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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > MSR Lightning Ascent 2007 > Test Report by Mark Wood

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes
Test Series by Mark Wood
Last Updated April 28, 2008
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Biographical Information
Product Information
Field Conditions
Initial Report - December 13, 2007
Field Report - February 22, 2008 Long Term Report - April 28, 2008

Biographical Information
Name: Mark Wood A Brief Introduction
I grew up camping with my parents and had taken a few short backpacking trips, as well as a couple of 10-day trips before I got married. While my wife and I have enjoyed car camping and day hiking for close to 6 years, we have both decided to make backpacking a permanent part of our lives. Our trips are generally shorter (2 - 5 days) over rocky, hilly terrain. My general pack weight for a 3 day trip is around 25 lb (11.4 kg) including food and water.
Age / Sex: 27 / Male
Height: 5 ft 11 in (1.8 m)
Weight: 250 lb (113 kg)
Email Address: mwood_bgt at markandkc dot net
Web page: http://www.markandkc.net
Location: Chenango County, New York, U.S.A.

Product Information
Lightning Ascent
Manufacturer: Mountain Safety Research (MSR)
Year of Manufacture: 2007
URL of Manufacturer: http://www.msrgear.com
Sizes Offered: 22" - 3 lbs. 10 oz. (1644 g)
25" - 3 lbs. 12 oz. (1701 g)
30" - 4 lbs. 4 oz. (1928 g)
All lengths measure 8" (20 cm) wide.
Size Tested: Lightning Ascent 25 - 25" (64 cm)
MSRP: Lightning Ascent 22 and 25 - $259.95
Lightning Ascent 30 - $289.95
Weight as Delivered: Lightning Ascent 25: 3 lbs 12 oz (1.70 kg)
Materials: Aerospace grade aluminum frame with a plastic decking.
According to the packaging, the MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes are a Maximum-Traction, High-Floatation snowshoe. Features include:
  • Unrivaled Traction: 360 degree Total Traction frame features an aggressive tooth pattern for unprecedented grip.
  • Unmatched on Steep Terrain: Televator heel lifter makes climbing easier.
  • Superlight: The lightest snowshoe in its category.

Field Conditions

Numerous locations will be visited during the testing time frame. My usual backpacking areas are the Catskill and Adirondack regions of New York as well as some Northern Pennsylvania trails such as the West Rim Trail. Also, the Finger Lakes Trail passes very close to my home and I often incorporate this into my "regular" destinations.

In general, temperatures will range from around 0 F (-18 C) to 40 F (4.5 C) during the testing time frame. Over the last few years, Upstate New York has had some good snowfall and this year is expected to be a heavy winter.

Elevations in my normal hiking areas generally range from 500 - 2500 ft (150 - 750 m).

The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes will be used not only for my winter backpacking trips, but also for regular exercise and winter photography trips.


Initial Report - December 13, 2007

First Impressions

The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes were very impressive from the moment they arrived. It's not only their orange color, but their impressive design. These look like they are designed to tackle some serious use!

At first glance, it's pretty clear the differences between these snowshoes and others I have used in the past. Most snowshoes have a tubular frame and plastic decking. The frame and decking are both intended to provide floatation. All traction is normally achieved via a crampon type binding. The Lightning Ascent snowshoes are clearly different. The entire frame is a vertical piece of aerospace grade aluminum with serrated teeth on the bottom. Plus, there are two cross braces on the underside of the snowshoes also with serrated teeth. Finally, there is an aggressive crampon with yet two more large teeth. Overall, these snowshoes are designed with maximum traction in mind.

Serrated Teeth
Aerospace Grade Aluminum Serrated Teeth

Item Description

I'm truly impressed with the design of these snowshoes. It is very much unlike any other I have seen. Essentially, there is one band of aerospace grade aluminum bent into the shape of the frame. There are two rivets at the back of the snowshoe attaching the two ends of the frame piece. At evenly spaced intervals around the shoe, there are 20 metal clips which pass through the frame and are riveted to the synthetic decking material.

Profile of the serrated teeth
Profile of the Serrated Teeth

To further reinforce the frame and provide even more traction, there are two cross members which pass underneath the foot area. On the decking above the rear cross member is a second piece of decking material which appears to reinforce where a heel of a boot would land.

