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An MSR Snowshoe Comparison

Updated on August 23, 2017

Walking On Frozen Water: MSR Denali Versus MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

I snowshoe a lot. Not only do I love getting out on fresh snow in the pine forest and on the meadows here in northern Arizona, but I also use my snowshoes on many winter Search and Rescue missions (like the one pictured here). And I snowshoe on everything from flat terrain to steep mountainsides.

For the past five years, I've been using MSR Denali snowshoes, but recently I tried a pair of MSR Lightning Ascents and definitely noticed a difference. DifferenceS, actually, which I'll share with you here, along with a new version of the Denali and other models of MSR Snowshoes.

Do You Snowshoe? - A Visitor Poll

When the snow falls, do you 'shoe?

See results

MSR Denali Classic Snowshoes - A Reliable, Quality Pair of 'Shoes

After using my Denalis for the past several years, I can't imagine going back to basic snowshoes -- you know, the kind that look like tennis rackets -- or to any others without "teeth." These MSRs have crampons at the toe as well as on the sides, which means you can negotiate steep and icy terrain, either going straight up or down or traversing, without ending up in an unintended slide.

I find the Denalis fairly easy to put on, and, in my experience, they rarely come off or need to be adjusted in the field. You do have to be careful, however, not to place your foot too far forward, or else your toe can get stuck under the front of the 'shoe, especially going downhill. This can cause a fall and potentially an ankle or knee injury.

These snowshoes apparently have a left and a right, but I often put them on backwards by mistake and never notice a difference in performance.

FYI: It appears that MSR has discontinued the Denalis, but you can still find them for sale for good prices on eBay. I've set this up to pull in a feed of up to five listings for these snowshoes, if there are any currently up for sale. You might also see some MSR Denali accessories.

Snowshoe Extensions

Extending your snowshoes provides additional flotation in deep snow and when carrying extra weight.

MSR Denalis: Perfect for the "average" snowshoer

MSR Denalis: Perfect for the "average" snowshoer
MSR Denalis: Perfect for the "average" snowshoer

The MSR Denalis Have Been Replaced by the MSR Evo Snowshoes

Like a new and improved Denali Classic

These are very similar in design as the MSR Denalis. I've seen a few of my Search & Rescue teammates using them, and they look like my Denali Classics. I haven't tried these, myself, but I'm told by my friends who've also used the Classic model that the Evo Ascent perform at least as well as, if not better (and some say better) than their predecessors.

This new model is built on the improved "Unibody Traction frame," which is also used on the more expensive MSR Evo Tour and MSR Evo Ascent models. These also have the new PosiLock binding system, which you can manipulate even with your gloves on, and the bindings won't freeze up.

The increased performance of this model is due to a streamlined, ergonomic frame with tapered tips and tails to help you walk with a more natural gait.

Snowshoe Comparison: MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes - A noticeable difference from the Denalis (and Evo snowshoes)

During a recent climb up to 11,500 feet on Mt. Agassiz, a Search & Rescue teammate of mine offered to let me try his MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes with the heel risers. At first, the slope wasn't steep enough to warrant putting those risers to use, and I didn't feel a difference between the Lightning Ascents and my Denalis.

When the slope steepened however and I flipped up the bars, wow! A definite difference indeed. The climb was still very aerobic, but no longer did I feel the burn in my calves. And when we got to the top, though my lungs were sure ready for the rest, my legs felt full of energy and ready to climb on.

The risers basically make a steep ascent feel like climbing steps, keeping your feet flat rather than at the angle of the slope. When you descend, you pop the risers back down, level with the base of the snowshoe, and don't even know they're there.

Another noticeable difference between these Lightening Ascent snowshoes and my MSR Denalis was the performance of the Total-Traction frame, which is made from one vertical, serrated blade of aerospace-grade aluminum. It definitely provided the superior 360-degree traction the manufacturer claims. My Denalis do a fine job in the traction department, but not to the extent of the Lightning Ascents, which I'd rather be wearing on very steep and/or icy slopes.

