The TSL 325 Phoenix
– Price: $200
– Length: 23.5” (60cm) – also available in 21.5” (55cm)
– Max recommended load: 260 lbs (118kg) – 180 lbs (82kg) for 21.5 in.
– Weight per pair: 3.9 lbs (1.8kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Rolling/moderate terrain
The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict
This is our review of the TSL 325 Phoenix, an affordably priced snowshoe that’s ideal for hiking over packed snow and groomed trails.
The Phoenix is TSL’s latest in their heritage line of composite snowshoes. That’s an important note to make because not only did TSL pioneer the world’s first plastic shoe in 1981, but the hourglass design you see here also harkens back to the world’s first “technically sophisticated” snowshoe, the TSL Rando.
Much of what we consider “essential” technical features like lightweight decks, adjustable bindings, and heel lifters are innovations that stem from the original Rando 225, which according to TSL remains the most widely sold snowshoe of all time. The 325 Phoenix is essentially the direct descendent of a design that changed the industry, albeit with the company’s first-ever decking made from recycled plastic, so we set out to see how TSL’s newest classic is getting along in the modern world.
TSL 325 Phoenix Snowshoes: Detailed Evaluation
In our snowshoes field testing, we seek to test each pair of snowshoes on every metric that makes any pair worth buying, following the same standardized methodology. This includes everything from how they perform over specific types of terrain to big-picture items like their walkability, comfort, or traction.
We aim to put each snowshoe through its paces in everything from off-trail exploration to groomed and packed trails to give you an accurate depiction of what to expect. Here’s our take after some serious hikes spent with the TSL 325 Phoenix.
The Phoenix’s traction comes from a combination of six replaceable steel studs, TSL’s “Design 3D” decking system, and a toe crampon with a strong forward bias. This setup looks underwhelming at best compared to other snowshoes we’ve tested, but we found it wasn’t completely without merit in the field.
The steel studs do a decent job of punching into frozen snow for traction over icy terrain, but there’s nowhere near enough transverse support to make these shoes stable on steep inclines. The Phoenix’s bare bottom raises some questions, but TSL’s minimalist design actually serves a specific purpose.
This is to allow the aforementioned 3D decking system to do its thing: TSL designed the plastic ridges incorporated on the underside of the shoe to do the majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to traction. These elevated ridges aren’t nearly enough for confident off-trail exploration, but when it comes to groomed trails, they hit a real sweet spot between traction and flexibility without weighing the shoe down.
Of all the shoes we’ve tested over the last few years, the TSL 325 Phoenix struggled the most with flotation. We’re not sure if it’s the lack of surface area from the large cutouts in the decking or something to do with the aggressively tapered hourglass shape, but for whatever reason, these shoes just didn’t want to stay upright in deep snow.
Every few steps, these shoes would want to sink into the snow (particularly toward the outside of our stride), which limited our confidence when exploring off-trail. They never quite felt stable in the soft stuff, which ultimately limited our enjoyment to packed trails and groomers.
While hiking through deep snow in the TSL Phoenix can feel like a chore, we actually score these shoes high in overall walkability, assuming you stick to the beaten path. On packed snow, the Phoenix feels lightweight and eager to push ahead, and its comparatively compact footprint and flexible decking make for a natural-feeling stride.
Interestingly enough, our testers commented that compared side to side with an other budget-friendly shoe we tested, the Atlas Helium Trail, the Phoenix actually feels more agile on groomed trails and packed snow. That’s important to note because the Atlas is a full 8 ounces lighter than the TSL Phoenix, which means that the compact hourglass shape still has its advantages when it comes to walkability.
Despite the Phoenix’s shortcomings, we’ve got to hand it to the folks at TSL for this binding. By combining their trademark 3-way-adjustability with the modern convenience of a BOA dial system, they’ve given this budget-focused shoe one of the most comfortable and secure bindings on the market.