The crampon is attached with two clevis pins to the frame and pivots about 75 degrees allowing what I hope to be a rather natural gait. This will be tested through out the testing time frame.

The bindings on the Lightning Ascent snowshoes appear pretty normal at first glace however, close inspection reveals a few very impressive features. There are three front straps which go over the main portion of the boot as well as one strap which goes around the heel. The really nice feature is that the front three straps not only have a large pull tab on one end, but there is nothing to thread. Instead of threaded buckles, there are D shaped rings which allow the strap to be inserted and secured very easily. I found this system very intuitive and simple to use. I was able to not only secure my normal hiking boots in the bindings, but also my heavy duty winter boots with minimal fussing. It should be noted that the heel strap does need threading, but there is almost no occasion to undo this strap so I anticipate no inconvenience here.

Binding System
Binding showing the 'D' shaped clip

The other immediately noticeable feature of the Lightning Ascent snowshoes is the Televator heel riser. This is supposed to be used only on steep terrain (the User's Manual mentions 20 degree slopes or greater). The theory is that it allows the wearer to climb straight up the slope without putting undue strain on their calf muscles. Testing will show how effectively this works. To deploy the Televator the instructions discuss the use of one's fingers or the tip of a ski pole. First glance causes me to wonder how effective this deployment method will be. It seems as though a small pull tab or something would make this somewhat easier.

Side View
Profile of the Lightning Ascent w/ Televator Bar Up

Overall, this appears to be a very well thought out product with many useful features. Testing will provide more in depth feedback regarding actual use.

Sizing

According to the MSR Website, it was recommended that I go with either the Lightning Ascent 25 model or the Lightning Ascent 30 model for moderate snow conditions. Since we never get much more than 30 inches (76 cm) of snow in the woods, I opted to go with the smaller size for simple convenience. I plan to test whether or not this decision was wise or not with regards to not only ease of use but flotation in relatively deep snow.

Care Instructions

The included instruction booklet mentions rinsing the snowshoes to remove mud and debris. After drying, it recommends spraying all steel parts (traction blades, crampons and clevis pins) with a rust-prevention spray such as WD-40.

Summary

My initial likes and concerns can be found below:

Likes

  • Snowshoes appear very well made.
  • I'm very interested to test the Televator setup!
  • I'm excited for the amount of traction devices present on these snowshoes.

Concerns

  • Nothing at this point.

This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.


Field Report - February 22, 2008

Field Conditions

Upstate New York has had very sporadic winter conditions during the first two months of testing. However, it has given me an opportunity to test the Lightning Ascent shoes in varying conditions.

In total, I have probably used the Lightning Ascent snowshoes a total of over 10 times. Most of these excursions have been in and around my home on both private and state owned land with my Siberian Husky for day hikes / photography excursions. Temperatures varied widely during these trips from around 38 F (3 C) down to 5 F (-15 C). Snow conditions varied from very wet and sticky to quite dry. Depths were all over the place but drifts up to a three feet (90 cm) were encountered.

A couple more planned trips included outings with a friend to a local state park. These trips both occurred in early January and snow conditions up in the hills were ideal for testing -- powdery and deep.

Performance

As stated in my Initial Report, I chose to go with the Lightning Ascent 25 model for convenience. I'm finding that for my uses, this size works remarkably well. While I do find that I sink in around a foot (30 cm) in especially powdery snow, I find the weight and maneuverability of the smaller size very advantageous.

Much of the time, due to the freezing and thawing we've experience around here, there was a crust of ice on top of somewhat soft snow. I found that the Lightning Ascent's serrated edges provided excellent traction in this crunchy mess. However, if the crust was not thick enough, the serrated edges actually cut a hole out of the crust and caused me to sink instead of float on top. This was a small nuisance compared to the excellent traction I normally experienced, so I consider it a small problem at most.

The bindings system of the Lightning Ascent has been nothing short of remarkable. Donning the snowshoes is simple (even when covered in snow) and takes very little effort. While it doesn't seem that the shoes are ever overly tight, I have yet to have any problems with my foot slipping or the bindings loosening up during use. The bindings do tend to collect some snow and ice, but I have yet to find a situation where the bindings wouldn't release. Finally, both donning and removing the shoes can be done with ease even with thick gloves. I have been most impressed.

