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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > MSR Lightning Ascent 2007 > Test Report by Jason Boyle

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

Test Series

Initial Report - February 6, 2008
Field Report - March 3, 2008
Long Term Report - April 15, 2008

Tester Information:
Name: Jason Boyle
Age: 30
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 6"/ 1.68 m
Weight: 180 lb/ 82 kg
Email address: c4jc "at" hotmail "dot" com
City, State, Country: Snoqualmie, Washington, U. S.

Backpacking Background:
I have been camping and backpacking for about 19 years. My introduction to the outdoors started with the Boy Scouts of America and has continued as an adult. I have hiked mostly in the Southeastern and Northeastern United States. I am generally a lightweight hiker, but will carry extras to keep me comfortable. I currently reside in the Pacific Northwest and spend most of my time hiking and backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but I can be found exploring the other wild areas of Washington!

Product Information:
Manufacturer: Mountain Safety Research (MSR)
Model: Lightning Ascent
Size: 30”/76 cm
Color: Bright Orange
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Listed weight: 4 lb 4 oz/1928 g
Measured weight: 4 lb 7.6 oz/2029 g
Maximum Length Toe to Heel: 30 5/8"/78 cm
Maximum Front Width: 8.0"/20 cm
Minimum Heel Width: 6 1/8"/15.5 cm
MSRP: $289.95 US
Country of Manufacture: USA

Backpacking near Gold Creek

Product Description:
The MSR Lightning Ascents are aggressive mountaineering style snowshoes that can be used on a variety of terrains. The outer frame of the snowshoe is made from a single piece of stamped “aerospace grade aluminum” that is flat, like a blade, not tubular like most snowshoes. The outer frame also has six rows of “teeth” cut into the bottom to provide more traction on ice or crusty snow. MSR also included three more traction aide devices called “brake bars”. These pointy bars run side to side inside of the frame behind the binding. The decking is made from rubbery material that feels like “Hypalon” to me but I could not confirm that. The decking is attached to the frame by 24 clips that are riveted to the decking and then placed through a slot on the frame. The binding is attached to the frame via two clevis pins and features four straps and a textured foot bed. The clevis pins are attached to an aluminum exo skeleton that gives strength and shape to the bottom of the binding. The straps are quick-connect straps that easily slide underneath a catch and then lock back over a pin. All of the straps have large pull tabs and retaining clips. A feature specific to the Lightning Ascent is the “Televator” heel lift. This bar can be pulled into place for use while ascending which will reduce the amount of heel travel required when climbing, theoretically reducing the amount of fatigue felt by calves. The shoes appear to be well constructed with no loose or damaged parts. Other than the bright orange paint there are two more small pieces of flair – a small MSR logo on the front of the shoe and a Lightning Ascent logo on the rear of the shoe. The rear logo also has a warning to “Respect Dangerous Terrain”.

lightning 1 lightning 2 lightning 3

Initial Impressions:
Wow, these are some large snowshoes. They are rated for hikers 175 to 225 pounds (79 to 102 kg), which I will easily reach with a full winter pack. I normally use a pair of smaller snowshoes because we don’t normally experience soft, fluffy snow here in the Pacific Northwest. Our snow is more likely to be real wet and condense into what is known as Cascade Concrete. We are in a heavy snow year here and have actually had some light fluffy snow this winter that made me wish I had the Lightnings sooner as I was breaking trail in 6 feet (1.8 m) of snow.

Field Report March 3, 2008

At an overlook on the Border Route Trail in Minnesota

The Lightnings have performed well thus far. I have been happy with the floatation in deep snow and with how easy they are to put on and take off. The durability has been top notch and I have had good traction in all situations. My only issue with the shoes to this point is that the front of the shoe seems longer than I am used to which has caused me to cross up the front of the shoes and trip a few times until I got used to the extra length.

Field Conditions:
I have used the Lightnings on two trips over the past month: an overnight backpacking trip in the Cascades near Snoqualmie Pass and a 4 day backpacking trip in the Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. The temperatures ranged from 0 F to 32 F (-17 C to 0 C), and elevation was from sea level to 3600’ (1097 m). I experienced a consistent light snow for most of the Minnesota trip. The snow in Washington was a pretty wet, compact snow. The snow in Minnesota was pretty dry and powdery. I have put 20+ miles (32 km) on the snowshoes thus far

My biggest concerns with any snowshoe that I use are durability and traction which are two areas where the Lightnings have excelled thus far. In Minnesota, I was wearing the shoes for at least 6-7 hours a day and other than some chipped paint on the frame teeth and a few superficial scuffs on the deck they look brand new. I have had no issues with the binding straps, binding, rivets, decking connections, or decking throughout the last month.

I have also been pleased with the traction and floatation provided by the shoes. Both of my trips had steep sections of climbing. I was able to easily ascend and descend a steep snow covered set of portage stairs on the way to Rose Lake in the BWCA while my hiking partners were slipping and sliding. Traction was also good while backpacking on packed snow and on ice while crossing the lakes in the BWCA. I had good floatation while plunge stepping down a steep snow slope that was covered with 6+ feet (1.8 m) of unbroken snow. I only sunk about a foot (0.3 m) or so into the snow with each step and the large decks acted like skis allowing me to do a snowshoe glissade for several feet (meters) at a time. I had the opportunity to break trail while on my trip in Minnesota. The snow was about 3 feet (1 m) deep and had a powdery consistency. I was able to easily plow through the snow and made a good path for my partners following behind me.