With customizable settings for the length, width, and ankle height of your specific boot or shoe, there’s just no question of your feet wiggling around or coming out of this binding. You’ll have to spend a little extra time setting them up before wearing them out for the first time, but once they’re dialed in for your footwear, they’re some of the quickest and easiest to use on the market.
We have no serious durability concerns with the TSL 325 Phoenix and had zero issues with them after dozens of miles of testing. TSL has been making composite decks like this for decades, and we have no doubt there are still some of their original 225 Rando snowshoes in service to this day. As noted above, the only major difference here is that the Phoenix uses recycled material rather than virgin plastic in the decking, but there is no discernable difference in quality or feel between the two materials.
The same story goes for the bindings, and while BOA systems haven’t been around nearly as long as some designs, we have zero concerns with them aside from their well-documented tendency to ice up in extreme conditions. We’ll also note that both the binding components and the traction studs are completely rebuildable, which bodes well for longevity.
The TSL Phoenix has a lot going for it value-wise, but its technical limitations will no doubt limit its perceived value for many hikers. On the one hand, these shoes are built to last, have utterly premium bindings, and are fantastic to walk in over highly trafficked trails and moderate terrain.
On the other hand, while the Phoenix is more affordable than most, there are cheaper options like the Atlas Helium Trail out there that deliver better traction and flotation for less money. We consider the Phoenix to be a solid value for hikers who limit themselves to established trails and packed snow, but if deep powder and backcountry exploration are high on your priority list, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
What We Like
The TSL Phoenix certainly has its limitations, but it also has a lot going for it if you stick to the right terrain. For instance, the shoe’s grip is limited by a lack of traction rails and aggressive crampons, but it wouldn’t be nearly as flexible or lightweight if TSL added them into the mix.
The tradeoff here is that although the Phoenix really has no business on steep terrain or deep powdery snow, it’s a great match for groomers or high-traffic routes through flat or rolling terrain. The compact decking and hourglass shape may lack flotation, but it makes for a more natural feeling walk, which is particularly nice to have on firmer ground.
Aside from that, the big highlight of the TSL Phoenix is the bindings. The combination of TSL’s three-way adjustable binding and the convenience and simplicity of a BOA system is a winning combination any way you look at it. Although the shoes themselves are limited, these bindings can go toe-to-toe with the best in the business.
What We Don’t Like
The most obvious drawback of these snowshoes is their lack of versatility. Their limited traction and flotation resign them primarily to groomers and packed snow, which is unfortunate considering the TSL 325 Phoenix is priced like a much more capable shoe.
These snowshoes drive a particularly hard bargain considering the much more capable and less expensive elephant in the room that goes by the name of the Atlas Helium Trail. For $50 less, Atlas’ beginner-friendly model delivers better traction, flotation, and all-around stability, albeit with a much less sophisticated binding.
- TSL Symbioz Elite: A great alternative for those who love TSL bindings but want better traction. Read our full test and review of the TSL Symbioz Elite…
- Atlas Helium Trail: An even more affordable option with a less impressive binding but better overall performance and versatility. Read our full test and review of the Atlas Helium Trail…
- Tubbs Flex VRT: Another BOA binding option, albeit one with better traction and floatation for a few dollars more. Read our full test and review of the Tubbs Flex VRT…
The Bottom Line
While the TSL 325 Phoenix will be a familiar experience for seasoned hikers who have spent some time in a classic hourglass TSL snowshoe, the design is definitely starting to show its age and struggles to compete with newer models we’ve tested. It still delivers the same legendary walking comfort and easy-going strides on packed or groomed trails, but outside of those conditions, it feels a bit out of its element.
With that being said, we believe the classic TSL design still has its place in the snowshoeing world. As far as groomer-friendly shoes go, the TSL 325 Phoenix carves out a niche as an affordable shoe with an utterly premium binding, so casual users looking for a custom-tailored fit with the simplicity of a BOA dial will do well in this classic shoe.