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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > TSL HyperFlex Symbioz Elite Snowshoes > Test Report by Duane Lawrence
Initial Report February 15, 2016
Field Report , April 8, 2017
Long Term Report, May 14, 2017
Name: Duane Lawrence
Email: duanesgear (at) yahoo (dot) com
Location: Sparwood, British Columbia Canada
Age: 44 years
Height: 5 ft 9 in ( 1.5 m)
Weight: 160 lbs (73 kg)
I have been an avid outdoor enthusiast for over 25 years. I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities including mountaineering, day hikes, multi-day backpacking trips, river and ocean kayaking, back country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and rock climbing. I have climbed throughout British Columbia, the United States and when opportunity presents itself in Europe and India. I carry a wide variety of gear depending on the type and length of trip. I am a search and rescue team member in the Southern Canadian Rockies and am part of the swift water, rope rescue and avalanche technical teams and ground search team.
Manufacture TSL Outdoor
Product Symbioz Elite Snowshoe
MSRP $299 USD
Available Sizes Sm/Med/Lg
Tested Size Med
Weight 4.3 lb (1.95 kg) pair
Measured Weight 4.56 lb (2.07 kg) pair
Recommended user Weight 110 – 260 lbs (50 – 118 kg)
Size 23.5 x 8 in (60 x 21 cm)
Measured Size 23.5 x 8 in (60 x 21 cm)
Shoe Size Men’s 5 – 15
Design and Construction
TSL Outdoor has incorporated a number of unique features into the design of the Symbioz Elite Snowshoes. The snowshoe is made from a flexible plastic base with carbon inserts running the length of the snowshoe that add strength to this flexible snowshoe. Four pairs of stainless steel ‘bidirectional’ crampons are placed amongst forward and side facing plastic support crampons which appear to provide added traction for ascentsand possibly side-hilling. A single, large toe crampon is mounted on the pivoting binding for traction during assents. The whole snowshoe is appears to be incredibly flexible although still significantly stiff enough to allow the crampons to dig into crusty snow. The information on the web page talks about the flexibility of the snowshoe which will provide superb stability and prevents sliding in powder. The web site also notes that the crampons are interchangeable. I am not certain why I would want to swap them around but it might make it easy to repair or replace them if needed.
The binding has three adjustment points for the length of boot or shoe, ankle depth and toe volume. Instructions come with the snow shoes and show how to make all the adjustments for the memorization aspect of the binding. A simple squeeze lock allows for the boot length adjustment. Once the length is adjusted the toe strap can be widened or retracted to accommodate different boot volumes. Lastly the ankle strap has a locking clamp that allows for varying sizes of boot ankle depth. Once everything is fitted, which incidentally takes about 5 minutes, a quick release ankle ratchet and toe strap clamp allows for simple tightening or removal of the snowshoe. There is an integrated stainless steel heel lift on the back of the binding that can easily be pushed into position with a ski pole or pulled back up to disengage.
The hour-glass shape of the snowshoe is meant to easy walking and allow for a more natural stride while the flexibility, both front to back and side to side (twisting) is meant to eliminate the strain a rigid snowshoe puts on the ankle and knees when walking on uneven terrain. TSL refers to this as their Hyperflex concept which is supposed to allow for the snowshoe to adapt to the hiker’s stride and the profile of the terrain while increasing responsiveness of the snowshoe. The flexibility of the carbon reinforced base are also supposed to store energy during the bending phase and release it at the end of the stride, increasing stride power and reducing effort.
This is a very interesting snowshoe. At 2.3 lbs (1.03 kg) the Symbioz Elite snowshoe seems fairly light, definitely not overly heavy, and has what appears to be a large enough footprint that will keep me on top of the snow. The combination of stainless steel and plastic crampons are well spaced and plentiful enough so that traction should not be a concern. I also like the hourglass shape which I hope will allow for a more even, less bowlegged, stride.
