeing is also a casual activity that many novices can learn easily.
As with most other types of footwear, the best snowshoes now incorporate high-tech materials and unique designs that make them more capable without holding the wearer down, which in turn has broadened the scope for how they are used too.
Snowshoes can trace their origin back to Central Asia, where they’ve been in use for more than 6,000 years. The goal back then – as it is now – was to make it easier for people to walk on deep snow without sinking in, up to their knees. By increasing the surface area of the feet, snowshoes help to redistribute body weight in such a way that it allows the user to float on top of the snow instead.
Over the centuries the snowshoe has evolved dramatically. Gone are the wooden frames and leather laces, replaced with aluminum, plastic, nylon, and rubber. This has not only allowed them to become smaller in size, but more durable and versatile too.
Modern snowshoes are typically equipped with built-in crampons (spiky traction devices) that give them a better grip on a wide variety of terrains. They also include unique binding systems that are designed not just to keep them securely attached to the feet, but easy to get off and on too. Because of this, snowshoes now perform at an exceptionally high level, for both experienced users and beginners alike.
These days, there are a wide variety of snowshoes to choose from, each with their own set of features and unique design elements. Sorting through which ones are worth your time and money can be a challenging endeavor. As an outdoors journalist, based on my testing, experience, and research, I’ve rounded up the best snowshoes you can buy for various types of terrain and individuals.
Here are the best snowshoes you can buy:
- Best snowshoes overall: MSR Lightning Ascent
- Best budget snowshoes: MSR EVO Trail
- Best snowshoes for beginners: Crescent Moon EVA
- Best women’s snowshoes: Tubbs Mountaineer
- Best snowshoes for kids: MSR Shift
Updated on 10/2/2019 by Kraig Becker: Added new options with product descriptions. The MSR Lightning Ascent remains our overall pick, but we updated it to the 2019 version. Kyle Schurman contributed to this article.
The best snowshoes overall
The MSR Lightning Ascent is the go-anywhere, do-anything snowshoes for those looking to explore the backcountry both on- and off-trail, in a wide variety of conditions.
If any snowshoe has stood the test of time, it is the MSR Lightning Ascent. This is a model that has been on the market for several years (introduced in 2004), and yet it continues to perform at a higher level than its competitors.
Despite being relatively lightweight, the Lightning Ascent is built to withstand the rigors of the backcountry. The integrated steel crampons make it easy to maintain your footing on both snow and ice no matter the terrain. This helps to provide a great all-around experience, whether you’re hiking snow-covered trails or climbing upwards into a more demanding alpine environment.
For 2019, MSR is upgrading the Lightning Ascent’s binding system, replacing the venerable PosiLock AT model with its new Paragon version instead. This new binding simplifies the users ability to step in and out of the snowshoe, while keeping the system free from snow and ice too. These continued updates and medications are what helps to keep this snowshoe at the top of the list for the best models on the market year in and year out.
It should be noted that Outdoor Gear Lab felt that the bindings were a bit restrictive and could lead to some discomfort depending on the boots or trail shoes that are being worn. The new Paragon binding should help alleviate some of those issues however, bringing increased comfort and stability.
Pros: Durability, versatility, great traction, relatively lightweight, good performance on a variety of terrain types
Cons: Binding doesn’t always pair well with every kind of boot or shoe
The best budget snowshoes
The MSR EVO Trail snowshoes offer sturdy construction, good traction, and solid all-around performance at a budget-friendly price.
With its EVO Trail snowshoe MSR has proven that a bargain price doesn’t have to come at the expense of performance. Quite the contrary in fact, as the EVO Trail is a very good all-around snowshoe that may lack some of the features of its more expensive brethren, but you’ll hardly notice when out on the trail.
As its name implies, this is a snowshoe that feels most at home on groomed trails rather than deep, untracked snow. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take them into the backcountry however, provided you understand their limitations and don’t use them too hard on technical terrain.
The EVO Trail provides good float and solid traction to the point that you’ll wonder how MSR managed to get them down to such a low price. Durability is good, the bindings are simple to operate, and weighing in at 3.6 pounds, the snowshoes are surprisingly lightweight too.
While this model does serve as an excellent entry-point for those looking to get started snowshoeing without spending a lot of money, they do have their limitations. The EVO Trail can’t compete with higher-end models on more difficult terrain for instance, and the shoe’s bindings aren’t as comfortable as more expensive models either. Those bindings are functional, but not as well suited for longer treks, particularly in deep snow.
