Best Snowshoes of 2023 / 2024

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We bought and tested all the best snowshoes of the year to find out which models go the distance from front-country groomers to backcountry powder!
Best Snowshoes - Introduction 1
So many shoes, so little time: All of our top picks from our recent snowshoe field test.

This is The Wise Adventurer’s guide to all the best snowshoes of the year. After weeks of research and rigorous field testing, we’ve found seven of the most well-made and capable shoes on the market for every kind of hiker. 

Once the dust had settled (or powder, as was often the case), we found the Atlas Range-MTN to be the best snowshoe overall currently on the market. We took these shoes over everything from steep and icy slopes to rolling hills of deep backcountry snow, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find a single place where they didn’t absolutely excel.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Introduction 2
Our editor-in-chief Thomas out enjoying some fresh show in our top pick, the Atlas Range-MTN.

The Atlas Range-MTN won’t be the ideal snowshoe for everyone though, and that’s to be expected. While we believe anyone can benefit from its go-anywhere, do-anything design, mountaineering snowshoes like this cost a pretty penny. That’s why we’ve included our favorite picks for all disciplines and price points to ensure there’s something on the list below for beginners and veterans alike. 

We’ve also included a handy buyer’s guide at the bottom of the article where we break down all the important features that make any shoe great. This guide breaks down all the factors we include in our testing methodology, so if you’re just getting started on your snowshoeing journey, make sure you check it out. 

Alright, get those trekking poles ready:  It’s time to dig into the results from this year’s field test!

Summary Table:

SnowshoeBenefits
Atlas Range-MTN: Best Snowshoe OverallUncompromising traction, comfort, and stability. Fully featured for steep or technical terrain, with the added benefit of a BOA binding. See Review
MSR Lightning Ascent: Highest QualityAnother uber-capable, all-terrain snowshoe with a top-shelf build and a heavy focus on ultralight performance and simplicity. See Review
Atlas Helium Trail: Best On A BudgetWildly affordable snowshoe with an ultralight build and solid all-around performance. Excellent feature set for easy to moderate terrain. See Review
MSR Evo TrailA high-quality all-terrain option that won’t break the bank. Proven traction, durability, and stability that’s ideal for intermediate users. See Review
Tubbs Flex VRT: Best Composite SnowshoeAn all-composite shoe with a focus on technical performance and versatility. Premium features compete with the best in the business for less money. See Review
TSL Symbioz EliteA unique shoe with a focus on flexibility and traction. Outstandingly secure three-way adjustable binding. See Review
Atlas RunA laser focused snowshoe that’s built for speed. Minimalist design and a fast BOA binding let trail runners keep it pinned all year round. See Review
Tubbs Flex TRKAn affordably priced shoe with great bindings and above average durability for the money. Solid all-around traction for all but the most extreme conditions. See Review
Atlas Montane: Best Traditional SnowshoeClassic tubular frame shoe with excellent flotation and premium build quality. See Review

Best Snowshoes of 2023

Atlas Range-MTN: Best Snowshoe Overall

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Range MTN 1

Specs:
– Price: $320
– Length: 26” (66cm) – also available in 30” (76cm) and 35” (89cm)
– Max recommended load: 200lbs (91 kg) – 250lbs (113 kg) for 30 in. and 300lbs (136kg)  for 35 in.
– Weight per pair: 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Technical/all-mountain

Taking top honors in our roundup for the best snowshoe is the Atlas Range-MTN, an all-new design that raises the bar for just how good an all-terrain snowshoe can be. This shoe lacks  nothing in terms of traction, comfort, and walkability, and delivers excellent flotation to boot. 

Our testers unanimously praised the Range-MTN’s frame-integrated traction rails and aggressive multi-directional crampons for their outstanding bite, a feature made even sweeter by the fact that neither traction aid impairs walking comfort over icy terrain. The Range-MTN also features a beefy traverse support, which made steep terrain as drama-free as possible. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Range MTN 2
The Atlas Range-MTN brings impressive traction to the table with integrated aluminum traction rails and an outstanding crampon design

The Range-MTN isn’t the only shoe in our roundup with outstanding traction, but what really separates it from other top contenders is its comfort and walkability for winter hiking. The comfort aspect comes courtesy of a premium BOA binding, which our testers loved for its ease of use, excellent security, and even distribution of pressure, which made it ideal for heavy winter boots and minimalist hiking shoes alike. The Range-MTN’s high scores in walkability are particularly interesting considering the shoe’s above-average length, a trick we chalk up to Atlas’ long-yet-narrow profile, which kept our steps feeling natural while also preserving flotation.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Range MTN 3
The Range-MTN is notably longer and narrower than other top performers like the Tubbs Flex VRT and MSR Lightning Ascent seen here, providing the best combination of flotation and walkability in our testing.