Aside from the crampons and the heal lift everything is plastic, including the pivot point where the binding attaches to the base of the snowshoe through some beefy looking plastic pins. I am not sure if this is a concern or not, plastic these days is very durable, so hopefully it will not be a weak point. To get the fit correct, which was easy, six different points of initial adjustment need to be made, which in my mind makes for six different places that something can go wrong. That being said, once they are set the two quick release points at the ankle and toe are very simple to use. All the adjustable components fit into their own contained areas which is very nice as there are no extra pieces or straps getting in the way or flapping around. There is a fabric ankle strap that contains the ankle ratchet system which looks comfortable although I am hoping it is very resistant to water so that it does not soak up moisture and transfer it to my boots. The bottom of the binding is smooth which will lessen the likelihood of snow balling.
The Hyperflex system TSL has incorporated into the design appears at first inspection that it will do exactly as advertised. The whole snowshoe is flexible with a good amount of resistance to it and a nice springy feel which should transfer stored energy back into the stride. The snowshoes also come with a carrying case with handle and wide Velcro strap on the front that looks like it could be used to strap the bag on a pack. Something I will have to try out during the test.
Overall the TSL Outdoor Symbioz Elite snowshoe is very attractive looking with a very versatile binding system that shoe put a spring in my step throughout the test period. I am looking forward to seeing how they perform out in the snow.
Entering into spring has its benefits for testing snowshoes as the conditions are quite varied. During this period of testing I put on an estimated 55 km (34 mi), with one three-day trip taking up the majority of distance, 47 km (29 mi). Elevations ranged from 914 m to 1714m (3000 ft to 5625 ft) with temperatures hovering between 3 C and -8 C (37 - 17 F) for all of my trips. The more important information is with respect to the actual snow conditions and terrain. For all of the trips the terrain was fairly benign with most of the trails relatively flat with mild upward elevation gains and only periodic steep sections and side hilling. I did pick out some steep sections with high angle slopes to test out how the snowshoes would perform while ascending, descending and traversing slopes. For the snow I ran into heavy mash potato snow that was extremely heavy and sticky, thick and thin rain crust layers that in some places I could stay on top of and others where I punched through depending on the thickness of the rain crust, light powdery snow, groomed trails, packed snowshoe and ski trails as well as a variety of fresh snow from moderately light to heavy and wet. Overall I believe I hit up most types of snow conditions except for a fresh dump of sugary light powder. Not sure if I will get that during the next test period as it’s getting warmer every day with the freezing level ascending the mountains well above treeline but who knows.
Setting up the snowshoes was fairly easy although familiarizing myself with all of the different adjustment points took some time. Once I had them set up though it was very quick to put them on or take them off. A front clip and a rear ratchet strap release were all that I needed to deal with. At first I thought the snowshoes were identical but I eventually notice a tiny left and right printed on the ratchet strap that indicated which foot the snowshoe should go on. It is printed directly on the buckle which I hadn't noticed. Having them on the correct feet doesn’t change their performance just makes adjusting the ratchet strap much simpler, especially when taking them off. When I had them on the wrong feet I needed two hands to release the ratchet whereas when they are put on correctly I could release the ratchet quickly and easily with one hand.
The binding is very versatile and adaptable to a significant range of boots. Although the majority of my trips involved the use of a standard leather hiking boot, US men's 9.5 (EU 40), I did take them on a back country ski trip where I was able to slip my ski boots into the binding after expanding them to accommodate the significantly larger size boot. I would estimate that the ski boot was the equivalent of a US men's 11 or 12 (EU 42 - 44) although being significantly bulkier. The binding was able to accommodate these boots easily with additional room for an even large boot. It should be noted that it does take a bit of time to make all the adjustments needed to change over boots but I can't foresee ever changing boots while on a trip so it is really not an issue.
