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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > MSR Lightning Ascent 2007 > Test Report by Ryan Lane Christensen

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Lightning Ascent™ Snowshoes

Test Series by Ryan Christensen

Last Update - April 17, 2008

Lightning Ascent Snowshoes
Lightning Ascent Snowshoes as received


December 6, 2007
February 21, 2008
April 17, 2008

December 6, 2007

Reviewer Information:

Backpacking Background:

Name: Ryan L. Christensen

Age:  43

Gender:  Male

Height:  6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)

Weight:  235 lb (102 kg)

Email address:  bigdawgryan(at)yahoo(dot)com

City, State, Country:  Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA

I began backpacking at twelve, continuing until 25. After an extended hiatus, due in part to a bad back, I resumed cycling, hiking, and backpacking several years ago and began snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. I share my love for backpacking and these sports with my children. For several years, we have hiked or camped nearly every month, year-round. We vary our experience: desert, forest, meadow, and mountain; spring, summer, fall, and winter; sunshine, rain, wind, or snow. I am a midweight backpacker, but carry a full array of necessary gear.

Product Information:

The information below comes from the MSR website and product card.

Lightning Ascent Snowshoes


Mountain Safety Research (MSR)

Manufacturer website:

Place of Manufacture:


Year Manufactured:




Aerospace-Grade Aluminum
Polyurethane Coated Proprietary Material
Hardened Steel
Molded Urethane

Men's Sizes Available:

22 in (56 cm)
25 in (64 cm)
30 in (76 cm)

Women's Sizes Available:

22 in (56 cm)
25 in (64 cm)

Men's Colors Available:

22 in (56 cm); 25 in (64 cm); 30 in (76 cm)
22 in (56 cm); 25 in (64 cm)

Women's Colors Available:

Red - 22 in (56 cm); 25 in (64 cm)
Blue - 22 in (56 cm); 25 in (64 cm)


Limited Lifetime Warranty

"MSR Snowshoes are guaranteed against defects in materials and workmanship without time limit. Return shipping charges to the consumer for repaired products are covered. Should a product be found defective under this warranty, we will repair it or replace it at our option.

This warranty applies only to the original purchaser. Proof of purchase is required. Products purchased from an independent dealer should be returned to the dealer for forwarding to MSR. Shipping cost to MSR is the responsibility of the purchaser."


Men's 22 in (56 cm)
Men's 25 in (64 cm)
Men's 30 in (76 cm)
Women's 22 in (56 cm)
Women's 25 in (64 cm)

$259.95 USD
$259.95 USD
$289.95 USD
$259.95 USD
$259.95 USD


Product Specifications

Manufacturer' Specifications

Listed Dimensions:

Men's 30 in (76 cm)

8 x 30 in (20 x 76 cm)

Listed Weight:

Men's 30 in (76 cm)

4 lb 4 oz (1,928 g)

Actual Measurements


Men's 30 in (76 cm)

8 x 30 in (20 x 76 cm)


Men's 30 in (76 cm)

4 lb 5.3 oz (1,965 g)


Orange (metallic)

Product Description:

The MSR Lightning Ascent™ snowshoes (hereafter referred to as snowshoes) came bundled together with a rigid, colorful, glossy product card. The card was wrapped around the back of the snowshoes and a plastic toggle joined the two loose ends through the hole in the platform. The card has a colorful graphic highlighting the serrated-edge of the frame, Lightning Ascent™, brief product description in English and French, MSR logo, and snowshoe size listed on the front side. The back side has MSR's sizing chart in English and French. Also on the back of the card are MSR's marketing points listed in six languages: English, French, German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. Along the back edge of the snowshoes, the card says "Limited Warranty" in the six languages mentioned. MSR's parent company name, mailing address, local and toll-free telephone number, website address, UPC symbol, and "Made in the USA" are also listed. There are two recyclable symbols shown (assumed to be in regards to the product card, not the snowshoes themselves). One has the words "recycled" and "recyclable" written around the symbol in English. The second has Japanese kanji characters in the middle.

