Monday, March 12, 2012

"Made in the USA" Gear Review: MSR Lightning Ascent 30 Snowshoes w/ Modular Flotation Tails

MSR designed these snowshoes to deliver "unmatched traction and security on any terrain, in any conditions" according their product literature. They are also meant for maximum flotation when bearing loads up to 300lbs with the attached tails.

To see if they would live up to this description, we each loaded up with over 80 pounds of gear, including boots, backpack, winter clothing and other essentials and hit the four foot deep slopes off of Colorado's famed Longs Peak Trail.

During this test, we also wanted to try out key features like the PosiLock AT Bindings, 360 degree traction frame, pivot crampons and especially the Ergo Televators, which are supposed to increase traction and reduce fatigue when trekking uphill. The photos below illustrate some of these features:

(click to enlarge)

Lightning Ascent 30 Specifications :
Weight per pair- 4 lbs 8 oz / 2030 g
Weight- 8 in / 20 cm
Length- 30 in / 76 cm
Gait- Unisex/normal width
Footwear size range- 4.5 M - 15 M / 35.5 - 49.5
Load- 150 - 280 lbs / 68 - 127+ kilos
Load w/tails- 180 - 300+ lbs / 82 - 136+ kilos
 Made in Seattle, Washington USA


As mentioned, we loaded up to full multi-day winter backpacking weight and picked an uphill slope with fresh, unbroken snow to test the shoes. Average snow depth was roughly four feet and powdery. We normally use two poles for better balance, but one of our Chinese-made ski poles broke right before testing! (Sorry, American made ski poles were one of the only things we couldn't find for the upcoming article). We figured it would pose an even greater challenge to these snowshoes, so we went ahead with testing anyway.

 (click to enlarge)

Flotation was generally good, though not on the level of wooden snow shoes of course (to be expected from modern technical shoes). However, the Lightning Ascents were much better at handling tight spaces and traction-challenged surfaces than I've experienced with wooden shoes, so it's a worthwhile trade.

The PosiLock AT straps functioned as advertised and were indeed easy to use when taking the shoes on and off. We also never experienced any loosening or slippage during the test. The pivot crampons made the shoes feel secure and comfortable on some of the slicker surfaces as well.

Our favorite feature though was definitely the Ergo Televators. Simply flip up the Televators with the handle of a ski pole (see the photo below) to set them in place and steep slopes suddenly become fun to traverse. Dave and I both raved about how much of a difference these things made! 

(click to enlarge)

Overall, we really enjoyed these snowshoes and they helped to inspire confidence on the steep slopes and tight spots we encountered during testing. Definitely a great choice if you plan to do any serious winter trekking or backpacking, plus, they're made in the good ol US of A!

For more information, please visit MSR's product page for the Lightning Ascent 30

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)

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