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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > TSL HyperFlex Symbioz Elite Snowshoes > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
TSL Hyperflex Symbioz Elite Snowshoes
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
May 8, 2018
PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 71 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 210 lb (93 kg)
Shoe size: 13 US; 47 European
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Outside Bozeman, Montana USA, in the Bridger Mountains
I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Though always looking for ways to reduce my pack weight, I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences. I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Winter trekking often focuses on downhill skiing or ski touring.
Manufacturer: TSL Outdoors, www.tsloutdoor.com
Model: Hyperflex Symbioz Elite
Size: Large, for users weighing 150-300 pounds [68-136 kg]. Also available in sizes Small [65-180 lb/29-82 kg] and Medium [110-260 lb/50-118 kg]
Dimensions, listed: 27 x 8.5 in [69 x 22 cm] for size Large
Dimensions measured: 28 x 9 in [23 cm], width measured at the widest point, at the front crampon; 7 in [17 cm] wide at the waist
Weight, listed, size Large: 2.40 lb [1.09 kg] per shoe
Weight, measured: 2.5 lb [1.16 kg]
MSRP: $299 US
Includes: Storage bag for the snowshoes.
Advertised features: Hyperflex concept; Lock Adjustment; Memory Lock System; Lateral Adjust; Ankle PRE-ADJUST; Sound and Shock Adjusting System (SSAS); Easy Ascent Heel Lift.
All TSL snowshoes are "specially designed for mountain regions with temperate climates."
The Hyperflex Symbioz Elite snowshoes, made in France, have an hourglass-shaped frame made of carbon-reinforced bright red plastic. My first glance at these shoes, perhaps influenced by the long list of features, warned of complexity. But a closer look and my very first use disabused me of that notion.
The frame has sixteen small V-shaped indentations along each side that add flexibility both laterally and fore and aft. On the underside, an inner plastic molding [not attached but part of the frame], reinforced with carbon rods, that includes several ridges and blades, aids traction. Each shoe has four sets of stainless steel crampons - one at the toe of the binding and the rest on the bottom of the frame. The latter are 1.1 in [2.8 cm] long and attached to plastic posts.
Each shoe has a hard rubber bottom plate affixed to the frame that mates with the heel of the movable step-in binding, which is made of plastic with stainless steel fittings. The hiker's boot fits on this latter piece by means of bindings that may be adjusted in several ways, as discussed below. The movable piece is the fulcrum of the Hyperflex system, moving independently of the frame.
The shoes are slightly asymmetrical, with the binding locks on the outside. The locking tab on the heel binding indicates right or left.
I acquired the Symbioz Elites in time for winter 2015-2016, and used them that winter through early March, when a knee injury ended the hiking season for me. They continued to serve as my principal snowshoes last winter until I began a test of another product in late February, resuming last October when the Montana winter started early. Most use of the Elites occurred on day hikes in the Gallatin, Bridger, and Bangtail Mountains near my home in Bozeman, several to assist a local conservation organization in wildlife tracking. This work involved hiking up established trails, spotting and then following tracks made by selected species, and noting numbers and extent of tracks. A rough but useful assist to a wildlife census. The trips took from three to eight hours, on maybe three to ten miles (5-16 km) or so of trail but much more hiking when the track-following excursions are taken into account. Wildlife tracking works best immediately after fresh snow, so I was often breaking trail.
Other day hikes were more traditional treks for exercise and sightseeing, lasting 1-5 hours, again usually following established trails but often breaking trail, walking atop up to several feet (about one meter) of virgin snow.
As I get older I look for good weather for outdoor winter day hikes, which is practically a requirement for the wildlife tracking. (Tough, often impossible, to find or follow tracks when it's snowing.) Fair weather in the Northern Rockies winter tends toward colder temperatures, on my trips ranging from 0 to 20 F (-17 to -8 C). The tracking work was not particularly strenuous, with moderate elevation gain. The more difficult hiking came when following tracks, which occasionally involved bushwhacking up steep slopes or through heavy brush. Recreational hiking meant sometimes steeper trails, and ranged from 2 to 12 miles (3 to 20 km), from breaking trail as described above to paths hardpacked with snow and ice. The elevation of the mountain trails around Bozeman ranged from 5000-7000 feet (1500-2200 m).
A long-sleeved merino base layer, wool shirt, baseball cap or wool watch cap, and waterproof-breathable pants over merino long johns made up my day hiking fashion statement. I usually carried my R2 Telemaster Pack [subject of a Test Report on this site] filled with a 2L or 3L water bladder, sometimes a vacuum bottle filled with tea or hot energy drink, lunch, snacks, an extra down insulating layer. I snowshoe with a pair of cross-country ski poles. I have worn various boots, some low-cut and some over the ankle, with the Elites. Added to my body weight the pack and clothing gave a total load of about 230-240 pounds (105-109 kg) on the shoes.
Springtime use of the Elites has been limited, in 2016 by my injury and last year by my testing the other shoes, so I have little use on softer and heavier snow in warmer temperatures. I did wear the Elites last May to hike up a slope at the local ski hill after the area had closed for a downhill run. On this jaunt I carried a small pack with a water bottle and of course my skis, and wore heavy plastic telemark ski boots.
