MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe 2011 Review*

MSR’s new backcountry snowshoe, the Lightning Ascent, boasts many fanciful features, including Modular Flotation tails, dual-component, PosiLock AT bindings, cross members, Pivot Crampons, Ergo Televators, 360deg Traction frames and Pivot crampons. Unfortunately, as a newbie snowshoer, I did not grasp what most of these features meant, but fortunately, as an avid outdoors adventurer, I certainly learned to appreciate and came to understand the importance of them, especially as they accompanied me on my first ‘slog’ (to plod one’s way perseveringly especially against difficulty – thanks Merriam Webster!) up Mount Mansfield , the highest mountain in Vermont, in subzero temperatures a mere few weeks ago.

The first feature I could not help but notice and be seduced by were the aggressive, serrated edges along the bottom of the snowshoe frames; these bad boys reminded me of crampons, and I suspected that they would help stabilize my stomping and grip remarkably in hard, packed snow that I would inevitably encounter. The terrain on Mount Mansfield is steep and strenuous, coupled with 50+mph winds at the summit, so I was lured by the promise of ‘360-degree traction’ and by the end, I believed that MSR delivered on its promise. Another feature I found handy was the Ergo Televators, which I did not even know about until my then-boyfriend said to me whilst I was struggling on breaking trail on rugged, uphill terrain, ‘Hey, why don’t you flip up the heel bars? It’ll make your life much easier!’ Thanks, baby! They did indeed reduce calf fatigue on the uphill climb and I dug the ‘ergonomic design that engages with a simple flick of a pole grip,’ or, in my case, gloved fingers because I’m not as adept with the poles yet.

As a chick, I also appreciated the aerospace-grad aluminum frame (read: super lightweight frame) when a) having to strap my super snowshoes to my pack and b) sloggin’. These finer details (i.e. weighing a mere 3 lb 10 oz) matter especially during lengthy aggressive uphill approaches (after all, isn’t that what makes sloggin’ so fun?).

What wasn’t so fun? Putting on and taking them off; three straps on each snowshoe was overkill, especially when it’s -15F outside and the last thing you want to do is take off your gloves. Also, even with the gloves off, the straps were difficult to fidget with, and it seemed like the holes were too small to fit the closure, or perhaps the closure was too big to snap into the holes; in any case, they were a bit of a pain in the ass to deal with in Arctic tundra-like conditions.

The only feature I never quite grasped were the Modular Flotation tails – added, on-demand flotation of optional, 5-inch (13-cm) tails – but that’s also because I didn’t use them because I didn’t know how to use them. Maybe I’ll break them out for next year’s windy winter weekend adventure.

msr lightning ascent

MSR’s Lightning Ascent comes in either an orange or a green frame, 22″ or 25″ length, and will fit a variety of types and sizes of boots. The MSRP is $259.95 USD and they can be bought online from the MSR website at or from dealers found via the website.

*This review was originally written for Adventure Insider Magazine

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