As Switchback Travel – and other reviewers – pointed out, the EVO Trail can be a bit noisy too. The plastic decking on these snowshoes tends to slap against the bottom of a hikers boot, which while not particularly loud can still be annoying.
Pros: Inexpensive, versatile, lightweight, built to last
Cons: Older design, wide toe box may cause stumbles, using wraps and bindings requires some practice
The best snowshoes for beginners
- Crescent Moon
Made from lightweight EVA foam, the Crescent Moon EVA snowshoes are incredibly lightweight, comfortable, fun to wear, and budget-friendly.
If there is a snowshoe that feels like a pair of trail running shoes, it’s probably the Crescent Moon EVA. Made from lightweight, yet surprisingly durable, dual-density EVA foam, these snowshoes tip the scales at 3.5 pounds for the pair. That, plus the unique rocker design, allows them to feel more agile and responsive on the trail, which is exactly what a beginner needs.
The EVA snowshoes utilize spike-shaped lugs along the bottom to maintain their grip and control. That makes them a good option for use on groomed trails and relatively easy terrain. With a $159 price point, they’re also great entry-level snowshoes.
Crescent Moon has outfitted these snowshoes with bindings that are simple and straightforward to use, which only further helps to make them even more beginner-friendly. The use of Velcro makes it easy to get up and moving very quickly, although some reviewers felt that the Velcro tabs lost their ability to hold tightly over time.
The EVA snowshoes don’t offer the best performance on more technical terrain, nor do they provide a lot of float in deep snow. Those shouldn’t be major concerns for beginning snowshoers, but they could become more significant over time.
Pros: Lightweight and nimble, a lot of fun to use on flat trails and easy terrain, simple to use, affordable, ideal for beginners
Cons: Not made for use on steep, demanding terrain, don’t provide a lot of float in deep snow
The best snowshoes for women
Versatile and comfortable, the women’s edition of the Tubbs Mountaineer is fantastic both on and off the trail. This model has excellent traction on snow and ice and maintains very good float in deep powder.
Some outdoor companies have a tendency to “pink it and shrink it” when it comes to making women’s gear. In other words, rather than actually create a female-specific product they simply scale down the men’s version and release it in “female-friendly” colors. That isn’t the case with the women’s model of the Tubbs Mountaineer, which is one of the most capable and versatile snowshoes on the market designed for women.
With crampons integrated into both the toe and heel, the Mountaineer chews up all but the most technical of terrain. This unique set-up gives it the ability to not just climb well, but maintain control on the descents too. Combine this level of traction with the Mountaineer’s excellent flotation performance and you gain the ability to move quickly and adeptly both on- and off-trail.
That said, on more technical terrain, I agree with some reviewers, like Outdoor Gear Lab, that the women’s version of the MSR Lightning Ascent is more preferable (but more expensive), which is built for use in challenging alpine environments. Those snowshoes are a bit lighter as well, as a common complaint with the Mountaineer is that it is on the heavy side.
However, if versatility is what you’re looking for, this is the snowshoe for you. It is durable and comfortable enough to be used in just about any environment and is equally at home on a groomed trail as it is the backcountry. Most of us only have a budget to splurge on a single pair of snowshoes and these are so reliable that they can fulfill nearly any role when hiking in the winter.
Reviewers at MooseJaw lauded the Mountaineer for its excellent bindings and good heel lift while climbing uphill. Both of those features provide a more athletic feel that comes in handy on extended winter treks. Outdoor Gear Lab also liked the versatility of the Mountaineer, but found them to be overly heavy though.
Pros: Great combination of traction and float, high level of comfort, ease of use, versatile enough for use on- and and off-trail and on both icy and snow-covered surfaces
Cons: Not as svelte as some of the other models, heavy
The best snowshoes for kids
When creating the Shift Snowshoe for kids, MSR didn’t scrimp on the design or features, ensuring that even younger adventurers will enjoy their time on the trail.
MSR is one of the premier manufacturers of snowshoes (it made our list thrice), so it should come as no surprise that its youth-oriented Shift model is a high-quality product. Designed specifically for preteens, this model offers everything budding young snowshoers – and their parents – could ask for, including good traction, solid all-around performance, and binding that adjusts to a wide array of shoe types and sizes.
