SNOWSHOE REVIEW

By Adam W. Chase

What do trailrunners who live in Northern climes do in the winter when their trails are covered with snow? The answer to that inquiry is, for many, that they snowshoe. Some hike on snowshoes to maintain their altitude training and get to the tops of mountains. Others run on their snowshoes for a highly aerobic workout. So, what shoes are the best for winter trail runners?

It is impossible to declare that one snowshoe is better than another without knowing a whole combination of facts, such as: What is the intended use of the shoes? Will the snowshoes be the owner’s only pair? Will the shoes be used for fitness, backcountry, winter camping, mountaineering, recreation, hiking, or safety? Is the user heavy or light, and does she or he have a wide stride or a narrow stride? Are the shoes intended to last many seasons? How much is the purchaser willing to spend?

Whether you are contemplating buying your first pair of snowshoes or are looking to up-grade or add to your existing collection, the following review of a number of shoes on the market for 1998-99 offers options aplenty..

Atlas

1022: Perhaps the most popular single model of snowshoe ever produced, the "1022" gets its name from its 22-inch length and the fact that it is part of Atlas’ 10 series, which is dedicated to back-country use and technical hiking. The shoes shine as versatile, all-around recreational shoes that can be used for ascending ski and board runs or for snow running cross training. This year’s edition of the 1022 retains all the durability of the previous incarnations, with some improvements such as the asymmetrical Switchback Harness with padding for a more comfortable and controlled fit. Atlas also added a new Traverse Trac cleat for improved traction on steep slopes. If you are contemplating purchasing a single pair of shoes that you will use as a multi- purpose shoe that you will have for many seasons, the 1022 is a best bet.

Dual Trac: These sleek snowshoes are incredibly durable for their weight, or lack thereof, and perform very well for fitness-oriented snowshoers who want to push their anaerobic threshold while out on the white stuff. The Dual Trac, with its tighter and innovative curved and contoured shape, is a superb shoe for athletic women who have narrower strides or cross-trainers of either gender. Unlike some running snowshoes that are on the market, the Dual Trac gives a very balanced and stable ride and does so without compromising its weight. And, besides, the shoes’ funky "marathon green" (a.k.a. "Mountain Do" or "Fiona Apple") color is sure to stand out in the snow. The shoe might be improved if Atlas were to do away with the medial rear skeg, which doesn’t do much for support and tends to knock against the nose of the opposite shoe.

Crescent Moon

Permagrin 9: As Crescent Moon’s "everything shoe", the Permagrin 9 is just the right size to give you adequate flotation in almost any conditions without compromising the shoes’ maneuverability. As with all of the shoes in the Permagrin series, the 9 comes with an impressive ratchet binding with 20mm, Swiss-made buckles and the CM3 traction system. The binding system was one of the most secure tested and it managed to hold the foot in the proper position for added support and control. Permagrin gets its name from a combination of its designer’s dual propensities for smiling and snowboarding. Crescent Moon’s designer had become such a regular rider on a run in Beaver Creek, Colorado called "Peregrine" that locals began to name it after him. Eventually the run came to be known as "Permagrin" because of the designer’s constant smile. The name stuck.

Permagrin 13: Crescent Moon designed these shoes specifically for women or light individuals snowshoeing on firm or packed snow. The "blue-moon" frame wraps half-inch diameter aluminum in a steep, exaggerated teardrop shape and tops it with durable 35-ounce Hypalon decking. Add to that Crescent Moon’s unique CM3 system, which combines three sets of aluminum teeth — one on the toe, one under the ball of the foot, and another under the heel — for maximum traction and the Permagrin ice-shedding system to avoid snow clotting, and you have a superb lightweight shoe. The action of the binding allows for a full swing of the shoe, so full that the raised tail may nip your rear end if you are running on packed snow.

Litespeed

Diva: Litespeed is quite proud of its women’s shoe that works a six-part traction system into an attractive package that was designed with a narrow gait in mind. The frame for the Diva is something to make you sing. The seamless 6061-T6 aluminum is pound-for-pound the strongest on the market, and the malachite-colored powder coating adds a nice touch to this light-but-not-fragile snowshoe. This lightweight shoe has been the choice of some fleet-footed snowshoe racers, especially in shorter races with packed conditions.

Espresso: If you seek some pick-me-up to help you go faster on the snow, then Litespeed’s top-of-the-line Espresso will give you just the kick you need. The Espresso’s frame is constructed through a unique molding process that fashions the carbon fiber and Kevlar into a functional shape. Coming from Litespeed, maker of the acclaimed titanium bicycle frames, it should be no surprise that the Espresso is fitted out with a versatile six-piece titanium claw system that offers support and traction aplenty.

