When I was shopping for my first pair of snowshoes a couple years ago, I really didn’t know what to look for. In my mind, I was looking for a style that is popular today, the snowshoes with the frame made of aluminum tubing. The sales staff at REI directed me to the MSR Evo line though, and after a good explanation of the features and differences of the Evo, I was ready to give them a try. We ended up getting Evos for the whole family. Of course I spent more money than I had originally intended, but this always seems to be the case, doesn’t it? Luckily I wasn’t disappointed.
Here are some of the features of the MSR Evo:
- Injection-molded plastic decks are lightweight and durable, and offer plenty of surface for great performance on rolling terrain; tapered shape facilitates a natural stride.
- Unibody Traction: Molded horizontal brakes under the deck create a snowplow effect, providing traction for uphill and downhill travel. Stainless-steel crampons offer positive traction for great bite, while the multi-toothed side rails offer grip for traversing side slopes and icy terrain.
- 3-strap bindings with heel stabilizers stay pliable and easily adjusted in cold temperatures, even if you’re wearing mittens; bindings accommodate a wide variety of boots.
- All-Condition Adaptability: 6-inch (15-cm) Evo Flotation Tails (sold separately) add buoyancy when walking in deep powder snow or carrying heavy loads.
- Uphill Efficiency: Televators reduce fatigue, increase traction on the steeps, and engage easily with glove-friendly pull-tabs.
- Retail for about $199
- Made in the USA.
It’s been a good winter for snowshoeing here, and luckily I’ve been able to get out several times and experience a wide variety of terrain and snow conditions. This experience has imparted a better knowledge for what’s important in a snowshoe. I’ll break these characteristics down into four areas: flotation, traction, mobility, and ease of use.
As anyone who has tried to walk through deep snow knows, your shoe doesn’t have enough surface area to float on top of the snow. With just boots on, your legs post hole into the snow, maybe even up to your waist depending on how deep and soft the snow is. When people think of snowshoes, flotation is probably the function of snowshoes that first comes to mind.
While flotation is definitely important, I found that I have seldom had to walk in deep soft snow. I am frequently following the packed tracks of others before me, or the snow is icy or crusty. The shorter 22 inch length of the Evo keeps them easy to walk in, while still offering plenty of flotation for many situations.
But sometimes you do need a longer snowshoe. What’s nice about the MSR Evos is that they have the optional 6 inch flotation tails. The tails install quickly when you need them should you be the first one out after a storm breaking fresh trail. Also, if you happen to be carrying a heavy pack, the longer footprint will help you keep up on top of the snow. I generally take my tails to the trailhead and assess the snow conditions before installing them, but they also stow easily in your pack should you be snowshoeing through changing conditions.
One of the functions of snowshoes that beginners may overlook is traction. You need traction to ascend, descend, and traverse the terrain you are likely to encounter in the backcountry. Once you get out on a steep icy slope, you’ll find that flotation may have nothing to do with it; it’s all about traction. Traction is where the MSR line of snowshoes excels over other designs. The aluminum tubes of other brands provide the frame of the snowshoe, but they offer little (if anything) in the way of traction. The traction on these other snowshoes comes only from the crampons directly below the shoe on the binding.
The rugged plastic decks of the Evos, however, have steel traction rails that run the length of the snow shoe on both sides. You really appreciate these traction rails when traversing a side hill. These multi-toothed side rails also give you a lot more biting edges for extra traction in icy and crusty snow. The rails also seem to be quite durable. I once chose to walk through a short section of mud and rocks on a mountainside, not wanting to stop to remove my snowshoes. I’ve also clipped a few rocks hiding under the snow. While the finish has come of the tips of the spikes some, the rails and spikes still remain very straight.
Additionally, the composite design of the decks incorporate molded horizontal brakes that create a snowplow effect, providing extra traction for uphill and downhill travel. All these traction features translate into a snowshoe that will amaze you with the places you’ll be able to go with confidence.
The dimensions of the Evo Ascent snowshoes is 8″ wide by 22″ long. This compact design makes them easy to negotiate technical sections, and facilitates easy walking in most conditions. As I mentioned before, the 6 inch tails can be installed if needed for more flotation, but you can definitely feel the extra drag of a longer shoe. The 8″ width is also a little narrower than some designs, and this allows you to walk with a more natural gait. This is important, because I’ve heard some snowshoers complain of pain in hips and groin, because they have to walk with their legs too far apart.
