The Best Snowshoes of 2019
We combed hundreds of online reviews, chatted with industry experts and trekked through slush and powder to find the best snowshoes for the most people.
Although snowshoeing might not be as adrenaline-pumping as skiing or snowboarding, there are a lot of perks to practicing this age-old snow sport. In 2018, a pair of snowshoes beat out a slew of sexy skiing hardgoods to win the “Best in Show” innovation award at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, raising outdoor industry eyebrows as well as the sport’s cool factor. Not only is it easier to learn how to snowshoe than the aforementioned snow sports, but it’s a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy fresh air and exercise no matter how bad the weather is. We think the best snowshoes for getting into the sport are the MSR Evo 22 because of their ease of use and price. The best snowshoes for more advanced users are the MSR Lightning Ascent, which can take on tougher climbs and last forever. The Crescent Moon Eva are the best for everyday use like dogwalks in snowy areas because they are lightweight, easy to put on, and easy to clean.
The Best Snowshoe for Most People
(Also the Best Budget Snowshoe and the Best Beginner Snowshoe)
The MSR Evo 22 Trail has accumulated a slew of accolades in the snowshoe community including “Best Snowshoe For Beginners” by REI (“a solid, ‘good enough’ option for folks who plan to snowshoe occasionally”), “No. 1 Best Overall Snowshoe” by Outside Pursuits (“MSR intended to mechanically simplify this snowshoe to increase user experience and decrease potential broken parts”) and “Best Budget” by Switchback Travel (“a nice balance of price and performance”).
The MSR Evo 22 is also a best-seller on Amazon and Backcountry.com with customers raving about the traction, durability and easy to use bindings. Although there were some complaints about floppy binding straps and not having enough float in deep powder, all in all this is a great set of snowshoes for most people and terrain.
A few notable features on this model include MSR’s one-piece “Unibody” plastic construction, which eliminates the traditional tubular frame, makes these shoes one of the lightest pair on our list. The steel crampons located under the pivoting toe plate and along the outside rails of each shoe are high quality and durable, helping these shoes to last a long time, further adding to the good value.
The rubber “pin hole” style binding straps are freeze-proof and easy to fasten, even with gloves on.
For basic snowshoeing, there aren’t a lot of things to dislike about the MSR Evo’s simple design. Some users complain that these snowshoes have “floppy straps.” We actually found this to be a plus. On the Evo, the straps are longer than normal to accommodate a wide range of shoe sizes (as these are both unisex and one size fits all). The issue should be easily alleviated with proper use of the sliding plastic keepers on each strap (people with very small feet might try doubling the extra strap length back on itself and wedge both layers into the keepers.)
Although this model doesn’t include a heel lift, you can purchase six-inch snap-on powder tails to provide additional float (this is partially what keeps the price low—sort of like an a la carte snowshoe.) The manufacturer claims that the shoe without the tail will support up to 180 pounds, but some customer reviews suggest a maximum capacity of just 150 pounds, although this could be due to the type of snowpack they were trying to use them in (most men will probably need the tails for deep powder.)
Best Lifetime Snowshoe
The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoe appears on almost every review site and snowshoe gear article we saw—including “Best Overall Snowshoe” by Switchback Travel, “No. 1 Best Snowshoe” by Section Hiker, “Editor’s Choice” by Outdoor Gear Lab and “Best Snowshoe for Mountain Hiking” by REI—and despite being one of the most expensive pairs on the market, it simply couldn’t be ignored.
There are a few MSR trademark features on the Lightning Ascent that make it better for backcountry than the Evo. First of all, the 360 Traction frame is made of aluminum and steel instead of plastic, significantly increasing traction and durability. The heel lifts, called “Televators,” improve ergonomic comfort on steep inclines and can be activated/deactivated with a trekking pole so you don’t have to squat down. Finally, the frame on these is slightly slimmer and has more tapered tails, which helps create a more natural stride and adds to the overall comfort on long hauls.