One of the features I like about the shoes is the quick release buckles on the straps. The “C” shape of the buckles allowed me to easily put the shoes on or take them off while wearing gloves. This is especially important when the temperature is 0 F (-17 C). I am also pleased with the length of the straps. They are long enough to accommodate large winter boots like the Kamik Northfields that I used in Minnesota. The rubber strap stretches easily even in subfreezing temperatures and allowed me to quickly secure the straps to the pin on the “C” buckle. The pinned binding also worked very well. One of the problems I have had with rigid snowshoe bindings in the past is that they tend to kick snow up on the back of my legs. This is annoying and can wet out my pants legs if I am not wearing gaiters or shell pants. The pinned binding on the Lightnings almost entirely eliminates this effect and kept the back of my soft shell pants dry during my trips.

Pinned binding

One thing different about these shoes from other shoes I have worn is the length of the snowshoe in front of my foot. It seems like the front of the Lightnings are longer than other shoes I have worn in the past and initially this caused some issues for me. I tripped over the front of the shoes in the first five steps I used them. I ended up only tripping a couple more times that trip. However in the BWCA, I got used to them and didn’t have any further issues. I don’t think this is a negative; it just takes some getting used to. I am also surprised that the “Televator” bar doesn’t have a pull tab or other aid to help pull it into place. It is challenging to grab the little bar and pull it into place while wearing large winter gloves or mitts. The “Televator” bar did a good job the one time I used it climbing a little hill in Minnesota. I will explore the use of this feature further during the long term test period.

Front of the Lightnings On the Border Route Trail

Long Term Report April 15, 2008

The Lightnings have continued to perform well. They have worked well in powder and Cascade concrete and have great traction. The long fronts can be a bit awkward and I still find myself tripping over them on occasion when I get tired. I have also noticed that the rubber decking seems to be stretching and has started to sag some. Overall I am very pleased with the shoes and they will continue to have a spot in my gear closet.

Field Conditions:
I have used the Lightnings on two more trips since the Field Report. The first was a day trip to Kendall Peak Lakes near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. Temperatures were right around freezing and fairly windy. We had received a heavy snowfall the night before so there were several inches (cm) of fresh snow at the start of the trail and at the avalanche chute where I turned around I was busting through knee deep fresh snow. Elevation was around 3000’ (914 m). My second trip was a 3 day backpacking trip to Hannegan Pass in the North Cascades. This trip involved snowshoeing on a forest service road and a lot of off trail snowshoeing on steep slopes. Temperatures were between 24 F and 32 F (-4 C to 0 C) and there was off and on snow showers each day. Elevation was around 3000’ (914 m). I used the snowshoes for an additional 17 miles (27 km) since the field report bringing the total miles to around 40 (64 km). My Hannegan Pass pack weight was around 45 lbs (20 kg).

The Lightnings have continued to perform superbly since the Field Report. The overall durability of the shoes has been great. There are no signs of wear on the buckles or bindings. There are some superficial scuffs on the decking and some paint has chipped off of the teeth on the frames but it is minor and expected. There is a little wear on the inside of the decking near where the toe of my foot is as well. One area that I will watch as I use them in the future is the decking. It seems like it is stretching and has become slightly floppy. I have never owned soft decking snowshoe before so I am not sure if this is normal, but will monitor it and make an addendum if I run into problems in the future.

Fraying on the deck

Traction has continued to be great. I have had no problems while hiking on or off trail. They even gripped well while sidehilling on 30+ degree slopes. The Televator lift came in handy while trying to get to Hannegan Pass. Because of moderate avalanche danger we stayed low in the drainage until we made it to the headwall where we started climbing. The Televator lift made it so much easier to climb the headwall. My partner struggled with his snowshoes while I was able to easily walk right up the slope. It is a great feature. However, the bar is hard to reach with gloves on. MSR should add a pull tab on the bar so that it can be pulled in place while wearing gloves. When I wanted to put them down I just tapped them with my poles and that knocked them back in place.

Floatation was good. Heading up to Kendall Peak Lakes I was busting trail and shoes did a good job keeping me from sinking too far even when I was busting through fresh powder up to my knees. The shoes make a good track in the snow and make it easy for others to follow. I did find I had trouble following in a partner steps especially if they were using a smaller shoe. I ended up being about half in and half out of their track.

The binding is almost perfect and have accepted multiple types of boots such as my large Kamik Northfields to my normal sized Lowas. I do have a suggestion for improving the binding though. Sidehilling is really tough on my feet and the rigid binding doesn’t give laterally just fore and aft. After 6 miles (10 km) of almost constant sidehilling the outside of my feet were aching when I made it back to camp. It would be nice if MSR could make a binding that had some lateral relief so the pressure was evenly distributed across the foot instead of all the pressure going just on the outside of the foot. All in all, a great snowshoe that I look forward to using the rest of the spring and next year.

Thanks to MSR and for allowing me to participate in this test.

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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > MSR Lightning Ascent 2007 > Test Report by Jason Boyle

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