In addition to the product card wrapped around the snowshoes, two rubber bands with MSR and company logo printed on them held the snowshoes together. An Instruction Manual and a "Made in the U.S.A." tag were attached to one of the bands. The Instruction Manual has a section in each of the six languages listed above. The manual has easy to understand instructions and pictures illustrating how to use snowshoes. The manual also contains MSR's recommended sizing chart, some basic snowshoeing tips and techniques, a warning of the dangers of winter mountaineering backcountry travel as well as MSR's warranty information.

The snowshoe frame is a single continuous piece of aerospace aluminum with a metallic orange powder-coating. The 1/8 in thick, 1.5 in tall (3 x 38 mm) frame is set on edge. Running along the bottom is a pattern of five saw tooth–like serrations repeated six times on each side. The frame turns up at both ends. The front rises approximately 4.5 in (11 cm) and the tail rises 1.5 in (4 cm) from the horizontal. The frame is approximately 8 in (20 cm) at its widest point and tapers to approximately 6 in (15 cm) at the tail. At the front-part of the snowshoe, where the incline begins, the bottom of the frame has a wavy pattern that culminates at the very front with what appears to be two teeth-like extensions. Three serrated pieces of the same material act as cross braces; one supporting the swiveling crampon at the ball of the foot, one under the heel area, and the other halfway between the middle cross piece and the tail of the snowshoe. The cross braces extend down approximately 1.25 in (3 cm) on the two longest teeth. The serrations around the frame's perimeter and on each cross brace create MSR's 360° Total Traction Frame.

Lightning Ascent Front Lightning Ascent Frame Lightning Ascent Tail

A black polyurethane-coated proprietary material provides the deck or platform. It is held to the frame by 24 stainless steel tabs. These tabs are riveted to the deck and protrude through the frame. Atop the snowshoes, a plastic emblem with the MSR logo is riveted to the deck near the front. There is another plastic emblem riveted to the deck near the end of the tail. This one has "Respect Dangerous Terrain" and "Lightning Ascent" along with a lightning bolt on it.

There is also a heel lift system that sits on the deck just behind the binding. This heel lift system, which MSR calls the Televator™ heel lifter, is attached to each side of the frame. When deployed, (see photo below) the Televator raises the heel almost 2.5 in (6 cm) to reduce leg fatigue when ascending. The Instruction Manual says that the user can raise the Televator either by inserting fingers or the tip of a ski pole under it and lifting until the Televator snaps into place. I am very interested in how easily I can do this. My initial thought is that a pull tab attached to the Televator would be a good thing.

Lightning Ascent BindingThe binding consists of a molded urethane step-on footbed with four urethane straps. Each of the straps has an enlarged pull tab. Three gray straps go over the arch of the foot. Each strap has holes spaced approximately 3/8 in (10 mm) running almost the entire length. Each strap passes through a steel tension buckle (on the inside edge of the snowshoe) which has a tongue that hooks through a hole in the strap. On the outer edge of the snowshoe, the strap passes through another steel buckle. However, this buckle has a partial cutout to allow the user to slide the strap in rather than threading it through the buckle for faster donning and doffing. MSR calls this a "speed-hook" buckle. This buckle also has a tongue, which hooks through a given hole in the strap. On each of these three straps, there is a plastic clip to hold the excess length of strap from flapping around. I am anxious to see whether the strap will slip out of the "speed-buckle" during use. The fourth strap, which is black in color, goes around the heel and ankle. There is no "speed-buckle," but there is a plastic clip to hold the excess strap. These straps appear to be the same design as those used on other MSR snowshoes.

Lightning Ascent CramponTowards the front of the snowshoe is an opening in the deck. The step-on footbed is attached to the steel crampon at this point. The crampon extends back the entire length of the footbed, and is attached to the footbed via rivets in six locations. A clevis pin on each side attaches the True-Hinge™ crampon to the forward cross brace. The crampon, which is designed to be under the ball of the foot, has two teeth, which extend down approximately 1 in (2.5 cm). The crampon rotates on the clevis pin attachments allowing the user to engage the crampon and use the toe of the boot to bite into the snow for additional traction. The crampon rolls back as the heel is lowered. The crampon has a maximum rotation, the forward cross brace stops the user's foot from rotating beyond approximately 70°.