We consider this a “Lifetime” snowshoe because although it can be used on flat/firm surfaces for beginners, it also can take you into the steeps and deeps with no problem if you chose to go there someday. These also have the option for the additional powder tails, which Outside Pursuits notes, “almost gives you two snowshoes in one.”
The Crescent Moon EVA Foam snowshoe is all the rage in the outdoor space right now. It’s a top seller on REI and Backcountry.com, was included on Outside Magazine’s “Best Snowshoes” list and beat out some serious alpine hard goods at the 2018 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show to win the “Best in Show” innovation award. People love this shoe for its sustainable materials, springy stride, easy bindings, one-size-fits-all fit and daily usability (these are perfect to pop on in a wide range of weather conditions for daily use, from walking the dog and grabbing the mail to trail running and hiking in snow, or even mud, since they can be easily hosed off).
Professional reviews say the Crescent Moon EVA Foam has “effortless float” (thanks to a rockered tip and tail) and “responds like an athletic shoe” (thanks to the malleable, dual-density foam deck). Customers rave about how quiet, lightweight, flexible, fun and easy the Eva is to use in all conditions and situations, from walking the dog to playing in powder.
Besides the curved shape of the deck that helps propel you forward (contributing to the “effortless” feel mentioned above) the main difference between the Crescent Moon EVA shoe and traditional snowshoes is the fixed binding system. Other snowshoes feature a pivoting binding system, where the toe punches down through the deck on each step. But on the EVA your foot stays entirely on top of the foam deck surface, which some people say is genius, and others complain that this prevents a natural stride and leads to snow “shoveling” with the toe of the shoe.
During my own test of this modern style, I didn’t notice the shoveling or any discomfort with the stride on the Crescent Moon EVA. They definitely feel different than my traditional snowshoes, but in a good way. I did notice some snow flipping up my back, but I was dressed in waterproof outerwear so it didn’t bother me. I liked how quiet they were, and that I could take them through muddy patches on the trail without worrying about scraping crampon on rock or getting my own foot muddy thanks to the full coverage deck. The springy step took a little getting used to, but ultimately it felt great.
One thing I was concerned about were the reviews saying this shoe didn’t have much traction since there are no metal cleats. But in the 2019 model, Crescent Moon addressed this issue by adding tiny Icespikes to the base, which provided a surprising amount of grip despite their small size. These won’t get you up Everest, but they are fine for normal to moderate conditions.
Finally, not only is Crescent Moon’s trademark EVA foam material sustainably produced, but this snowshoe can actually be recycled through any local athletic shoe recycling program.
HOW WE RESEARCHED
We combed hundreds of online reviews, chatted with industry experts and trekked through slush and powder to find the best snowshoes for the average user. We took note of any snowshoes that are reasonably priced, have easy-to-use binding systems and offer good float and traction in a wide variety of snow conditions.
For example, those who live in the Midwest and East coast areas where the snow conditions are more wet and icy would benefit more from a snowshoe with better traction than float, and those in the Rocky Mountain and West coast areas that experience a lot of dry, deep snow might need more float than traction. We aimed to pick the ones that offer an “all-terrain” usability in the majority of regions and snow types.
Snowshoeing is also available to people of all ages—perfect for families to enjoy together (and a great low-impact option for pregnant women, too.) Those who live in extra snowy areas sometimes even use snowshoes just to walk their dogs around the neighborhood. The best part about snowshoes is they last a long time—some people only need one or two pairs in their lifetime—so you don’t have to invest a lot of time, energy or money into adding a new sport to your repertoire of hobbies.
If you live somewhere that gets cold and snowy in the winter, snowshoes are an essential piece of gear to have on hand. There’s not a ton of variation to this basic piece of equipment—its main function is to provide float and traction on snow and ice—so you only need to consider a few key factors before making a choice. We’ve done the legwork to make your purchase even easier.