Truth be told, we really don’t have any complaints with this snowshoe. Yes, it’s expensive, but it still costs less than some of the other premium competition that it outperforms. Some hikers may prefer a simpler binding system like the MSR Paragon below for its weight savings and simplicity, but we’ll take a few extra ounces for added comfort any day. Read our full test and review of the Atlas Range MTN…

Pros:Cons:
– Outstanding traction, flotation, and stability
– Premium BOA binding
– Technical performer with great walkability
– Expensive

Check at Women’s REI / Check at Women’s Amazon




MSR Lightning Ascent: Best Overall Quality

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - MSR Lightning Ascent 1

Specs:
– Price: $350
– Length: 22” (56cm)  – also available in 25” (64cm) and 30” (76cm)
– Max recommended load: 180 lbs (81.6 kg) – 120-220 lbs (54 – 99.8 kg) for 25 in. and 150-280 lbs (68 – 127 kg) for 30 in.
– Weight per pair: 4.1 lbs (1.87 kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Anything and everything, deep snow and steep/technical terrain

Taking the title for best overall quality is the MSR Lightning Ascent, MSR’s flagship model for uncompromising technical performance. This shoe delivers traction, walkability, and durability in spades, and does it all at the impressively low weight of just over 4 pounds. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - MSR Lightning Ascent 2
Steep climbs, deep powder, and slippery ice: The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes handle it all with aplomb.

This shoe was the undisputed king of the backcountry before the Range-MTN came along, and it’s still just as good as it was when it first hit the market in 2019. With full-length frame-integrated traction rails, aggressive yet easy-walking toe crampons, and a double dose of traverse supports, the Lightning Ascent delivered outstanding traction on every surface we tested. We also noted that the Lightning Ascent packs a surprising level of flotation considering its relatively compact footprint (our test model was just 22” long), which is no doubt due to the shoe’s extra wide dimensions at the ball of the foot, which taper down sharply from there to preserve walkability. 

Combine that winning formula with a tough-yet flexible fabric decking for added comfort and an uber-secure binding that never falters in the rough stuff and it’s plain to see why this shoe has been topping the charts for years. MSR also designed the Ascent’s minimalist Paragon binding to be easily repairable in the field with no special tools: The attachment uses a simple “twist to release” locking mechanism that’s so easy you can do it with gloves on, which adds to its overall value from a reliability standpoint.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - MSR Lightning Ascent 3
While we weren’t enamored with the Paragon binding’s overall comfort or ease of use, there’s no denying the utility in its quick-and-easy repairability.

Ultimately, the MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoe fell just short of the Atlas above for two reasons. First, while the Paragon binding system is lightweight and easily repairable, it always felt a bit too tight for our liking and wasn’t nearly as precise and comfortable as a BOA system. Second, the Lightning Ascent is the more expensive shoe by $30, so unless you’re looking for the lightest option possible, the price can be a tough pill to swallow. Read our full test and review of the MSR Lightning Ascent…

Pros:Cons:
– All-terrain technical performance
– Made to last/highly rebuildable
– Focus on ultralight simplicity
– Expensive
– Bare-bones binding

Check at Women’s REI / Check at Women’s Amazon




Atlas Helium Trail: Best On A Budget

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Helium Trail 1

Specs:
– Price: $150
– Length: 23” (58cm) – also available in 26” (66cm) & 30” (76cm)
– Max recommended load: 160lbs (73 kg) – 220lbs (100 kg) for 26 in. and 270+lbs (122kg) for 30 in.
– Weight per pair: 3.6lbs (1.6kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Deep snow, moderate terrain and inclines

When it comes to bang for your buck, the Atlas Helium Trail reigns supreme. There’s just no better option for quality and performance on a budget, and our testers found the lightweight build and modern features of the Helium Trail punched well above this snowshoe’s price point.  

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Helium Trail 2
Over deep snow and rolling hills like these, the Atlas Helium Trail is a joy to hike in. 

Cost-effectiveness aside, the Helium Trail has a lot going for it. Atlas’ “Helium Decking” technology makes this the lightest snowshoe currently on the market, weighing in at an impressive 3.6 pounds in the 23” version we tested. Combined with a secure binding and the flexible louvered decking that sheds snow buildup with ease, walkability for this shoe is outstanding.

