The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes are a sturdy yet lightweight snowshoe that provides ample flotation and an aggressive grip. The outer ring of the snowshoe is rigid with crampon-like teeth that provides traction beyond that provided by the standard crampon below the foot. The flotation itself is comprised of a lightweight rubber webbing material that stretches across the shoe.
I have used these throughout New England and the level of flotation has been great. I have almost never felt a need for anything bigger. At times the size can almost be overkill with the typical depth of the snow in the White Mountains, but their lightweight and the great traction makes them worth it even in those situations.
There have been a handful of trail breaking trips through knee-to-waist deep snow where the flotation proved effective, but I could have benefited from a slightly larger snowshoe. If I was doing that level of snow depth more regularly then I would probably pick up the flotation tail extenders that MSR sells.
The traction is very effective. I never find myself slipping in the Lightning Ascents. This is almost to a fault, as I love being able to slide down the mountain when the snow depth and terrain allows for it, but the traction makes that very difficult.
I have had the Lightning Ascents for 4 seasons now and they don’t have any damage beyond the expected wear and tear. The crampons and ridges along the edge have worn out a fair amount. There is still enough there to provide traction, but the points have become curved and flat on a lot of them. MSR also sells a field repair kit to bring with you.
The rubber webbing has remained fully intact, although some of the edges are a little frayed or split. Occasional sticks pop through the openings between webbing and the ridges and it will rough up the webbing.
Overall the snowshoes support me as well as they did when I got them despite the general wear and tear on them.
Once these snowshoes are on your winter boots you won’t even notice them. They are very comfortable once you get going, but putting them on is a different story. The rubber straps can freeze up and be very hard to work with when it is down to single digits or below. I often have to take my hands out of my gloves to finagle with the strap system, which is not ideal when it’s 4 degrees out.
The straps are comfortable as long as you are wearing a thick enough boot. I once wore the Lightning Ascents with my trail runners, and I could feel the straps digging into my feet the entire hike. But under normal circumstances with a winter hiking boot the straps are fine.
If you plan to take these bushwhacking, the openings between the webbing and the edges can sometimes get branches stuck in them. This can be annoying, especially if the branch is stuck to a log and yanks you back while you’re hiking. This can also happen on a typical trail, although it is far less common.
One great comfort benefit of the Lightning Ascents is the heel lifts. This is just a simple bar on the back of each snowshoe that can be popped up to provide a ‘step’ for your heel. It makes steep, snowy uphills feel like walking up stairs. It is everything that say it is in regards to reducing fatigue and increasing performance.
The MSR Lightning Ascents are some of the most expensive snowshoes on the market. They typically sell in the $200-$300 range, whereas other models can come in under $200 and even under $150. However they do give quite a lot for their price. The weight to flotation and traction ratio is one of the best (if not the best) you can find. They are durable, and the traction is so extensive that even as they wear down they won’t let you slip.