Although some snowshoes are designed specifically for extreme mountaineering expeditions or professional racing pursuits, we narrowed our picks to the ones that seem to work best for moderately steep, on-trail terrain. Although there are some less-expensive beginner models on the market that would work just fine on flat, groomed trails (such as a Nordic center or neighborhood stroll), we recommend opting for an intermediate level set in case you ever want to use them for more substantial treks in the future (since they do last so long).
I’ve been a contributor for snowshoemag.com for five years (formerly Snowshoe Magazine, the only publication currently dedicated solely to the sport of snowshoeing) and as such I’ve spent a ton of time tromping around in the snow on assignment: covering America’s top Nordic centers, profiling trails for day trips, hauling gear for overnight yurt trips, attending outdoor industry trade shows and experiencing first-hand the pros and cons of various features and functions of snowshoe gear—the good, the bad and the ugly.
WHAT MAKES GOOD Snowshoes and HOW we picked
Although it’s a pretty basic piece of equipment, like most any gear, having the right fit and function is crucial to having a safe, enjoyable experience when facing the elements. Or, rather, having the wrong piece of gear is likely to put a serious damper on your day.
The two main functions of snowshoes are to provide float (or prevent sinking in deep, fluffy snow) and traction (or prevent slipping on steep, icy surfaces).
The three main components of all snowshoes are the bindings, frame and crampons. What varies the most among brands and models is price, durability and added features, most of which depends on the type of terrain and weather conditions the snowshoes are designed to be used in.
Our initial pool of contenders included models that were highly rated for ease of use and decent functionality (ie: float and traction) in moderate conditions (ie: packed powder) by beginner to intermediate users (ie: local day hikers).
The finalists were picked based on price , added features for additional comfort and the ability to be used for the long haul in the widest variety of conditions. That means that anything that seemed too inexpensive to be very durable (like the Chinook Trekker), too overpriced for average use (like the Fimbulvetr Rangr), seemed technically unnecessary for beginners (like the Tubbs Mountaineer) or were built specifically for sports like mountaineering or racing (like the Crescent Moon Gold) were eliminated—even if they had rave reviews.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST snowshoes FOR YOU
When choosing a pair of snowshoes, the main things you need to consider are size and type of terrain.
Snowshoe size is listed by length and determined by the weight of the user—including the weight of any gear you might be carrying (in other words, you might need to size up if you plan to use the snowshoes for overnight expeditions where you will be bringing extra gear.) Although exact sizing depends on the type of snow and the snowshoe frame material, in general a 25-inch snowshoe can accommodate up to about 180 pounds. This also varies by brand and most retailers offer specific sizing charts on their websites.
Since the main sizing factor is weight, most snowshoes are unisex. But some brands offer women’s specific models made to accommodate smaller shoe sizes and shorter strides, often featuring smaller bindings and a tapered shape. This is one sport in which I honestly do not see the “shrink it and pink it” phenomenon as an issue. Women’s snowshoes are made just as well as men’s and offer a variety of colors, and it’s perfectly normal for men’s and women’s snowshoes to be interchangeable. Just find a pair that fits your body, no matter what your gender is, and you’ll be fine.
Terrain is another big factor to consider when choosing a snowshoe. For this comparison, we split terrain types into three main categories: flat/hard, rolling/trail and steep/backcountry. Terrain determines how much traction and stability you will need from the crampons and bindings. As the terrain gets more rugged and steep, you’ll need better crampons and more binding straps. With steep/backcountry terrain, you might also want to look for a model that has heel lifts to reduce calf fatigue on long ascents.
It’s also important to consider snow conditions and/or climate before you make a decision. Deeper, drier snow will require a wider/longer snowshoe, whereas icy conditions will be easier to handle with more crampons and a tapered frame shape.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Snowshoes are pretty durable and don’t require a lot of maintenance. I keep mine in my car during the winter for impromptu excursions (or in case of a driving emergency) but probably the best place to store them is hanging on a hook or peg with the crampons facing each other (so you don’t get stabbed and to preserve their sharpness). Some snowshoes can be purchased in a kit that includes a bag, which can be handy for storing snowshoes in the off-season and for traveling.