While other snowshoes qualify as running snowshoes, the Espresso is truly a racing snowshoe that has speed written all over its innovative design. The Espresso is topped off with Litespeed’s exclusive colored "super high-tear" Hypalon that is tested to be 40% lighter and 20% stronger than the Hypalon found on most other shoes. While the Espresso holds its own in powder, it also offers exceptional cushioning on hard packed or icy conditions because the carbon fiber dampens the foot’s blow.

Little Bear

Little Bear with Claws: Do the phrases "ease of use", "functional and indestructible", or "affordable price" mean anything to you? Little Bear snowshoes offer all of that in a simple, injected-molded waffle disk that supplies ample flotation and climbing stability. Although these shoes should not be considered "performance" shoes, they are certainly utilitarian. The Little Bear comes with stainless steel ice cleats, pre-drilled mounting holes for cross-country ski or snowboard binding adaptability, and a carrying sack. They are easily stored in a car for safety and are rugged enough that you can even slip them under a stuck wheel for traction.

 

MSR (Mountain Safety Research)

SnowCat: MSR’s one-piece, snow-shedding plastic snowshoes are extremely rugged and simple to use in most any snow condition because they can grow in length when you need more flotation. MSR’s unique Flotation Tails are easily installed on the shoes by pushing the 4-inch or 8-inch extensions (sold separately) into their attachment points. The SnowCat comes in two base lengths, either 21 inches or 25 inches, and features steel rails for traction and stability on both ascents and side slope traverses, durable steel crampons, and a new triple-strap binding that is mitten friendly and fits (men’s) shoe sizes 4 to 14. The SnowCat is not recommended for fitness or racing, but it makes for an excellent and relatively inexpensive hiking shoe or for those who want to ascend mountains to ski or board their way down. The only noticeable problem with the SnowCat was that ice formed a slippery plate between the plastic deck of the snowshoe and the boot or shoe, causing some slippage.

Denali: Like the SnowCat, MSR’s Denali is a simple-to-use, one-piece, three-in-one shoe that accommodates either the 4-inch or 8-inch Flotation Tails for dialed-in flotation. To prevent side-to-side heel drift, the Denali’s heel stabilizer keeps the foot parallel with the toe of the shoe and the molded plastic platform has built-in brakes molded under the heel, along the sides, and on the rear for improved traction and control on the descents. The Denali also boasts steel rails for traction to traverse side slopes, durable steel crampons, and a Boot-Loc strap binding that is easy to enter, exit, or adjust, even with mittened hands. In addition, the Denali’s True Hinge rotation design keeps the shoe on the snow without kicking snow, an attraction for those who want to avoid "wet butt syndrome" caused by snow flying on your backside. As with the SnowCat, the Denali should not be purchased for those seeking a running shoe. The Denali is recommended for hiking and climbing.

Northern Lites

Quicksilver 30: As part of Northern Lites’ more casual line of snowshoes, the Quicksilver 30 is intended for light packing, hiking, and general recreational uses. Like all of Northern Lites’ shoes, the Quicksilver comes with "TruTrak" bindings that offer a secure connection to the shoe, secure enough to eliminate slippage and annoying pigeon toeing. The problem with the bindings was the straps tend to flop around if used with smaller sized footwear (or smaller feet). The shoes also come with Northern Lites’ toe and heel crampons, de-icing pads, and perimeter cleats — deck clips that add traction in deep snow.

Elite: This shoe has been Northern Lites’ bragging right because of its lightness. Besides its lack of weight, the Elite also offers outstanding flotation for cross-trainers and racers who are willing to risk equipment failure. While it is great to have a light shoe in a race setting, that benefit will quickly lose its allure if you are not able to complete the event because your snowshoe has broken! Northern Lites has done an admirable job of putting together an elite snowshoe racing team, but many of the athletes are growing tired of hobbling back to the starting line with a blown binding. The Elite is constructed out of an aluminum alloy and decked with Coolthane, a tough, polyurethane-coated nylon mesh. The Elite comes with Northern Lites’ TruTrak bindings, de-icing pads, toe and heel crampons, and perimeter cleats.

Powder Wings

Lite: As "the original compactible snowshoe," the Lite fits into its own fannypack for versatile use. The half-inch 7075, T-9 Easton aluminum frame is shock-corded for snap-together assembly with Hypalon decking. The Lite features a laced, Summit Tracker binding and a rear cleat. A word of caution for those who are not mechanically oriented: These shoes are not easy to put together on the fly, especially if you are cold and under any time pressure. For those outings that combine dry land and snow trekking, the Lite is an enticing alternative to post-holing, assuming that you have pleasant weather and plenty of patience.