For comfort the ankle strap was great, no notable compression of the ankle although if there was I could easily adjust the tension of the strap with one hand, either tightening or loosening as needed. For the toe strap I initially had no issues, making small adjustments to the straps until I could easily use the quick release buckle. I did experience some significant level of discomfort after a full day of snowshoeing though. What I found was that the toe strap pulled the binding inward to the center of my foot. What this ended up doing was compressing my foot to the center from the sides. I didn't notice this at all on my short trips, under 5 km (3 mi), but as soon as I was out for a longer day, 10 km (6 mi) plus, I started to really notice it. After each day of snowshoeing during my 3-day 47 km (29 mi) trip I would experience quite a bit of discomfort by the 8 - 10 km (5 - 6 mi) point and out right pain when I eventually took them off at the end of the day. It was my foot relaxing from being compressed which caused all the discomfort. It generally only lasted about 10 minutes or so but was very intense. I did try to adjust the toe straps to try and eliminate this but nothing but leaving it undone or so loose that my foot would start moving around in the front of the binding made a difference. It has something to do with how the front straps pull inward when buckling them that seems to be the problem. The inward compression compressed my feet in a way that was not very nice. I also noted a small pressure point developing on the top of one of my feet by the end of the 3-days of snowshoeing. This could be just from a long trip but it is worth noting.
For the remainder of the design I was quite happy. The shaped allowed me to step easily into a ski track without modifying my gait which was very nice while following an existing snowshoe/ski trail. The downside to the design is with respect to their flotation. With a 40 lb (18 kg) pack which increases the total load for the snowshoes to deal with up to 200 lbs (91 kg), I found that unless I was on a packed trail or thick rain crust I did not have the flotation I would want. During my trips I noted that I was sinking into the snow at least 3 or 4 inches (7.5 - 10 cm) more than anyone else. Event with a light day pack, if I was making a new trail I found myself sinking in to a point where it made snowshoeing difficult. Not to make direct comparisons but I have a number of snowshoes and have used them in all sorts of conditions and the lack of flotation of these snowshoes jumped out at me. They are supposed to be rated up to 240 lb (109 kg) so I was well within the recommended range but I definitely would have been happier with a snowshoe that had a larger surface area that would be able to distribute my weight over the snow more effectively and keep me up on the surface rather than punching through.
The crampons, both plastic and steel, worked very well. At no time did I feel unsupported or that I lost traction regardless of the type of snow I was hiking through or the steepness of the slope. The toe crampon dug into the snow very effectively providing me with ample traction while ascending a snow slope. The front of the snowshoe did not get in the way when ascending a steep slope which was nice. The heal lift was effective and easy to engage. I simply needed to push down with my ski pole to engage the heal lift which is attached to the binding rather than the base of the snow shoe. Disengaging them was a little trickier but by reversing my pole and using the handle I was able to disengage the lift easily enough and without having to bend down and use my hands which was really nice when wearing a heavy pack.
For side hilling the Symbioz performed adequately. I was able to kick the snowshoes into the hillside fairly effectively and the narrow profile made traversing a steep slope fairly easy. The down side of the shape was that I was only able to get the front and back of the snowshoe into the hillside rather than the entire side of the snowshoe which reduces the amount of traction, although not by much. When not cutting into the slope the crampons provided excellent traction. There was very little flexibility in the binding when traversing in this manner which meant that I had to adjust how I would place my feet on the slope to a slightly up slope angle to alleviate the inevitable twisting and pressure when side hilling on a hard snow surface.
One of the challenges that all snowshoes have to deal with is balling of snow on the bottom of the snowshoe. Crampons tend to collect snow, depending on its consistency and the ability of the snowshoe and crampon design to shed the snow it either makes for a happy day of snowshoeing or a frustrating day of tapping, hitting and kicking the snowshoes to release collected snow. Seeing one of my fellow snowshoer’s fight with her snowshoes incredible ability to collect mountains of snow demonstrated very dramatically how well the Symbioz shed snow. The narrow design limited collection of snow on top of the snowshoe and, I must admit surprisingly, the multitude of crampons both plastic and steel, did a great job of not collecting snow. What little snow that did attached itself to the bottom of the snowshoe was limited and unless I was actively looking to see if there was snow attaching itself to the snowshoe I did not notice it. During one portion of my excursions where I was walking along a groomed cross country trail with fresh damp snow covering in the early afternoon I did end up having to actively knock snow from the bottom of the snowshoes. This was easily accomplished with a lite tap with my poles against the side of my snowshoe. A little annoying I must admit but with all the conditions I had hiked through with no issues finding one set of conditions where I had snow-balling occurring was not a major issue. During descents I was pleased to note that I could easily glissade down a lose snow slope with ease and on rain crust, walk down without feeling out of control. The crampons performed very well digging into the crust and providing ample traction on a steep downward slope. At no time did I feel that I was going to start sliding down the hill.