The crampon of the Lightning Ascent shoes has provided excellent traction. During a few day stretch after an ice storm, I actually used the snowshoes simply for the crampon system. With no snow and only a layer of ice on everything, the Lightning Ascent snowshoes provided excellent traction and a very real element of safety. I'm still a bit undecided on the Televator heel system. While it does appear to lessen the stress on my calves during steep climbs, it's somewhat difficult to engage with gloves on. Also, if the terrain becomes less steep, it seems to disengage itself (usually at a somewhat unexpected time). I think a simple pull tab or lever would fix the first problem of deployment, but I'm uncertain how to fix the problem of it simply disengaging. I'll be sure to keep an eye on the problem during the long term testing phase.

Durability

Aside from a few scratches on the serrated edges from walking across rocks, and a few scratches on the top of the frame from my clumsiness, there is really no wear to report. These are made for serious use and I get the impression they will hold up to more wear than I could give them without abusing them intentionally.

Summary

My likes and concerns can be found below:

Likes

  • Very durable.
  • Bindings work excellently in all conditions encountered thus far.
  • Very easy to put on even with gloves.

Concerns

  • The Televator heel setup has a few quirks as mentioned in my report.

This concludes my Field Report. The Long Term Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.

Long Term Report - April 28, 2008

Field Conditions

Upstate New York continued to have somewhat sporadic snow conditions during the Long Term Testing phase. However, there were about two weeks of good snowshoeing conditions of which I tried to take advantage.

During this two week period, I was unable to take an overnight trip, but I did manage to get in four day hikes totaling more than 3 miles (4.8 km) each with one at least 8 miles (12.9 km). These hikes occured mainly in state land surrounding my home. Snow conditions were quite good for three of the day hikes. There was over a foot (30 cm) of fine snow for these outings. During the fourth outing the snow turned very wet and patchy. Temperatures hovered right around freezing.

Performance

Overall, I've found these snowshoes to work very well in all snow conditions except exceptionally wet snow. They have provided excellent traction and stability and excel in icy conditions. Even more impressive is their traction when traversing the side of a hill. I can't help but attribute the traction characteristics to the serrated edges. The bindings have worked flawlessly and continue to be a very easy to use even with gloves.

The one situation in which I have not been totally satisfied was during one of the aforementioned day hikes where the temperatures began to rise and the snow became very wet. In these conditions, the binding area became packed with snow and I found myself forced to clear them somewhat frequently. As the temperature began to drop, these snowballs became somewhat hard and icy making them more annoying. The biggest problem was under the heel of my boot where it became somewhat uncomfortable if I did not clear the area every couple hundred yards (180 m).

I must say that I do not regret my decision to go with the Lightning Ascent 25 model. While I am certainly suited to a larger size snowshoe, for my use, I continue to find the maneuverability of this size quite advantageous. Furthermore, since I rarely see terribly deep drifts, I find that the floatation offered by this size has been sufficient for my needs.

The final feature of the Lightning Ascent snowshoes which I feel I must discuss is the Televator heel system. Throughout the testing time frame, I really did find that this system is advantageous during sustained steep climbs. However, due to the difficulty engaging the riser with gloves on, I found myself not using it as much as I probably should have. Furthermore, when I was in wet snow and experiencing the ice chunks building up under my heel, it took a great deal of de-icing before I was able to lift the riser. A small tab of metal on the edge for a grip would go a long way toward making this system even better.

Durability

Not much has changed since my field report with regards to durability. There are a few more scratches on the serrated edges and a few more scratches on the top of the frame, but no rust or damage which affects the performance. Overall, I still find them to be very well made.

Summary

These snowshoes performed flawlessly during the testing time frame. I feel that they are a great traction device and provide very good flotation. They have been a pleasure to test!

My overall likes and concerns can be found below:

Likes

  • Very durable.
  • Bindings work excellently in all conditions encountered thus far.
  • Very easy to put on even with gloves.

Concerns

  • The Televator heel setup has a few quirks as mentioned in my report (freezing in the down position and somewhat hard to deploy).
  • Wet snow tends to accumulate under my heel causing ice chunks which are difficult to remove

This concludes my Report.



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