Initial Impression:

Immediately, I was impressed with these snowshoes. First, I really liked the color, metallic Orange. Based on the image on the company's website, I was not expecting them to be metallic. As I lifted them from the box, I was quite amazed at how lightweight they are for the size, 30 in (76 cm). I was also curious about the speed-buckles.

The materials in these snowshoes appear to be high quality. The workmanship also appears to be high quality. I hope to get them into the snow sometime in the next few days. I can hardly wait to put them to the test.

Initial Testing:

My initial testing consisted of a thorough examination. I weighed the snowshoes and measured several parts. I also adjusted the straps to fit my hiking boots. This was easily done. I am anxious to see if I can adjust the straps as easily in the snow while wearing gloves.

MSR's key marketing points for the Lightning Ascent™ snowshoes are:

  • Unrivaled Traction - Serrated Total-Traction frame delivers unprecedented 360° grip

  • Superlight - The lightest snowshoe in its class

  • Unmatched on Steep Terrain - Televator™ heel lifter reduces calf fatigue, making climbing easier and more efficient

  • User-Friendly - 3-strap step-on binding fits a variety of boots and is fast, secure, and easy to use

  • Stable Support - True-Hinge™ steel crampon enhances foot stability and minimizes heel drift, resulting in more efficient gait mechanics and less expended energy

  • 100% Waterproof - Materials won't soak up water and freeze; straps remain easy to use in all conditions

My goal during this test is to see whether these snowshoes deliver on MSR's claims. In addition, I am interested in seeing whether 30 in (76 cm) snowshoes will keep me, and the load I carry, on top of deep snow.

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February 21, 2008

Field Locations and Test Conditions:

Lightning Ascent in Kelly Canyon

The Kelly Canyon Nordic Area, which is located 26 miles (42 km) northeast of Idaho Falls, in the Targhee National Forest. The Nordic Area starts at an elevation of approximately 5,900 ft (1,798 m) and reaches elevations of 6,700 ft (2,042 m). I made two separate overnight trips. The first trip was New Year's Day night. We began skiing in to the warming hut shortly after 7:00 p.m. MST. The temperature at the time we began skiing was 26 F (-3 C) and there was no wind. There was approximately 18 in (46 cm) of fluffy, dry (powder) snow. My guess is that overnight temperatures were in the teens (12 to 19 F or -11 to -7 C).

The second trip was in mid-February. The temperature shortly after 8:00 p.m. MST when we began skiing was 14 F (-10 C) and there was no wind. Based on the height of the trail sign-in box, I estimate there was 4+ ft (1.2+ m) of snow. The snowpack was well-bonded, with several inches (centimeters) of powder on top. After a late dinner, my buddy and I strapped on our snowshoes and went for a late night hike. There were few clouds and a bright half moon lit the sky. After walking around the warming hut a bit, we proceeded to climb Norm's Hill. This steep, north-facing, lightly wooded, backcountry ski slope rises approximately 450 ft (137 m) above the warming hut. With the overnight low temperature of 1 F (-17 C) in Idaho Falls, I guess we had a low of approximately -4 F (-20 C) and it was probably close to this temp as we climbed.

I also did some urban snowshoeing along canals and in a city park in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The elevation of Idaho Falls is 4,705 ft (1,434 m). During my urban adventures, snow depths ranged from 12+ in to 26+ in (30 to 66 cm). Temperatures ranged from the upper 20's F to low teens F (-2 to -11 C). Initially, the snowpack was fluffy, dry powder. However, over time it has become well-bonded and sintered.

Thus far, I have worn the Lightning Ascent snowshoes eight days. More to come during the Long-Term test period.