Most of my limited backpacking in winter is done on skis rather than snowshoes, but in late December 2016 on one of these trips I carried the Elites on the outside of my pack for use (including some animal tracking) around the Forest Service cabin that was our destination. This was a three-day, two-night trip that included both good weather and two heavy snow squalls. It was cold - not above 10 F (-12 C) - and windy.
Altogether about 35 days of use, not counting many short hikes in the draws near my house or dog walks.
Fit. Fit is excellent for a variety of footgear that included trail runners, over-the-ankle hiking boots, rubber-bottomed insulated apres-ski boots, and [this winter] a pair of over-the-calf hunting boots. Here's where the Lock Adjustment, Memory Lock System, Lateral Adjust, and Ankle PRE-ADJUST come into play. I found it easiest to fit a boot into each shoe binding before putting the boot on my foot. Length - the Lock Adjustment - comes first. I push in the red buttons, located just aft of the toe binding, and slide the base of the binding up or down to get the proper length, then release the buttons to secure the length. Next comes the toe. With the toe of the boot in the toe binding I press up the red locking tab on the outside of the toe binding and then tighten the nylon straps on each side. That's the Lateral Adjust. It's easiest to over-loosen the nylon and then tighten the straps to get a centered, snug fit. Then I engage the tab to lock this in - the Memory Lock System. I don my boots and step into the shoe with the heel binding open. This piece has a ridged rubber strap that slides through a ratchet on a plastic lock - the Ankle Pre-Adjust - in a manner quite similar to a strap on a telemark ski boot. Once adjusted to my boot I re-engage the ratchet's tab. Before setting forth I'll tweak the toe binding for just the right fit.
That's a paragraph that took me longer to write than it does to fit a pair of boots to the shoes, now that I have the hang of it. These features are just what features should be - easy to use, functional, and reliable, without overengineering or unneeded bells and whistles. One design feature I especially like is that the binding adjustments do not include any strap that extends to the point of getting underfoot or otherwise in the way of walking. The heel binding is semi-rigid and runs across the top of the binding. The straps on the toe binding are short enough never to flop to one side.
Features. Once properly adjusted for my footwear I rarely had even to consider an adjustment. Minor tweaks to the heel and toe binding can be done with mittens on. That's usually only the straps on the toe binding to get my boot accurately centered - the Lateral Adjust.
I can easily engage or disengage the heel lifts with a ski pole basket and once lifted this feature definitely helps when climbing. One more feature that's simple and accomplishes exactly what it's intended to do.
The underside of the toe binding is lightly padded, which reduces the risk of chafing during steady climbs.
Flex. The flexibility of the plastic deck combined with the binding's stability and movement independent of the deck make up the Hyperflex concept that give these shoes their name. This system really works. I have found the Elites to be extraordinarily flexible and the flexiability to furnish stable footing regardless of terrain. These shoes adjust to steeps and sidehills better than any other snowshoes I've worn.
Grip. This is my acid test for snowshoes and the Elites scored top marks. Whether the surface was snow hardpacked almost to ice on a main line trail or two feet (62 cm) of fresh powder snow I never had any slippage. I felt totally comfortable even when descending slick icy roads or hiking laterally on steep sidehills.
For some reason - perhaps the minimal amount of openings on the frame - the Elites shed [perhaps it might be more accurate to say do not pick up] snow extraordinarily well. Occasionally I'll knock accumulated snow from the crampons with a pole, but here again these shoes' performance is exemplary. Less snow and ice on the frames of course means better grip of the crampons on the snow.
Float. The Elites did well in this category as well. As noted almost all of my use was at colder temperatures, which around here means very light and dry snow. (It's nicknamed cold smoke.) When tracking normally one person in our group would be assigned to follow a particular track, so I was often breaking trail. I can't say that I always stayed on the surface; in fact in fresh powder I almost never did. But I never sunk above my knees either, and always felt safe both laterally and forward and back. In my opinion the generous flex helps with this, especially to avoid getting stuck after remaining in one place for some time. I'm beneath the midpoint for the Large size [which is based on user weight, not overall user plus pack weight], which may bear on this.
Comfort. I've mentioned the heel lifts and lined toe bindings. On hikes with considerable sidehill climbing [that's most hikes] I will occasionally experience some pinching of my forefoot after a couple of hours.
Durability. The fact that I haven't yet had a problem with the Elites is eloquent testimony to their durability. The edges have a few nicks from contact with rocks and tree stumps, but nothing hindering functionality. The shoes seem as flexible as out of the box. I have detected no rust on the crampons.
Care. I haven't been especially careful in looking after the Elites, but I do try to knock snow and ice off the shoes at the end of a trek. I'll rub down the cleats and claws with a towel if I have one at the trailhead; if not, I'll towel them off upon returning home. I hang the shoes, fixed back to back, in my garage. In the low humidity here the shoes dry out completely in an hour or two. When snow season ends I'll rub the crampons with a light coating of oil.
Flexibility and grip. They make for the easiest hiking in snowshoes I've ever done.
Durable, with minimal care.
Bright red color, which makes them easy to see when I've stashed them somewhere and, should the need arise, when used as a beacon for rescue.
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