We’ll also point out that Atlas updated the Helium Trail for the 2023 model year, and the shoe now sports a simplified binding that’s ideal for beginners as well as a less aggressive 12-degree heel lifter that’s better suited for this shoe’s “easy-to-moderate” intentions. It’s a great option for new hikers looking to get off-trail for some backcountry exploration, but it will serve seasoned vets as well as a backup shoe for less technical pursuits. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Helium Trail 3
While we applaud Atlas for these beefy traction rails, a lack of traverse support and a bare-bones crampon limit the shoe’s overall versatility. 

Ultimately the Atlas Helium Trail is limited by its traction, and we found its aggressive steel traction rails and simple toe crampon just weren’t enough to tackle steep gradients or icy conditions. There’s a notable lack of traverse support on the underside of the shoe, which we hope to see updated the next go-round. We’ll also note that while the new binding helps keep this shoe intuitive for beginners, we can’t help but miss the classic nylon “Wrapp” system for its overall comfort and ease of use. The Helium Trail is still a fantastic shoe for rolling hills of powdery snow or packed trails and groomers though, and outperforms other budget-friendly shoes by a wide margin on its home turf. Read our full test and review of the Atlas Helium Trail…

Pros:Cons:
– Wildly affordable
– Lightest snowshoe on the market
– Great performance for the money
– Traction limits versatility
– No-frills binding



MSR Evo Trail Snowshoes

Best Snowshoes - MSR Evo Trail 1

​​Specs:
– Price:
$170
– Length: 22” (56cm)
– Max recommended load: 180lbs/82kg (250lbs/113kg with tails)
– Weight per pair: 3.6lbs (1.6kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Rolling/moderate terrain

While MSR’s Lightning Ascent snowshoes are easily one of the most advanced and capable options money can buy, not everyone wants or needs their all-encompassing and highly technical build. For your average to intermediate hiker, the MSR Evo Trail offers a much more compelling proposition, bringing solid all-around performance at a much more affordable price. 

Best Snowshoes - MSR Evo Trail 2
The Evo Trail benefits from the same style binding as the Lightning Ascent, albeit an even faster and easier to use version for added convenience.

So what makes the Evo Trail such a sweet deal? For starters, you’re getting the same web-style binding as the Lightning Ascent, which our testers found to be unfailingly stable yet among the easiest and most convenient to use. You’re also getting a significantly lighter shoe thanks to the Evo Trail’s composite decking material, which helps to limit fatigue when you’re really putting in the miles. 

The other key factor for us is the Evo Trail’s traction, which punches well above its price point both in terms of quality and grip. Where other budget-friendly models often stick with less durable aluminum rails and crampons, MSR builds theirs entirely out of stainless steel, and also takes full advantage of the composite decking material by adding additional paddles and brakes into the underside of the shoe. 

Best Snowshoes - MSR Evo Trail 3
The composite decks and steel hardware found on MSR snowshoes are proven to deliver reliable traction and long-lasting durability.

Of course at this price you’re also getting a few tradeoffs in exchange for budget friendliness, and the main one is traction. While the Evo Trail performs admirably in easy to intermediate terrain, their lack of a heel lift and less aggressive crampons aren’t ideal for steeper grades or more extreme icy conditions. Your average user likely won’t miss either feature, however, making these shoes a smart buy that’s built to last for years of use and abuse. 

Pros:Cons:
– Outstanding performance at an affordable price
– Bindings are secure and easy to use
– Proven design is built to last
– Not ideal for the steepest or most technical terrain
– Composite decking is loud on harder surfaces



Tubbs Flex VRT: Best Composite Snowshoe

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Tubbs Flex VRT 1

Specs:
– Price: $280 
– Length: 25” (64cm) – also available in 29” (74cm)
– Max recommended load: 220lbs (100kg) – 250lbs (113kg) for 29 in. 
– Weight per pair: 4.6lbs (2.1kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: All mountain/technical/steep

Whoever said composite deck snowshoes couldn’t tackle serious terrain never stepped foot in the Tubbs Flex VRT. These aggressive backcountry snowshoes pack some of the most intense traction we’ve ever seen, plastic or otherwise, and includes a slew of modern technical features to boot. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Tubbs Flex VRT 2
Tubbs’ latest iteration of the Flex VRT includes super-aggressive traction rails and crampons as well as a revised tail section with steel studs for improved grip.

Our testers were thoroughly impressed by Tubbs’ latest update to the Flex VRT, which now features the most aggressive traction aids the company has ever employed. We gave the shoe high marks for its full-length steel rails, which are now among the deepest and sharpest on the market. We also noted that Tubbs’ trademark “Viper 2.0” crampon, which employs 360 degrees of absolutely wicked-looking teeth, delivered fantastic bite on icy terrain, and never gave an inch on even the steepest slopes. Tubbs has also revised the tail section of the Flex VRT, and the outgoing design’s shallow steel rails have been replaced with six studs embedded in raised sections of the decking, which our testers noted provide improved grip when descending steep slopes. 