Redfeather

Condor 30: As part of Redfeather’s Wilderness Series, the Condor 30 is designed for backcountry ruggedness and carrying heavy loads. The Condor is outfitted with Redfeather’s new Epic binding, a one-piece injection molded binding with a ratchet buckle system that has a rigid base plate and anti-skid grip posts. The teardrop-shaped aluminum shoe also features Hypalon decking, and a live-action hinge that is designed to follow the natural flexion of each stride. The only question is, at 5 pounds, does durability have to weigh so much?

Falcon: Weighing only a bird’s feather more than a pound per shoe, the Falcon is a streamlined snowshoe that is very appealing to runners, racers, and fitness-oriented cross trainers. The tail of the Falcon is turned up to increase stride efficiency and the titanium front talon is both strong and light. It is no wonder that the Falcon has been a dominant racing shoe that helped turn snowshoeing into the highly aerobic sport that it has now become. Although the Falcon was very easy to use, it features only a single claw, which may not be enough in sketch conditions.

Sherpa

Mountain Featherweight Step-In: Sherpa has been in the snowshoe business for more than 25 years and helped to popularize the sport with its introduction of the first tubular aluminum frames. Thus, it is no wonder that mountaineers have tried and tested the Mountain series, which have received favorable reviews because their unique step-in bindings make them ideal for crampon compatibility and accommodating rugged mountaineering boots. Although the use of "featherweight" in these shoes’ name may be a misnomer, these sturdy shoes should not be purchased by someone looking to shave ounces to gain speed.

Sherpa’s Mountain series feature a Dual Rotation pivot system that offers advantages over either a fixed or free rotation pivot in varying snow conditions. In testing these shoes, the pivot system was slow to the swing. That stiffness could well be a characteristic of new shoes, a condition that eases up with continued use. Other features of this hardcore mountaineering classic include heat-treated 1.5" front and 1.25" rear aluminum claws for traction, oval shape for flotation, and hand laced decking for added traction and flotation.

Tech Featherweight: This shoe was designed specifically for the multisport enthusiast. It features Sherpa’s Dual Rotation pivot system to accommodate changes in snow conditions or terrain. The Tech is ergonomically designed to make the shoe easier to control and the new Sherpa Tech binding system is constructed out of PVC-coated nylon that forms an outer shell with a nylon webbing lace, metal D-rings, and plastic buckles for versatility. The binding works with anything from running shoes to heavy snow boots.

Tubbs

Criterium: You may have seen the predecessor of the Criterium, the 10-K, strapped on some nimble-footed snowshoe runner as she or he breezed by you on the trails. The Criterium, true to Tubbs’ aerobic snowshoe lineage, is an asymmetric running/fitness snowshoe. Surprisingly, you will notice one of the primary differences between the Criterium and the 10-K at the cash register, because the Criterium is actually less expensive. Tubbs’ new Aerobic binding system with offset buckles represents an improvement because it is easier to adjust for a more perfect fit with running shoes or light-hiking boots. Tubbs also tweaked the Criterium with a clever fixed cord pivot to optimize the energy of your stride. On the down side, the Criterium represents a backward step from its predecessor in that it lacks a titanium toe crampon and claw. The Criterium is almost the same shoe that Tubbs produced in 1993 and the absence of the toe crampon results in a shorter stride. On the up side, Tubbs plans to replace the 10-K with a carbon fiber shoe that may appear on the market in the Spring of 1999.

Comet: Because women constitute a solid majority of polled snowshoers, Tubbs has joined other manufacturers in designing women’s specific shoes as part of its Women’s Activegear Collection. The Comet is part of Tubbs’ Adventure Series line of recreational shoes and was engineered specifically for women with a tighter tail bend and smaller bindings for a better fit and performance. Unfortunately, the bindings were small enough that a tester found that they did not fit around a women’s size 6 pair of Sorels. The tester also found that the front upper binding strap uncomfortably bound around her ankles when she wore the Comets with her running shoes.

YubaShoes

XSV: Pronounced "excessive", this shoe is part of YubaShoes’ Summit Series, engineered for extreme conditions such as those encountered out in the backcountry or on mountain ascents. Among the many appealing features of the XSV are Yuba’s patented asymmetrical geometry, the shoe’s pivot and binding systems, and a heel lift. The XSV’s pivot system is centered on an aluminum rod that provides responsiveness and stability. The injected-molded binding system uses ratcheted buckles and straps to adjust to mountaineering and snowboard boots. The heel lift functions through a wire bail that, when raised, reduces calf strain on ascents and, when lowered, allows the foot to contact the strike plate to minimize heel slippage on traverses or descents. These shoes provide plenty of floatation in powder conditions and should certainly be considered by those looking to bag some winter peaks.

