The Best Snowshoes for Winter Adventures

Adrienne Donica
·11-min read
Photo credit: PamelaJoeMcFarlane - Getty Images
Photo credit: PamelaJoeMcFarlane - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

Just because trails are snowy doesn’t mean your adventures have to come to a halt. With the right pair of snowshoes, you can traverse several inches or several feet of the white (sometimes) fluffy stuff with ease. And gone are the days of models that looked more like tennis rackets. Instead, you’ll find streamlined options that combine flotation and traction to keep you safe and upright for the miles ahead.

Check out quick reviews of four popular snowshoes, then keep scrolling for helpful buying advice and in-depth summaries of these and other models.

The Anatomy of a Snowshoe

A good snowshoe has enough surface area to keep you moving on top of snow, a high enough load carrying capacity for your needs, and enough traction to prevent slips. Most models have a metal (usually aluminum) frame that’s attached to a plastic deck, where the shoe bindings are installed. Unlike skis, these bindings consist of one or more straps, so they can fit regular shoes. A pair of waterproof hiking boots or snow boots is often the best choice.

A snowshoe’s flotation is its ability to prevent you from sinking too deeply into snow so you can walk more quickly and easily. Flotation depends on several factors, including surface area, load, and the snowpack’s structure. The greater a snowshoe’s surface area, the higher the load it can support and the better the flotation will be. But larger snowshoes are cumbersome to walk in, especially on climbs, so manufacturers carefully construct models to balance these competing interests. It’s common for companies to offer the same snowshoe in a variety of sizes, typically 22 to 36 inches long. If you are in an area with light, fluffy snow or will be wearing a heavy pack more often than not, choose a longer style. For hard-packed conditions with lots of elevation change, go shorter.

To keep you on your feet, manufacturers use crampons and molded traction rails. Basic snowshoes, including those made for kids, will likely have only one crampon installed below the toebox. More aggressive models will have several underfoot in addition to spiked rails placed near the sides of the foot to increase lateral stability. Crampons and traction rails are usually made of durable steel or sometimes lighter weight aluminum. In rare cases, rails are formed with the same plastic material as a snowshoe’s deck. If traction, not flotation is your main concern, you’re better off with a pair of crampons instead of snowshoes.

What to Look For

Snowshoes are categorized into one of three terrain types—mountainous, rolling, or flat—and you should pick the one that meets your needs. Snowshoes designed for mountainous areas have the most aggressive traction features, more sophisticated bindings, and heel lifts. These pop-up bars alleviate calf strain and allow for more efficient uphill climbing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, snowshoes meant for flat terrain usually only have crampons for traction, straightforward bindings, and no heel lifts. Because of their relatively simple design, flat-terrain snowshoes are often the cheapest. Rolling-terrain models fall in the middle in terms of cost and features, making them a good all-around pick. Some in this category include a heel lift; others don’t.

Pay attention to a snowshoe’s maximum load, which includes your body weight and any gear you will be carrying. Size up, as needed, for higher weight capacities. Premium pairs are often offered in gender-specific models. Women’s snowshoes are narrower than unisex or men’s models and often come in size ranges that include shorter options. But unlike backpacking packs or apparel, these differences won’t make or break your comfort level. Choose the pair that best meets your needs. Lastly, take a look at the bindings, which ideally will be easy enough to adjust while wearing gloves or mittens. Ratcheting straps or straps with clips and belt buckles to secure your boot in place are the most common.

How We Selected

Our list of the best snowshoes includes a variety of styles and prices. We surveyed the market and relied on reviews from expert sites, including OutdoorGearLab, Section Hiker, and Outside, and nearly 1,400 customer reviews to populate an initial list of 21 pairs. Then, we compared the construction, features, size range, weight, capacity, and cost of each. Our consumer score represents the percentage of customers who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail websites such as Amazon, REI, Backcountry, and Moosejaw. Together, these factors helped us winnow the list to the best eight. We’re confident there’s a pair below that’s right for you, whether you’ll use it to work up a sweat or just to fight cabin fever.

—EXPERT PICK—

MSR Lightning Ascent 22-Inch

94% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Mountainous | Maximum Load: 180 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 2 lb. 1 oz. | Heel Lift: Yes | Other Sizes: 25- and 30-inch

MSR makes a wide array of snowshoes, but the Lightning Ascent is the clear standout. It appeared on nearly every expert review list, and customers were equally satisfied. Why all the praise? This is a snowshoe that combines versatility with foolproof traction. OutdoorGearLab reports: “This model simply performs well in any situation we threw it into.” MSR opts for a waterproof fabric deck (TPU-coated nylon) for greater durability, installs a heel lift that pops up with the aid of a trekking pole, and molds the aluminum frame to create a snow-biting platform from heel to toe. Flotation is good to start with, but for powder days in the backcountry or multi-day excursions when you have a heavy pack, add the Lightning Tails (no tools required) for 5 extra inches of support. The obvious hurdle here is cost, but should you make the investment, there’s little chance you’ll regret it.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

—BEST FOR BEGINNERS—

Tubbs Frontier 25-Inch

79% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Flat | Maximum Load: 200 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 1 lb. 14.5 oz. | Heel Lift: No | Other Sizes: 21-, 30- and 36-inch

