The TSL Symbioz Elite
– 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
The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict
This is our review of the TSL Symbioz Elite, a unique snowshoe with a flexible design unlike anything else on the market.
Pound for pound, the TSL Symbioz Elite is arguably the most interesting snowshoeing experience we’ve had. With its flexible decking and compact footprint, walking in the Symbioz feels somewhere between a running shoe and a snowshoe, and that is absolutely a compliment.
It’s only natural that a design this radically different would come from the folks at TSL, who pioneered the original plastic snowshoe back in 1981, and went on to continue innovating composite snowshoes and articulating bindings for the next 40 years. Their Symbioz line of products represents the forefront of TSL’s research and development, and while the Symbioz name has been on the market for the better part of a decade, the Sympioz Elite is the latest evolution in the brand’s “hyperflex” technology.
Alright, enough history for now: Let’s get into the details of the Symbioz Elite.
TSL Symbioz Elite: Our Detailed Evaluation
In our snowshoes field testing, we seek to evaluate each pair of snowshoes on every metric that makes any pair worth buying, based on the same standardized methodology. This includes everything from nitty-gritty details on how they perform over specific types of terrain to big-picture items like their overall comfort and day-to-day walkability.
We aim to put each snowshoe through its paces in everything from steep and technical off-trail exploration to groomed-and-packed hiking trails to give you an accurate depiction of what to expect. Here are our tester’s impressions after logging some miles in the TSL Symbioz Elite snowshoes.
Two of the TSL Symbioz Elite’s most distinct features are (a) its compact size and (b) its incredible flexibility. As such, it should come as no surprise that floatation in deep snow isn’t one of this shoe’s strong suits.
With that being said, we spent as much time wearing the Symbioz in deep snow as every other shoe in our field test, and they still get the job done. The TSL Symbioz elite has one of the most stable feeling bindings we’ve ever tested (more on that below), and as a consequence, it’s an easy shoe to put down some serious power in.
Soft and deep snow definitely required more effort in the Symbioz than most others, but their light and springy nature kept the experience enjoyable. Long flat sections of soft powder are these shoes’ least favorite terrain, but our testers enjoyed every second of speeding up and down powdery hills in these sporty shoes.
When it comes to traction, the TSL Symbioz Elite is hands down one of the best we’ve ever tested. TSL equips these shoes with a razor-sharp toe crampon and four sets of massive bi-directional spikes, both of which dig in and hold on for dear life.
Our testers likened walking in the Symbioz Elite to wearing mountaineering boots with ice-climbing crampons: So long as you put enough pressure on whatever surface you’re on, these snowshoes feel rock solid and secure. The added flexibility of the decking also allows these shoes to conform to uneven surfaces, which helps each of the individual spikes find its mark over sketchy terrain.
In addition to the Symbioz’ unique underfoot traction, we also felt that TSL’s outstandingly secure binding played an outsized role in the equation here. You need confidence in your steps when walking over slick and icy terrain, and these bindings give an almost telepathic feeling of connection to the ground below: There’s just no question about what’s going on under your boot, and that’s a major plus.
Walking in the TSL Symbioz Elite was a love-it-or-hate-it affair for our testers: Specifically, all of them loved it save for one.
It’s definitely a unique feeling, and the best way we can think to describe it is “spring loaded.” See, TSL uses carbon fiber reinforcements on top of their ultra-flexible decking, which gives each step a progressive degree of “bounce.” The resulting feeling is almost like being propelled forward with each step, which makes this one of the most enjoyable shoes to walk in at a brisk pace.
Don’t get us wrong, the Symbioz still feels like a pair of snowshoes (you won’t mistake them for a pair of trail runners), but it’s almost like they’re constantly encouraging you to push forward with every step. This is particularly pronounced (and effective) over packed snow or groomed trails, which the Symbioz handle better than anything else we’ve tested.
As you probably picked up on earlier, we’re big fans of the bindings on the Symbioz Elite. This system is completely unique from any other brand in our testing, and delivers outstanding security without sacrificing comfort.
The secret to these unique bindings is all in the setup. TSL uses a “pre-set” design, which allows you to configure the bindings to the exact length, width, and ankle height of your footwear. Once you’ve got these dimensions locked in, all you have to do is step into the binding and tighten the two cam straps.
The result is a lightning-fast binding that always delivers a custom-tailored feel and an outrageously secure fit. If you’ve ever strapped into a beefy snowboard binding, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the Symbioz, and the well-padded ankle strap should feel particularly familiar.