According to MSR, the Shift’s binding can accommodate kids shoe sizes from 1 to 7. That means that these snowshoes should stay viable for years at a time, allowing a child to continue to use them even as their foot and boot size grows larger. The Shift is also capable of supporting a higher weight limit than most other youth models, which comes in handy as a child grows as well. This is all good news for parents too, as they won’t have shell out a lot of cash for a new pair every year or so.
The Shift is also quite durable, with simple, yet effective, construction. That means they won’t just fit your kid’s feet for years to come, they’ll also continue to perform at a consistently high level throughout that time too. And while these snowshoes aren’t as athletic and responsive as their adult counterparts, they still allow the wearer to have a good time in the outdoors during the winter months.
Some shoppers at REI found the Shift’s bindings to be difficult for children to adjust or close effectively on their own. Others found them to offer a little less float than expected, particularly in light, fluffy snow. Most appreciated the versatility and durability that they bring to the table, however, particularly with their ability to grow with the child using them.
Pros: Uses same traction bars found on MSR’s adult snowshoes, stable, bindings adjust to a wide variety of shoes sizes (ensuring some longevity as kids grow)
Cons: Don’t offer as much float, bindings can be a bit difficult for kids to master
Tips on how to choose the right pair of snowshoes
Types of snowshoes
There are a few different types of snowshoes and some are better for walking on beginner-friendly trails, while others are best for those who want to go off the trail entirely.
- Recreational/flat terrain: Entry-level models fit in this category, as these snowshoes are aimed at beginners. They’re made for walking across a field or on a novice trail. They have simple systems for gaining traction and work well for hard-packed snow. You’ll often see a wide tail on these types of shoes to help with balance.
- Running/rolling terrain: When hiking on normal trails in hilly areas, these types of snowshoes have a nice mixture of performance and comfort. They aren’t made for the steepest conditions, but they do have solid bindings and mid-level crampons. This will be the most common style of snowshoe for most people. If you want more of an aerobic workout, look for a shoe in this category with a tapered tail. Snowshoeing provides a great type of workout, according to Snowshoe Magazine.
- Backcountry/mountain terrain: When hiking on difficult trails or when hiking to a remote area for snowboarding, you’ll want some top-end snowshoes. These shoes often are small, allowing the wearer to have more control while hiking on icy and steep terrain. You’ll find strong, highly adjustable bindings on these shoes to ensure they stay on your feet, as well as aggressive crampons for maximum control, according to Backcountry.
Finding the right size of snowshoes
When you think of the size of the snowshoe, you don’t want to think about the fit on the foot, as you do with other types of shoes. A snowshoe size refers to the amount of coverage area the snowshoe has. Use the right size of snowshoe, and you’ll enjoy wearing it a lot more.
- Larger shoes: A larger snowshoe will be one that has a lot of surface area, such as 10 by 30 to 36 inches. Men’s snowshoes will be larger than those designed for kids or women, so they can carry more weight, according to Sierra Trading Post. You’ll also want a larger surface area if you plan to be carrying a large backpack while hiking. Aluminum shoes offer the largest surface area, although composite snowshoes can accommodate tails to gain a larger surface area. Snowshoes with larger surface areas work better on powdery snow.
- Medium-sized shoes: For average-sized people, you can make use of an average-sized surface area, such as 9 by 25 to 30 inches. If you’re going to be hiking with a day pack, an average-sized snowshoe should work well. Aluminum sized shoes are available in this size, or you can use a composite style shoe with a smaller tail.
- Smaller shoes: Kids snowshoes and some women’s shoes will fit in this category, where you’ll see shoes 8 by 25 inches and smaller. If you are going for a day hike with little to no extra gear, a small size of snowshoe works well. Both aluminum and composite snowshoes fit in this category. If you’ll be walking on icy surfaces or hard-packed snow, a smaller sized snowshoe will work well.
You’ll probably want to use the smallest shoe that you can, based on your weight and on what you’re carrying because a smaller shoe is easier to control.
When seeking a snowshoe, you should see a recommended load or a user weight range for individual pairs of snowshoes, according to Eastern Mountain Sports. This number can help you figure out the best snowshoe for your weight and the load you’ll be carrying. Some people even own multiple sizes of snowshoes to accommodate different snow conditions and loads that they’ll be carrying on a particular day. – Kyle Schurman