Lightning Ascent In Powder

First, and foremost, I have been very pleased with the bindings on these shoes. Although they do not have a single or dual-pull adjustment, they are quite easy to secure. This was true whether or not I was wearing gloves. I have been able to quickly adjust the binding to fit my bulky, felt-lined, winter pac-type boots, my 3-pin ski boots, and my Gore-Tex hiking boots. Once set, I have not had to readjust the binding, even after walking at length. Each of the four straps (one heel, and three crossing the bridge of the foot) has remained secure, keeping my heel inline with the shoe on each of my outings. The straps across the foot tend to hold snow and even ice up a bit around the buckle. However, this has not affected removal of the shoes. A tap or two has been sufficient to dislodge the buildup prior to loosening the straps.

These shoes are incredibly light compared to others of similar size that I have worn. I attribute this to the frame design and material. Even walking in deep powder has been less of a chore thanks to these lightweight shoes. Furthermore, I have not had to significantly alter my gait, which has also helped reduce my fatigue.

Climbing Norm's Hill offered a good test of the "Serrated Total-Traction frame" and the "True-Hinge™ crampon." I must say that I was quite impressed with the traction these shoes provided. Whether climbing straight up, or traversing, I never slipped, or lost traction as I moved. This was true for the loose snow as well as the wind-blown, icy, sintered patches I encountered. These shoes also provided excellent traction as I descended Norm's Hill as well (which I did much easier and faster than I ascended).

Norm's Hill also gave me the opportunity to test the Televator™ heel lifter. I was in deep snow, without poles, when I decided to deploy the Televator. I found that while wearing gloves, the Televator is not all that easy to deploy. Consequently, I wish MSR had included a Televator pull tab on the Lightning Ascents as they do on the Denali EVO shoes. I was quite surprised at just how beneficial the Televator was as I climbed. I definitely noticed less stress in my calves and therefore less fatigue in my legs overall. One Televator slipped out of position while climbing. I am not sure if that was attributed to me not locking it into position properly, or something else. Therefore, I will be paying close attention to the Televator on my next outing.Lightning Ascent - Norm's Hill

Being a big guy, I was somewhat concerned that these 30 in (76 cm) shoes could provide adequate flotation for me, let alone carrying a 45+ lb (20+ kg) pack. The snow depth and conditions have varied on my two trips to the Kelly Canyon Nordic Area and my urban outings. Nevertheless, in all conditions in which I have worn these shoes, they have provided very good flotation. Only sinking in the snow 8 - 12 in (20 - 30 cm) is not bad for me. I am impressed thus far.

The frame, decking, binding, and crampon are still in excellent condition. The frame has a minor scratch or two from a fall I took (due to my own stupidity, not the shoes). All components appear to be very durable, with no noticeable wear.

Below are my likes and dislikes associated with the Lightning Ascent snowshoes thus far in the test.

Likes: (thus far)

  • Lightweight

  • Easy-to-adjust binding

  • Great traction

  • Easy to walk in without altering one's gait

  • Televator heel lifter reduces leg fatigue when climbing

Dislikes: (thus far)

  • No Pull Tab on Televator heel lifter

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April 17, 2008


During the Long-Term test phase, I wore the MSR Lightning Ascent three additional days, for a total of eleven days. I have worn them on the flats and the steeps. They saw fresh, deep, powder and well-packed snow. In every situation, I was very pleased with the ease of use and the performance of these snowshoes. They provided me with good floatation and great traction. These lightweight snowshoes will continue to be an essential part of my winter gear.


  • Lightweight

  • Easy-to-adjust binding

  • Great traction

  • Easy to walk in without altering one's gait

  • Televator heel lifter reduces leg fatigue when climbing


  • Lack of a pull tab on Televator heel lifter makes it difficult to deploy in the snow while wearing gloves

  • Televator heel lifter does not always stay secure while walking

Field Locations and Test Conditions:

In March, I got in two more urban snowshoe outings near my home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which has an elevation of 4,705 ft (1,434 m). During my urban adventures, snow depths ranged from 6+ in to 18+ in (15 to 46 cm). Temperatures ranged from the upper 20's F to mid 30's F (-3 to 2 C). The terrain was mostly flat. The snow was packed, and well sintered.