Really the only drawback of this system is the initial setup procedure. For best results, you need to adjust each of the binding’s three dimensions for your specific boot or shoe, so you’ll spend a little extra time dialing them at the beginning of your first session.
Once your measurements are locked in, however, you don’t need to fumble with them again, so unless you regularly bounce back and forth between footwear (or share your shoes with a partner), this will be a feature rather than a bug.
Given the Symbioz’s reputation for flexibility, we were a little concerned these shoes would feel a bit flimsy before we received them in the mail. We couldn’t have been more wrong in that regard, and every inch of these shoes feels solid and high-tech.
Take those flexible decks, for instance. You can bend these things all you want (we certainly did) and they never show any sign of wear or fatigue. The carbon fiber reinforcement plates create a progressive degree of resistance as the binding flex, and also ensure they snap right back into shape after each step.
The same quality is present in the bindings. Our testers felt the bindings on the TSL Symbioz Elite were likely the most durable we tested. The buckles and straps all feel overbuilt (in the best way possible), there are no rubberized materials to worry about snapping down the line, and even the padding in the ankle straps is protected from deterioration by a layer of tough nylon fabric.
The TSL Symbioz Elite is a highly technical snowshoe made of highly-durable materials. As such, it costs a pretty penny, but we’re of the opinion it’s worth every cent (especially when you can find them under MSRP).
There’s just no better shoe out there for packed snow and groomed trails. You’ll also love every minute of the Symbioz experience if you’re reasonably fit and want to pick up the pace, and that goes for pretty much any terrain out there outside of long, flat stretches of deep powder.
With that being said, a few caveats are bound to come with a shoe this unique. First, while most of us absolutely loved the combination of a super-secure binding with a super-flexible decking, the experience likely won’t be for everyone. The Symbioz simply isn’t a traditional snowshoe, so if flotation and rigidity are high on your list, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Second, that same lack of floatation will limit the Symbioz’ appeal for snowshoers looking for the most technical and efficient option for off-trail exploration. We’d give the overall performance nod to narrower designs with less flexible frames (the Atlas Range MTN is a great example), as they’ll be easier and more natural to walk in over a wider variety of terrain.
What We Like
We found a lot to love with this snowshoe. Walkability is excellent, comfort is top-notch, and the bindings of these shoes are incredibly secure. The springboard feeling of the carbon/plastic composite decking is like nothing else on the market, and gives these shoes an athletic and energized feel that’ll make you want to push yourself over any terrain.
Speaking of terrain, there’s just no denying that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better performer over packed snow and groomed trails. The outstanding traction of the Symbioz’ jagged teeth and aggressive crampons works great anywhere, but as a whole, no other design shines quite as brightly over harder terrain.
What We Don’t Like
As noted above, the Symbioz just isn’t ideal for deep, powdery snow. We hiked through plenty of it during our testing, and even enjoyed climbing and descending in fresh snow, but for long and flat sections of soft terrain, the Symbioz is definitely outclassed to one degree or another by other shoes.
This makes the TSL Symbioz Elite a bit of a “specialist” option with a narrower focus than some others in our testing, which will impact their perceived value for some users. While the Symbioz certainly isn’t the most expensive option out there, it isn’t particularly budget-friendly either, so hikers looking for one shoe that does everything well may find their money better spent elsewhere.
- MSR Lightning Ascent: Uncompromising performance and versatility, but considerably more expensive. Read our full test and review of the MSR Lightning Ascent…
- Tubbs Flex VRT: A technical all-terrain performer with great walkability and an accessible price point. Read our full test and review of the Tubbs Flex VRT…
- Atlas Montane: If flotation and performance in deep snow is your top priority, this traditional-style shoe delivers the same level of quality for the same money. Read our full test and review of the Atlas Montane…
The Bottom Line
TSL’s Hyperflex line of shoes are unlike anything else you’ll see out on the trail. There’s a good reason this unique design has been selling like Pokemon cards for the last 10 years: People absolutely love TSL’s “springboard” feeling, and we’ll wager you will too. The Symbioz Elite is truly one of the best models from this range that was ever created.
The Symbioz Elite’s limited floatation wouldn’t make it our first choice if most of our snowshoeing were done in fresh powder (especially over mostly flat terrain), but the outstanding traction and impressively secure binding shine among the brightest in just about anything else.