If you’re hoping snowshoeing will be your next pandemic hobby, ease into the sport with the Frontier. It has a basic yet effective design for traversing packed trails and flat land. Both environments are ideal for learning how to use your new equipment properly. Without extras like traction rails or a heel lift, the Frontier retains an approachable price tag for someone just starting out. Of course, if you’re the type of person who’s always chasing your next accomplishment, it’s likely you’ll eventually want to upgrade to another pair that’s better suited for more advanced terrain.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

—COMFORTABLE—

TSL Symbioz Hyperflex Elite 23.5-Inch

79% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Mountainous | Maximum Load: 260 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 2 lb. 2.4 oz. | Heel Lift: Yes | Other Sizes: 20.5- and 27-inch

Stay fresh-footed even after miles in the snow with TSL’s Symbioz Elite. The frame and deck are combined into a one-piece design made from a flexible composite. Users report this construction, which TSL dubs Hyperflex, provides a high degree of shock absorption. The downside? It hinders flotation, and paired with an already narrow hourglass shape, you’ll find the best performance on groomers not backcountry powder. Still, on the right trails, walking in this snowshoe should feel easy and less cumbersome than most models. The ski-like bindings are adjustable by length and width; the initial configuration will take some time, so plan to do this at home. Once the setup is complete though, the bindings are quick to get in and out of and don’t invite hotspots. Another advantage of Symbioz Elite is its excellent traction, thanks to eight stainless steel crampons and traction rails. The price is a bit steep, but it does include a storage bag with a mesh top panel to encourage drying.

—BEST VALUE—

Chinook Trekker 36-Inch

89% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Flat | Maximum Load: 300 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 2 lb. 11.4 oz. | Heel Lift: No | Other Sizes: 22-, 25- and 30-inch

The main attraction of the Chinook Trekker is the low cost. The smaller sizes, like the 22-inch model, can run as low as $55, but these options are currently on backorder or sold out. Still, the 36-inch is competitively priced and a good choice for anyone willing to sacrifice technical chops for some savings. The Trekker is shaped like an oval without much taper, and that provides good flotation. But the traction features are left lacking. There are no traction rails, and the crampons, made with faster-dulling aluminum, are smaller than on other models. They provide enough bite on mostly flat ground, but don’t expect to climb any mountains or traverse steep terrain.

—BEST FOR RUNNING—

Crescent Moon Luna Running

88% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Rolling | Maximum Load: 200 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 1 lb. 5 oz. | Heel Lift: No | Other Sizes: None

The Luna breaks from the classic snowshoe mold in a few key ways to cater to the running crowd. It has a composite design, like the Symbioz, that’s built from shock-absorbing EVA foam. What’s more, the lightweight platform boasts a curved rocker design—similar to the shape of some running shoes—that preserves momentum. The Velcro bindings are simple to use and adjust, if slightly less secure. Crescent Moon offers only one size of the Luna with a respectable capacity limit, but one that won’t work for everyone. Lastly, you’ll want to be mindful of your route. Rubber lugs and a handful of ice spikes are the extent of the traction you’re afforded underfoot. That’s enough for wet snow but not technical or incredibly icy terrain.

—BEST BINDINGS—

Yukon Charlie Advanced Spin 21-Inch

71% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Rolling | Maximum Load: 150 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 1 lb. 11.2 oz. | Heel Lift: No | Other Sizes: 25-, 30- and 36-inch

When you’re wearing the Advanced Spin, don’t expect to make pit stops on account of loose bindings. Yukon Charlie ditches basic ratcheting straps at the instep in favor of a Spin binding, a dial-based fastener similar to the BOA Fit System first used in snowboards. Tightening the webbing is as simple as turning the dial clockwise. Once it’s adjusted to your liking, it stays put. At the end of your outing, tug the end of the cord to loosen and remove your boot. The Colorado company isn’t the only manufacturer to use a dial binding, but competing models are considerably more expensive. One Amazon customer said: “Because they’re so easy to put on and take off, I’m much more delighted to use them regularly.” It’s worth noting that the load capacity on this snowshoe is a bit low, but you always have the option of sizing up. You can also purchase the Advanced Spin as part of a kit that comes with trekking poles and a carrying bag. That costs about $50 more, but it’s still cheaper than purchasing the components separately.

—AMAZON FAVORITE—

Flashtek 21-Inch

92% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Flat | Maximum Load: 155 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 1 lb. 11.6 oz. | Heel Lift: No | Other Sizes: 25- and 30-inch

This Amazon best-seller is a heck of a deal. For less than $100, you get the snowshoes, a pair of telescoping trekking poles, and a carrying case with room for both. The trade-off is a relatively basic shoe design without a heel lift or aggressive traction features. The crampons on the Flashtek are made from aluminum, not steel. This sheds weight (and helps keep the price in check) but sacrifices some durability in the process. Additionally, some customers found the ratcheting bindings loosened during use, which forced them to take pace-killing stops to readjust.

—BEST FOR KIDS—

Tubbs Snowglow

88% of consumers give it 4 stars or more

Terrain Type: Rolling | Maximum Load: 50 lb. | Weight Per Shoe: 12.8 oz. | Heel Lift: No | Other Sizes: None

For family outings, your kiddos can strap into the Tubbs Snowglow. The beginner-friendly design, which is available in only one size, is suited for 4- to 8-year-olds under 50 pounds. Most children’s snowshoes have only a toe crampon, but here, Tubbs adds traction rails to keep your little one from sliding around the trail. Meanwhile, your kid will enjoy the motion-activated LEDs that light up with every step. For toddlers, choose the Snowflake from Tubbs, instead.

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