I also got in an early April dayhike in the Kelly Canyon Nordic Area. We started near the ski lodge at an elevation of approximately 5,500 ft (1,676 m). On this hike, we gained nearly 800 vertical feet (244 m) on our way to the top of the mountain at approximately 6,275 ft (1,913 m). When we began hiking, the skies were virtually clear and the temperature was 34 F (1 C). The temperature rose as we hiked. However, an afternoon storm blew in bringing clouds and causing the temperature to drop several degrees before we reached the bottom and our vehicle. There were several feet of packed and well-sintered snow. The first part of the trail was packed down by snowmobile traffic (see middle photo below). Nevertheless, with temperatures above freezing, the snow was a bit soft.

Donning Lightning Ascents MSR Lightning Ascents - Kelly Canyon MSR Lightning Ascents - Kelly Canyon


The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes have continued to perform exceptionally well for me. I expected them to do well on packed snow, and they did. However, I really wondered whether a 30 in (76 cm) snowshoe could provide enough floatation to keep me on top of the snow. As mentioned in my Field Report, sinking a few inches (centimeters) is acceptable to me. And, that has been my experience to date, even in deep powder. I do find that in deep powder, I occasionally step on the tail of the forward shoe. This is in no way attributed to the snowshoe, but to my own clumsiness. Nevertheless, I continue to be impressed with how well these snowshoes float, with me onboard, in the powder.

The traction provided by these snowshoes is equally impressive. In my opinion, the serrated "Total-Traction" frame lives up to MSR's claim to provide "unprecedented 360° grip." Whether I was climbing or descending the steeps, or sidehilling, these snowshoes really bit into the snow. Not once did I experience a loss-of-traction problem resulting in slipping.

The 3-strap, step-on binding is fantastic. I prefer it to the bindings on other snowshoes I have previously worn. This binding is extremely easy and intuitive to use. First, it is simple to adjust to one's boots. I have worn my 3-pin cross-country ski boots, heavy felt-lined snow boots, and Gore-Tex lined hiking boots with these snowshoes. Regardless of the boot, the adjustment was equally smooth. The hinged binding makes donning and doffing these snowshoes in deep snow much easier than snowshoes with stationary bindings. Additionally, the hinged binding makes walking much easier, as they do not force the wearer to alter their gait. Second, the straps and buckles are a breeze to secure and undo. I was suspicious of the buckles ability to remain secure. But, to date, I have not had a single strap come undone. Third, the binding kept my feet in-line with the snowshoe--no heel drift here. Therefore walking required less effort. The snowshoes lived up to yet another of MSR's claims.

The Televator is a nice feature. I am amazed at how much difference it makes when climbing the steeps both in ease of walking and less fatigue in doing so. Another manufacturer claim met. I almost felt as if I were climbing a staircase rather than a steep mountain incline. As great as the Televator is, there are two things about it with which I am dissatisfied. First, in my experience, the Televator is difficult to lift with a gloved hand, especially in deep snow. A simple pull tab similar to what MSR offers on its Denali EVO would be a great addition. Second, occasionally, the Televator would actually fall down while I was using it. A more secure means of holding the Televator in place would be a nice improvement.

The durability of these snowshoes is remarkable. To date, I see no signs of wear on the binding, straps, or buckles. The decking is in equally great shape. However, as mentioned in my Field Report, there are a couple of minor scratches on the frame. The crampon is intact, and the teeth are straight. When finished hiking, I simply let the snowshoes air dry before putting them in my snowshoe bag. In some cases, I put the snowshoes in the carrying bag before they were completely dry. Nonetheless, I have not noticed any rust on the snowshoes, even the steel crampon.

These are great lightweight snowshoes and it was a pleasure to test them. I look forward to wearing these snowshoes on yet another hike or two this year, and many more hikes in the future.

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This concludes my Test Series on the MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes.

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

Read more reviews of MSR gear
Read more gear reviews by Ryan Lane Christensen

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