The Flex VRT still delivers the same outstanding walkability these shoes have become known for thanks to Tubbs’ “torsion deck” design, which takes advantage of the brand’s nylon composite decking material to allow the shoe a degree of flex over uneven terrain. We found the tail section of this shoe to be particularly flexible, which makes for a pleasantly natural walking experience over packed snow or groomed trails. We also gave this shoe high marks for its revised BOA binding system, which now includes a dedicated toe stop for optimal security and fool-proof foot placement.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Tubbs Flex VRT 3
The Tubbs Flex VRT is as capable an off-trail hiking snowshoe as you could ask for, and made for a reliable companion on our recent backcountry backpacking trip. 

Our testers considered these shoes to be among the best in the business, coming in just behind shoes like the Atlas Range-MTN in terms of overall performance. Ultimately the Tubbs’ didn’t feel quite as composed when descending in steep slow, which cost them a few points in the traction department. We’ll also note that the super-aggressive design of the Viper 2.0 crampons seems to dig into ice a bit too aggressively, which gives these shoes a bit of an awkward (yet extremely sure-footed) feeling when crossing icy sections or melt-freeze snow. Read our full test and review of the Tubbs Flex VRT…

Pros:Cons:
– Top-tier technical performer
– Excellent bindings
– Less expensive than other premium models
– Good-not-great for ice and steep descents
– Typical noisy plastic decking

Check at Women’s Amazon




TSL Symbioz Elite 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - TSL Symbioz Elite 1

Specs:
– Price: $280
– Length: 20.5” (53cm) – also available in 23.5” (59cm) and 27” (69cm)
– Max recommended load: 180lbs (82kg) – 260lbs (118kg) for 23.5 in. and 300lbs (136kg) 27 in.
– Weight per pair: 4.1lbs (1.9kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Packed/groomed trails, moderate terrain

If we were handing out an award for the most fun you can possibly have in a snowshoe, the TSL Symbioz Elite would be the front-runner. With its trademark “Hyperflex” decking, compact footprint, and outstanding traction, this shoe puts a unique “spring” in your step that made us want to absolutely charge up powdery hills with abandon.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - TSL Symbioz Elite 2
The TSL Symbioz Elite’s decking is designed to flex and transfer energy back into your step, making them extremely walkable and fun whenever we wanted to pick up the pace.

In addition to the addictive walking experience, we also give the Symbioz high marks for traction. TSL incorporates a unique system of eight massive teeth, a razor-sharp toe crampon, and molded plastic traverse supports to deliver outstanding grip on even the iciest descents. We were a bit standoffish about the lack of a traditional traction rail on this shoe at first, but we’ve got to give credit where credit is due: TSL really did their homework here, and their ability to preserve flexibility without sacrificing grip on icy surfaces deserves recognition.

The other major highlight of the Symbioz Elite is the binding, which incorporates TSL’s trademark three-way adjustability for the most comfortable and secure fit on the market. Once properly dialed into your footwear, these bindings give a near-telepathic connection with the ground below, allowing these shoes to confidently take you places normally outside the wheelhouse of such a compact design.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - TSL Symbioz Elite 3
While they may not have the best outright flotation, we still managed to have an absolute blast in deep powder with in the Symbioz Elite.

The main drawback of the TSL Symbioz Elite is its limited versatility. While we thoroughly enjoyed taking these shoes into places they probably weren’t intended to go, walking through deep snow takes much more effort than top performers like the Atlas Range-MTN and MSR Lightning Ascent, making both models a better candidate for long days in the backcountry. The Symbioz is also fairly expensive considering its somewhat limited design, although there’s no denying it wants for nothing in terms of material quality and durability. These shoes will be a home run for folks who love getting some exercise on trails and groomers, but don’t want to miss out on the occasional off-trail pursuit as well. Read our full test and review of the TSL Symbioz Elite…

Pros:Cons:
– Most secure bindings we’ve tested
– Outstanding traction
– Excellent walkability
– Expensive
– Less versatile than other premium models



Atlas Run

Best Snowshoes - Atlas Run 1

​​Specs:
– Price: $270
– Length: 22” (56cm)
– Max recommended load: 190lbs (86kg)
– Weight per pair: 2.3lbs (37oz)
– Snowshoe terrain: Flat/groomed

While most snowshoes focus their efforts on delivering all-around performance, the Atlas Run is built for one thing and one thing only: Speed. Light, fast, and stable, these shoes allow you go all-out on your local trails with confidence.