I wanted to make a quick comment regarding the Hyperflex system that TSL has incorporated into the design which is supposed to increase performance. I can’t really comment on whether or not the Hyperflex design made a difference or not in transferring stored energy into my step. Its just very difficult to give a definitive answer. They may very well have reduced leg and foot fatigue as I did not feel exceptionally tired after each outing but I am not sure if this was due to the nice pace we set or from the Hyperflex system.
Overall I was pleased with the Symbioz Elite snowshoes. The binding is very versatile, the pressure issue is definitely concerning on long trips but could be an issue that only I experience, hard to say. They certainly live up to the claim of being very easy to put on and take off once all the binding adjustments have been made. The narrow profile makes following an existing track easy regardless of how wide the track is. Flotation is a little limiting and having a slightly larger surface area might be nice. The Symbioz do very well for traction and grip, shed snow very well and preform admirably when traversing, ascending and descending slopes.
After twelve weeks of use I am still enjoying these snowshoes. I was able to get out and use them on a number of additional trips including a long snowshoe up Form Ridge which allowed me to really put the crampons through their passes as well as re-affirm some observations around flotation and stability on steep angles. The snow on the ridge ranged from soft and light to heavy and wet with pretty much everything else in between. Temperatures were quite nice hovering around 1c (34 f). I also had a few long treks on mixed trails where the conditions were more ice and ground than snow, kind of a big surprise as there was so much snow this year. Regardless it gave me an opportunity to see how packable they were. Overall I was able to put an additional 30 km (18.6 mi) or so of distance on the Symbioz Elite and see how they performed on a variety of snow conditions.
The Symbioz Elite are very nice snowshoes that are light weight and versatile. During this test period I pushed them through an estimated 45 degree slope, side hilling and heading straight down. The snow was quite firm on the side hill portion and the crampons and edges of the snowshoes dug into the crusty snow quite well. In the softer spots the narrow profile of the snowshoe was nice. When I was punching into the snow slope the snowshoes did not get in the way of each step which made the traverse fairly easy. Heading straight down the slope I was at first concerned that the flexible nature of the snowshoe might not allow me to plunge heel of the snowshoe into the snow which I find is needed to allow me to descend quickly with lots of stability. This was, to my delight, not the case. I was able to rapidly descend the slope plunging through the snow pack with no problem at all. I should also note that the heel lifts worked very well when I was heading up to the ridge, providing enough rise to ease the angle of the snowshoe and make the ascent much nicer than without. I also still like the heal lift location on the bottom of the binding as it makes it easy to engage and disengage with the end of my pole. With respect to packability they were simple enough to attach to my pack. The simplest method was having one snowshoe on either side of the pack although putting them together on the back of my pack also worked well enough. The only downside to this method was that the bindings are fairly deep which meant that I needed more strap length in order to attach them to my pack.
I did try and determine if the pressure on the front of my foot was due to anything other than the binding, and although I tried adjusting it in every way I could possibly think of, I still experienced discomfort at the end of a long day due to the binding compressing the front of my foot. I have no idea what is actually going on here but I only felt this while wearing the snowshoe so have to assume that it is indeed the snowshoe binding and not the boots. Sadly, I have no suggestions on how to address it and it might just be something about my feet but definitely a drawback. Aside from this issue the only other item to note would be their relatively low flotation. This could be easily rectified for me by going up one size though. Everything else about these snowshoes I found very good. Construction and durability are very good, they are fairly light weight, easy to attach to a backpack, have a very versatile binding, excellent traction and they look good to boot. Overall, a great snowshoe that I thoroughly enjoyed testing.Pro's
Thanks again to TSL Outdoor and BackPackGeartesters.org for the opportunity to test the Symbioz Elite Snowshoe.
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