The Lightning Ascents

The Lightning Ascents are certainly pricier than the Denalis, but if you'll be doing a lot of snowshoeing on steep terrain, I'd say they'll be well worth the extra expense.

Features include:

  • Serrated Total-Traction frame for an unprecedented 360-degree grip
  • Elevator heel lifter to reduce calf fatigue, making climbing easier and more efficient
  • 3-strap step-on binding that fits a variety of boots and is fast, secure, and easy to use
  • Lightest snowshoe in its category.
  • True-Hinge steel crampon to enhance foot stability and minimize heel drift, resulting in a more efficient gait and less expended energy.
  • Materials that won't soak up water and freeze, meaning straps remain easy to use in all conditions

Lightning Ascent snowshoes come in three different lengths--22, 25, and 30 inches.

More MSR Snowshoes

Other Options With and Without Risers

Regardless which model you choose, MSR snowshoes are excellent quality.

These snowshoes similar to the Evos above, but they also have the heel risers.

MSR Denali Ascent (Gray)
MSR Denali Ascent (Gray)

And these have heel risers as well.

Why are these and the Evo Ascents less expensive, then, than the Lightning Ascents? Well, one difference I see is the weight, with the Lightning Ascents having a "shipping weight" of 1 pound versus 4.4 pounds for the Ascents. That's a big difference!

Also, the Lightning Ascents provide more traction with a total serrated edge. On really steep and/or icy terrain, I'd want to be wearing the Lightning Ascents rather than the Evo or Denali Ascents if I had the choice.

MSR Kid's Denali Tyker Red Snowshoe
MSR Kid's Denali Tyker Red Snowshoe

These child-size snowshoes have the same durable plastic construction as the adult models and exceed the "toy" performance of other children's snowshoes. The binding design is easy for small hands in mittens to manipulate.

These Denali Tyker snowshoes are made for kids weighing up to 90 pounds (41 kg) and fit child boot sizes 7-1/2 to 13-1/2. They also fit adult boot sizes 1 to 4-1/2 (Euro boot size 3436).


A Carrying Case For Your MSR Snowshoes And Poles

I've strapped my snowshoes onto my backpack with bungie cords, but having a carry case is so much more convenient and less cumbersome, not to mention keeps your snowshoes and poles together.

This case is made specifically for MSR snowshoes.

Features include:

  • Rugged, breathable Materials: long-lasting Ripstop nylon and mesh for great ventilation.
  • Easy to Carry: Adjustable shoulder strap and carry handle
  • Convenient internal pocket for storing flotation tails, plus exterior snowshoe pole attachments
  • Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz. (567g)

MSR Snowshoes or Another Brand? Which snowshoes do you prefer?

Share your opinion.

Do you have a pair of MSRs (any model)? Or do you recommend another brand and model?

Do You Snowshoe? Comments and Questions Welcome

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    • OutdoorLily profile image


      7 years ago

      Kudos on the lens! Glad to hear you mention the Ergo Televator Lifts which is quite helpful in reducing fatigue but it also helps to reduce the chance of injury as well! Which is vital in the back country, as I'm sure you know. Thanks again!

    • javr profile image


      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I just started last year. I'm planning a couple of trips next month. What a great time it is. This lens has been blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • dustytoes profile image


      8 years ago

      I love the advice - but what about the poles? Any suggestions there, or are they all pretty much the same?

    • lakshyaa profile image


      8 years ago

      Useful and indepth review of snowshoes!

    • groovyfind profile image

      Samantha Devereux 

      8 years ago from Columbia Mo

      I've used these before...they were fantastic!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Well done review of what look like excellent snowshoes. I can see that the Lightning Ascents for the MLB Snowshoes, besides being a helpful aid when climbing steep slopes, would be almost a necessity if you want to have the energy to continue your trek.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      No, I don't Snowshoe but imagine that it would be fun! If I did I would surely take your advice and get me some MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes


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