Best Snowshoes - Atlas Run 2
The Atlas Run’s laser-focused design make them ideal for going full-speed over packed snow.

Truly unlike any other snowshoe on our list, the Atlas Run employs a minimalist design that focuses on speed and traction over packed/icy snow at the expense of everything else. Traction is limited to an aggressive forward crampon for midfoot striking and a small rear traction plate at the heel to manage rolling elevation changes. 

We’re particularly keen on the Run’s unique “Speed Helix” bindings, which employ a forefoot-only BOA system lashed to the frame by Atlas’s wrap-around Spring Loaded Suspension design. This combination lends a runner the maximum possible feel underfoot while still allowing each step to flex within the confines of the nylon decking to conform to the terrain below. 

Best Snowshoes - Atlas Run 3
The Run’s uniquely minimalist bindings and wrap-around suspension system allow your feet to flex with the terrain underneath for improved feel and confidence on the move.

If you’re interested in going fast on the snow, the Atlas Run is our top recommendation, but traditional snowshoe users will likely find them lacking. Atlas’ focus on speed means these shoes don’t offer a ton of floatation for deep snow or traction for technical terrain, so we don’t recommend these shoes for anything outside of running and/or hiking on packed snow or groomed terrain with minimal elevation change. 

Pros:Cons:
– Built for speed
– Lightweight and minimalist design improves long-distance fatigue
– Advanced BOA binding goes on fast and allows for quick adjustments on the fly
– Not ideal for deep snow or technical terrain
– More expensive than most all-terrain options



Tubbs Flex TRK

Best Snowshoes - Tubbs Flex TRK 1

​​Specs:
– Price: $170
– Length: 24”, 22” (61cm, 56cm)
– Max recommended load: 200 lbs (91kg)
– Weight per pair: 3.9lbs (1.8kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Intermediate/rolling

There’s no shortage of competition out there for budget-friendly, composite deck snowshoes, and Tubb’s Flex TRK makes a strong showing for options under the $200 mark. Like its competitors from MSR and Atlas, the Flex TRK delivers quality and commendable traction for the money, but we found it also has a few notable tricks up its sleeve. 

Best Snowshoes - Tubbs Flex TRK 2
We’ve found the Tubbs Flex TRK provide solid all-around traction that works well over rolling terrain in fresh or packed snow.

The first thing that struck us about the Flex TRK is that its 24” decks carry the highest load capacity in the segment at a whopping 200lbs without the need to add any additional tails for support. That’s even better than the larger 25” decks found on Tubbs’ own flagship Flex VRT shoes, albeit for about $100 less. 

The second is that that materials of the Flex TRK, both in the decking and binding straps, feels much more robust than the simplified webbing designs of most shoes at this price. This is notable for us because while we’ve never managed to snap a webbed binding in our testing, many owners report these designs snapping in extreme cold after a season or two. 

Best Snowshoes - Tubbs Flex TRK 3
Three quick-release ratchet straps make getting in and out of the Tubbs fast and drama-free.

In terms of shortcomings the Tubbs Flex TRK share the same traction issues common to other models in this price range: There’s plenty of bite underfoot for intermediate terrain and rolling elevation changes, but something more aggressive is still required for steep and icy terrain. We’ll also note that the Flex TRK comes with above-average 16-degree heel lifts, which is great for fairly steep climbs, but may feel overkill on gentler slopes. 

Pros:Cons:
– Great performance for the money
– Solid floatation and higher maximum capacity
– Above average material quality
– Not enough bite for steep and icy terrain
– Plastic decks are loud on packed snow

Check Women’s REI / Check Women’s Amazon




Atlas Montane: Best Traditional Snowshoe

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Montane 1

Specs:
– Price: $250
– Length: 25” (64cm) – also available in 30” (76cm) and 35” (89cm)
– Max recommended load: 200lbs (91kg) – 250lbs (113kg) for 30” in. and 300+lbs (136kg) for 35 in.
– Weight per pair: 4.4lbs (2.0kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Moderate to deep snow / Moderate terrain

While traditional tubular snowshoes and their wrap-around deckings have largely fallen out of fashion, the Atlas Montane reminds us that quality and comfort never go out of style. These shoes’ combination of old-school charm and premium materials may not compete with the latest and greatest tech-focused options, but they’re still an absolute pleasure to take hiking off-trail and deep snow.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Montane 2
The Montane’s tubular frame and flexible decking deliver best-in-class flotation, making it one of our favorites in testing for long days in deep powder.