Another feature of the Evo Ascents is the Televators. The Televators are a heel lift that you can flip up when the incline gets really steep. This reduces leg fatigue and helps with traction, since it puts your foot in a more natural position. Instead of your feet being angled at the same incline of the slope, the Televators put your foot in a position that’s more akin to climbing stairs. On rolling terrain I forget about the Televators, but on a recent climb up Red Lake Peak, they came in really handy. It was steep, and we were doing extended climbing over a couple miles. I felt that the Televators really added to comfort and performance during the climb.
If you don’t think you’ll be doing any extended climbing or are just on a tighter budget, you may consider another snowshoe from the MSR line without the Televators. We got my son the standard MSR Evo snowshoes. It has a slightly different binding, no Televators, but all the other features that make MSR snowshoes great are still there. They run about $60 cheaper than the Ascents, which is a pretty big difference. Especially if you have to buy multiple pairs for the family. You’ll still be able to climb steep mountains without the Televators, it just won’t be as comfortable as with them.
Ease of Use
I’m happy with the bindings on my Evos. I can get into my snowshoes quickly, and the stretchy rubber straps let me customize the fit. Since I can determine the tension of each strap, the bindings don’t feel too tight or too lose. This helps prevent any hot spots that may become achy later, and cause premature fatigue.
One of the reasons the MSR snowshoes were recommended to me is that the bindings are hydrophobic, which basically means they repel water. The rubber straps won’t absorb water like some of the other nylon designs out there. If binding straps absorbs water, they can freeze and become hard to get on or off. The MSR rubber bindings will perform the same in all conditions.
I’ve also found the bindings fairly easy to work with gloved hands, as they don’t require much dexterity. The Televators have a big pull tab on them that makes them easy to flip up with your thumb and forefinger. Clicking Televators back down takes a little more effort, but is easy enough using a palm or two thumbs.
The optional tails are easy to attach. Simply position the holes of the tail over the posts on the back of the snowshoe, slide forward, and secure in place with the wing nut. Reverse the process to remove.
The only problem I’ve encountered so far with my Evo snowshoes is a torn strap. Once while putting the snowshoes on, I noticed there was a tear on a strap where it attached to the binding. Luckily the strap continued to function for a few more outings until I could get the replacement strap kit. What I believe happened is that I used a boot that was too wide for the binding. I used my Sorel Caribou snow boots for their warmth and waterproof qualities on a couple trips; however, these boots are really wide, and it seemed like I really had to stretch out the binding to make it fit. The extra stress probably began to tear the strap. As it turns out though, the Sorels were nice and warm, but the extra weight of these big boots quickly wore me out. I’ve since gone back to my hiking boots.
The replacement strap kit was only about $8.00, and came with two straps. I was able to swap out the broken strap in less than 30 seconds. The replacement straps are 14 inches long. I measured all the straps on my snowshoes and found that the front two straps are 12 inches long, and the back two are 14 inches long. The replacement straps will replace any of the straps on the snowshoes, and I didn’t find the extra 2 inches to be inconvenient. I now keep the spare strap in my pack for repairs on the trail.
I highly recommend the MSR line of snowshoes. They come in several models with various options, so it’s pretty easy to pick a pair snowshoes that matches your budget and terrain you expect to encounter most often. The Evos are comfortable and light enough for extended outings, and the ergonomics allow you to walk normally. The compact design makes them agile, but the optional tails are available for softer, deeper snow. If you plan to do some extended climbing in your snowshoes, i.e. straight up the mountain, and not a gently climbing trail, then the Televators make a nice upgrade. The traction on the MSR snowshoes is superior to other designs I’ve seen. I’ve followed other people down steep side hills, and watched them slip all over the place while my MSR snowshoes stuck firmly in the snow and ice. I’ve used my snowshoes for a couple seasons now, and have had just one problem with a strap which I had to replace. All other components have taken a beating, but have only sustained minor cosmetic damage.
Manufacturer’s website at Cascade Designs.
Ready to buy?
- Purchase the MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes now over at REI.
- Or browse other MSR snowshoes models on REI here.
- And here is the strap replacement kit.
(Disclaimer: I’m an REI affiliate, and receive a small commission from the sale which helps to support this website. I purchased this product, and the opinions here are my own.)