Sscape: These shoes define YubaShoes’ Racing Series as the newest and lightest addition to the Yuba family. They come with a unique shock-absorbing return pivot system to optimize energy efficiency and an innovative X-On binding system that prevents strap rub over the top of the instep. Yuba has come a long way in introducing this impressive lightweight shoe and the best example of Yuba’s progress is seen in this terrific binding system. The Sscape is topped with zones of Hypalon and Santoprene for superb flotation, durability, resistance to punctures or tears, and weight minimization. The only negatives that haunt the Sscape are that the foot is placed toward the rear of the snowshoe so that they tend to be a bit front-heavy and, depending upon your stride, may swing forward enough to hit your shins.

Make

Model

Dimensions

Weight

Cost

Deck

Frame

Contact

Atlas

1022

8" X 22"

3.6 lbs

$229

Custom-milled Hypalon

Powder-coated premium U.S. Alcoa aluminum

(800) 645-SHOE www.atlassnowshoe.com

Atlas

Dual Trac

8" X 22"

2.8 lbs

$229

Custom-milled Hypalon

Powder-coated premium U.S. Alcoa aluminum

(800) 645-SHOE www.atlassnowshoe.com

Crescent Moon

9

8.5" X 27"

3.1 lbs

$229

Hypalon

Powder-coated aircraft aluminum

(800) 587-7655
www.crescentmoonshowshoes.com

Crescent Moon

13

7.5" X 24"

2.5 lbs

$239

35 oz Hypalon

.5 inch diameter powder coated aircraft aluminum

(800) 587-7655
www.crescentmoonshowshoes.com

Litespeed

Diva

8" X 24"

2.1 lbs

$239

Lightweight Hypalon

Powder-coated seamless 6061-T6 aluminum alloy

Toll-free (877) 748-4801 www.mountainaccess.com

Litespeed

Espresso

8" X 26"

"A hair under 2 lbs"

$329

High-tear Hypalon

Custom-molded carbon-fiber/Kevlar

Toll-free (877) 748-4801 www.mountainaccess.com

Little Bear

Little Bear with Claws

11" X 17.5"

2.25 lbs

$69.99

Injected molded polypropylene

None

(800) 655-8984 www.springbrook.com

MSR

SnowCat

8.5" X 21" or 8.5" X 25"

3.5 lbs or 4.1 lbs

$89.95 or 94.95

Injected molded plastic

None

(800) 877-9677
www.msrcorp.com

MSR

Denali

8" X 22" (+ 4" or 8" flotation tails)

3.8 lbs

$109.95

Injected molded plastic

None

(800) 877-9677
www.msrcorp.com

Northern Lites

Quicksilver 30

9" X 30"

2.6 lbs

$169

Polyurethane coated nylon mesh

Aluminum alloy

(800) 360-LITE www.northernlites.com

Northern Lites

Elite

8" X 25"

2 lbs

$235

"Coolthane" (PU coated nylon mesh)

Aluminum alloy

(800) 360-LITE www.northernlites.com

Powder Wings

Lite

9" X 28"

4.8 lbs

$309

Hypalon

Compactible aluminum

(800) 453-1192 www.powderwings.com

Redfeather

Condor 30

9" X 30"

5 lbs

$265

Hypalon

Powder-coated aircraft aluminum

(800) 525-0081 www.redfeather.com

Redfeather

Falcon

8" X 25"

2.1 lbs

$209

Hypalon

Powder-coated aircraft aluminum

(800) 525-0081 www.redfeather.com

Sherpa

Mountain Featherweight Step In

8" X 25"

4.3 lbs

$319

Polyurethane coated nylon

Anodized aluminum

(800) 621-2277 www.sherpasnowshoes.com

Sherpa

Tech Featherweight

8" X 25"

3.4 lbs

$209

UV-protected DiamondKote nylon

Anodized aluminum

(800) 621-2277 www.sherpasnowshoes.com

Tubbs

Criterium

8" X 25"

2.5 lbs

$199

ArcTec/Hypalon

Powder-coated 6000 Series aircraft aluminum

(800) 882-2748 www.tubbssnowshoes.com

Tubbs

Comet

8" X 21"

 

$145

ArcTec/Hypalon

Aircraft aluminum

(800) 882-2748 www.tubbssnowshoes.com

YubaShoes

XSV 25

8" X 25"

4.5 lbs

$286

Santoprene

Anodized aircraft aluminum

(800) 598-9822 www.yubashoes.com

YubaShoes

Sscape

8" X 25"

2.5 lbs

$286

Hypalon and Santoprene

Anodized aircraft aluminum

(800) 598-9822 www.yubashoes.com

Page updated on 1/26/99