As is the case with most traditional shoes, the Montane’s plus-sized footprint and flexible decking material delivered outstanding flotation, making this one of the most enjoyable shoes for walking in deep powder. Our testers were particularly fond of the Montane’s “spring-loaded suspension” design, which suspends the binding underfoot using a length of burly reinforced fabric. This setup allows the Montane’s binding to articulate and flex within the confines of the tubular frame, so each step has an added degree of “cushion” while also better conforming to uneven terrain. 

Call us nostalgic, but our testers also still have love for the Montane’s classic “Wrapp Swift” binding, which uses nylon webbing straps backed with Eva padding for a comfortable yet secure fit. This is one of the quickest and easiest systems to get in and out of even in the iciest conditions, and we hope Atlas keeps it around for years to come.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Atlas Montane 3
Atlas’ classic nylon webbing binding may look dated next to a modern BOA system, but it still delivers outstanding comfort, security, and ease of use. 

Unfortunately the Montane starts to show its age over more technical terrain, which limits its versatility compared with modern designs like the Atlas’ own Range-MTN. The shoe boasts a solid crampon and even a set of traction rails with an integrated traverse support riveted to the decking, but these aids simply can’t keep up with the latest and greatest. The Atlas Montane is still an incredibly comfortable shoe made with the highest-quality materials, however, so if a snowy backwood with a carpet of fresh powder is your happy place, these shoes will serve you well for years to come. Read our full test and review of the Atlas Montane…

Pros:Cons:
– Comfortable, capable, and user-friendly
– Excellent flotation
– Premium build quality
– Lacks performance of modern designs
– Costs about the same as more modern shoe

Check at Women’s REI / Check at Women’s Amazon




Buyer’s Guide: How To Choose A Snowshoe

So what makes any good snowshoe worth buying? Clearly there are several factors at play here, and to that end, we’ve put together the detailed buyer’s guide down below. Here you’ll find a breakdown of each of the metrics we evaluate in our field testing, why they’re important, and what to look for in any shoe you’re considering, whether it’s on the list above or another model we didn’t mention.

Flotation

Flotation refers to how well a snowshoe keeps you suspended over deep snow, or how well it “floats” you on the surface. In serious powder, even the best hiking snowshoes will sink to a certain degree, but our main goal here is for the shoes to keep you close enough to the surface to make walking as smooth as possible. 

We test each snowshoe’s flotation by hiking several miles in each model through several feet of fresh powder. We do this over both flat terrain and varying degrees of incline to ensure that every shoe not only floats well in deep snow, but also has the stability to ride high and level regardless of the terrain.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Flotation
Larger decks like those on the Atlas Montane seen here tend to do better when hiking through deep snow.

Typically, we’ve found that shoes with more overall surface area (wider and longer decking) tend to score the best in this metric. This includes traditional tubular shoes like the Atlas Montane, but with the right shape and design, we’ve also had more compact shoes like the MSR Lightning Ascent and Atlas Range-MTN deliver similar flotation without the added bulk. 

Keep in mind that with a few notable exceptions, most snowshoes strike a compromise between compactness and flotation in the name of walkability. Smaller, more narrow snowshoes tend to make for easier and more natural-feeling steps (particularly in packed snow), so more versatile models typically aim to deliver adequate flotation without losing their on-trail walkability. 

Traction 

If there’s one factor that separates the best snowshoes from the rest, it’s traction. How much or how little traction your shoes create over various surfaces determines whether or not you’ll be able to venture off trail, up steep slopes, or across challenging surfaces like ice and melt-freeze snow.

The most common (and effective) traction aids you’ll see today are traction rails. These are the serrated metal teeth that run along the bottom of the shoe parallel to your foot. Generally speaking, we look for full-length traction rails that run the full length of the shoe, and those with deeper/sharper teeth typically perform better than less aggressive designs.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Traction 1
The Tubbs Flex VRT seen here is a great example of an effective traction rail.

Snowshoe crampons are your second line of defense against slippage, and work much the same way as mountaineering crampons. Because crampons are directly connected to your boot bindings, they provide a more direct means of putting traction to the ground. The best crampons feature multiple aggressive teeth distributed at various angles around the foot for the best grip possible with each step. 

We also prefer to see crampons as part of a hinged binding system (more on that below), as this allows for more articulation and therefore better penetration into the ground below. You’ll also notice that certain models rely exclusively on crampons for traction, and this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. We’ve had excellent results snowshoeing in a few crampon-only models over the years, and find that a well-designed spike layout is well-suited for moderate terrain.

The last main traction aid we look for is traverse supports, which are perpendicular rails made from either metal or plastic, depending on the shoe in question. Traverse supports provide traction on steep surfaces (both fresh snow and ice) by digging in to resist forward or backward sliding. Snowshoes without some type of traverse support are rarely (if ever) effective over technical terrain, so this is a must-have for maximum versatility. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Traction 2
A close up of an effective traverse support on the underside of the MSR Lightning Ascent.

Walkability

Walkability is the metric we use to describe the overall walking experience of a given snowshoe. This includes everything from how it “handles” trudging through deep powder to how natural it feels walking over hard-packed groomers and snowy roads. There’s no cut-and-dry formula for good walkability, but if a natural-feeling stride is high on your priority list, here’s what we recommend looking out for.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Walkability
The compact footprint and extremely flexible decking of the TSL Symbioz Elite makes for outstanding overall walkability.

The first is the overall size of the footprint, and generally speaking, the smaller the shoe, the easier it walks. We’ve found this to be the case for more compact designs in our testing like the TSL Symbioz Elite and the MSR Lightning Ascent, but there are also exceptions to the rule. 

Our favorite example currently is the Atlas Range-MTN, which is one of the longest shoes in our testing, yet also happens to be an absolute joy to walk in. The Range-MTN is a bit of an outlier due to its extra-narrow width, but it just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

Another feature that almost always makes for a more natural feeling stride is flexibility. Composite snowshoes have a well-deserved reputation for high walkability because their plastic decks allow the shoes to “flex” to one degree or another. This lets them better conform to uneven terrain, and also allows the tail sections of the shoe to give under pressure, so you don’t feel like you’re fighting the shoe for each step. 

Plastic decks have a reputation for being noisy over more packed terrain, however, and at the end of the day, even the most flexible decks are still rigid by comparison to reinforced fabric options. For this reason, we typically prefer a “best of both worlds” approach combining a flexible fabric decking with a rigid outer frame, as these shoes still provide a fair amount of cushion underfoot without waking up the neighborhood on harder surfaces.  

Snowshoe Bindings

All other things equal, the bindings of your snowshoe can make or break your experience in a number of ways. A good binding fits securely over your footwear without creating any pinching or discomfort as you walk, which can be a fine line to toe.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Bindings
TSL’s three-way adjustable bindings, like those seen on the Symbioz Elite here, deliver equal parts walking comfort and security.

Different hikers need different levels of security out of their bindings. If you’re trudging through deep snow or tackling aggressively steep climbs and descents, the last thing you want is for your foot to wiggle its way out of your snowshoe. For this reason, we prioritize security over comfort for the most technical snowshoes (the MSR Lighting Ascent is a great example), but our favorite models tend to deliver both with minimal compromise (such as the Atlas Range MTN). 

With that being said, simpler bindings typically come on more budget-friendly shoes, and if you’re not looking to go nuts in the backcountry, you may actually prefer a slightly less restrictive binding in exchange for optimal walking comfort. We’ll also note that ease of use is a major contributor to overall binding performance, which is why a best-of-both-worlds system like the BOA binding is more popular than ever. 

Durability

The best snowshoes are a big investment, and as such, we expect them to last for years and years of use and abuse. The importance of durability is twofold, and we prioritize it both for reliability and longevity. 

The longevity aspect should be fairly self-explanatory, as no one wants their $200+ snowshoe breaking a strap or tearing a deck after a season or two. Traction, walkability, and flotation are all nice to have, but if something fails in the middle of a hike, the result can be anywhere from inconvenient to catastrophic, which brings us to our next point: Reliability.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Durability 1
Beefy rivets, a solid aluminum frame, and thick decking fabric all make the MSR Lightning Ascent one of the most durable shoes on the market. 

A durable snowshoe is one that you can count on to get you out there and back, and the further you wander off the beaten path, the more important this becomes. Getting stranded in a remote wilderness with miles of deep snow between you and civilization is a recipe for disaster, and something we’d all like to avoid. 

The first thing to wear out on most shoes are the binding straps, as they’re constantly exposed to tension, abrasion, and extreme swings in temperature. Rubberized plastic straps have been known to deteriorate after years of regular use, but they’re also easy to repair and affordable to replace. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Durability 2
Rubberized straps, like these seen on the Atlas Helium Trail, will lose their elasticity over the years, but they’re typically simple and inexpensive to replace. 

BOA systems, on the other hand, are designed to last for the lifetime of the product, and are even covered by a lifetime guarantee for repair/replacement. We’ve also found nylon webbing bindings like the Atlas “Wrapp Swift” system to be a good compromise between the two, as the straps last forever and the riveted plastic they’re attached to feels just as durable. 

The other major durability item we evaluate is the decking itself. For plastic deck shoes, we look at the thickness of the material, its ability to flex under stress, and how well each of the traction/binding components are anchored to the decking, ideally with heavy-gauge rivets.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Durability 3
The flexible fabric decking of the Atlas Range-MTN is attached to the inside of the frame, minimizing wear and tear from the ground below. 

For flexible fabric decks, we look at the thickness of the material itself, as well as how it’s attached to the frame. The best designs are riveted directly to the frame, so there’s no concern about undue wear and tear from constant abrasion underfoot. The wrap around decking found on tractional tubular frame shoes can be a concern depending on the overall material quality, but we’ve found it to be plenty robust on designs like the Atlas Montane seen below. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Durability 4
The Atlas Montane, on the other hand, uses a wrap-around attachment, but as you can see, the material is built to handle the added abuse. 

Lastly, we also consider repairability as an important aspect of durability, both for long-term care and impromptu repairs, and no shoe is a better example of this than the MSR Lightning Ascent. MSR designed the binding of the Ascent to be easily repaired/replaced in the field without any tools, which beats the hell out of trying to cobble together a fix with wire and duct tape to get you home in a pinch. The easier a snowshoe is to repair, the less it will cost you in the long run, so we factor this into our evaluations as well. 

Value

As is often the case with any outdoor gear, the value of a good pair of snowshoes is highly subjective. Let’s take two radically different shoes into consideration to better illustrate our point: Atlas’ top-shelf Range-MTN and their budget-friendly Atlas Helium Trail. 

Both shoes deliver excellent value for the money, yet the Atlas Range-MTN costs twice as much as the Helium Trail. So how can both shoes be a smart buy? Simple: It depends entirely on the end user.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Value 1
The MSR Lightning Ascent and TSL Symbioz Elite both deliver excellent value for the money, albeit for two very different hikers. 

Let’s start with the Atlas Range-MTN: With a current MSRP of $320, there’s no denying this is one of the most expensive snowshoes that money can buy, yet it’s also an outstanding value. This is because the Range-MTN is built to the exacting specifications of mountaineers, who often use them on the approach to a summit where failure can have serious consequences. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Value 2
One look at the Atlas Range-MTN and you’ll know where your money went: This shoe lacks nothing in performance or build quality.

That means you’re paying for an uncompromising level of performance, giving you every right to expect your shoes to handle the most treacherous terrain on the planet. If you’re just looking to go hiking around groomed trails or the backcountry with your friends on the weekend, however, chances are shoes like this aren’t a great value for you, as you’ll rarely (if ever) use them to their full potential.

And that’s where the value of a shoe like the Atlas Helium Trail comes into play. For just $150, you’re getting everything you need to hike groomed trails or deep backcountry powder, and you’re also getting the trickle-down technology and expertise of a brand that makes some of the best shoes in the business. Are these shoes valuable to hikers who need something like the Range-MTN above for steep climbs and icy terrain? Absolutely not. Are they valuable to anyone else? You bet.

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Value 3
The Atlas Helium Trail is still a great value, but its bindings, traction, and construction all reflect its budget-friendly build.

Conclusion

Well there you have it: All the best hiking snowshoes of the year, as tested by the team here at The Wise Adventurer. Our aim with this guide has been to help you choose the best snowshoe for the season, and to help explain what makes any good snowshoe worth having. 

Best Snowshoes of 2023 - Conclusion
The Atlas Range-MTN: Our pick for the best snowshoe out there in 2023/2024

If you’re looking for the best shoe in the business at any price, you can’t go wrong with the Atlas Range-MTN. Our testers found no flaws in this innovative all-new design, and believe the Range-MTN has set a new standard for traction, comfort, and walkability, and all for a few dollars less than the previous “king of the mountain” MSR Lightning Ascent. 

Of course the MSR Lightning Ascent still has its place in the backcountry, which is why we choose it as the highest overall quality pick. Traction and walkability on these shoes are right up there with the Atlas above, but both come in at a few ounces less., The Lightning Ascent also makes for an easier shoe to repair/rebuild out in the field, which comes in handy for folks venturing far off the beaten path. 

Of course not everyone is looking to traverse the globe in their snowshoes, and if you’re just looking for a solid performing shoe to tackle easy to moderate terrain, the Atlas Helium Trail packs solid traction and flotation for half the price of its top-shelf competition. The fact that it’s also the lightest shoe on the market is just icing on the cake, but a feature your tired legs will appreciate just the same.

As always, if you’ve got any questions, feel free to drop us a comment down below. We’ll see you out there! 

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