TSL SYMBIOZ ELITE SNOWSHOES
TEST SERIES BY NANCY GRIFFITH
May 15, 2017
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Northern California, USA
5' 6" (1.68 m)
126 lb (57.20 kg)
My outdoor experience began in high school with a canoeing/camping group which made a 10-day voyage through the Quebec wilds. I've been backpacking since my college days in Pennsylvania. I have hiked all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. My typical trip now is in the Sierra Nevada in California and is from a few days to a few weeks long. Over the past few years I have lowered my pack weight to a lightweight base weight of 15 lb (6.8 kg) while still using a tent, stove and quilt.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: TSL Outdoors
Year of Manufacture: 2017
MSRP: $299 US
Listed Weight: 2 lb 1 oz (0.93 kg) each
Measured Weight: 2 lb 2 oz (0.96 kg) each
Size Tested: S
Other Sizes Available: M and L
Size S Fits Shoe Sizes 6.5 Women's to 15 Men's
My Shoe Size: 9 Women's
Size S is for User Weight of 65 to 180 lb (30 to 82 kg)
My Weight: 126 lb (57 kg) and with snow gear/pack: 151 lb (68 kg)
Listed Dimensions: 20.5 in x 7.5 in (52 cm x 9 cm)
The TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes are a unique design which they call HyperFlex. That seems like an appropriate name! The hourglass-shaped decking is made of a plastic and has 17 slots down each side to allow for flexibility both fore and aft and in sidehill twisting situations.
|Lots of Grip|
There are carbon fiber reinforcements down each side which are for elasticity and responsiveness. They are supposed to store energy during bending and release it after flexing to increase power and reduce effort. This in turn will reduce calf strain and fatigue.
A plastic heel plate is screwed onto the deck and extends under much of the foot especially toward the heel. There is a heavy-gage formed wire that can be folded down under the heel as a heel lift for steep uphill terrain. It can be simply pushed down with a trekking pole basket without having to remove the snowshoe or do any balancing act.
The underside of the deck has multiple areas of ridges, vertical blades and grips formed into the plastic to provide traction. There are four sets of stainless steel interchangeable claws attached underneath. The stainless steel toe crampon has bi-directional shape to allow for grip under the toe and ball of the foot.
The binding has a telescoping support that goes under the foot and adjusts to various boot sizes by depressing buttons on either side while moving the foot plate. The toe binding can be adjusted for the boot width, uses straps on either side to set the fit and a locking closure that allows the toe of the boot to be inserted without adjusting any straps and then simply locked down. There is a slot on either side for routing the ends of the straps to keep them out of the way.
|Width and Length Adjustments|
The heel/ankle binding can be adjusted for boot size, uses a ratcheting strap that can be freed with the push of a button to open it all at once and a ratchet that allows for tightening in small increments. There is padding around the front of the strap for comfort with a strap garage built in. On the opposite side from the ratchet strap there is another adjustment buckle to change the fit for wider or narrower boots.
The combination of the light weight, shape, flexibility and binding system are designed for a natural-feeling stride and comfortable experience.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS & TRYING THEM OUT
My initial impression was of the nice zippered bag that the snowshoes came packaged in. It is white with black mesh on the top and a red zipper so it really is an eye-catcher. And with the black mesh on top, the red snowshoes can be seen inside.
When I unzipped the bag I found the most interesting and unique pair of snowshoes that I've ever seen. The first notable thing was that there is no separate frame around the outside edge. The decking is plastic and provides the frame, platform, support and even some of the grip on the bottom. The edges of the deck along the sides are slotted to allow for incredible flexibility. I was able to significantly bend and twist the shoe with my hands with little effort.
Next I noticed how unique the bindings are. There are pre-adjustments for my boot size, fine tuning adjustments when putting them on and quick-release mechanisms for taking them off quickly. There is also padding on the strap that goes around my ankle. Nice!
The heel lift folds down easily but securely and provides a solid step. Overall the Symbioz seem very much as-advertised on the website.
I pulled out my winter boots and proceeded to set the bindings to fit them. First I adjusted the underfoot plate to the correct length. In this case I set it to size 29 (as noted on the foot plate) although my boots are an EU equivalent of 40. I'm not really clear on what the 29 means, but it doesn't really matter I suppose. Second I inserted the toe into the binding and extended out the width adjustment a little for a nice fit. I pulled the side straps at the toe sides for a snug fit. Lastly, I adjusted the ankle strap to center the padding on the front of my boot. Easy as pie and now I'm ready to get out in the snow! Most of these adjustments were one-time-only so once I'm ready to go all I need to do is insert foot, snap down toe binding and insert/tighten the ratcheting strap at the ankle.
Just during the boot adjustment process I noticed how incredibly flexible the snowshoes are. They moved around and flexed in all directions while I was inserting and adjusting my boots.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
The HyperFlex Symbioz Elite came with a user manual with photographic descriptions of how to pre-adjust the bindings to my boots, how to put the snowshoes on, how to use the heel lift and how to remove the snowshoes.
TSL offers a 2 year warranty against material, workmanship or design flaws.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
During the Field test period I used the TSL Symbioz on four snowshoe day hikes carrying a day pack. Temperatures ranged from just below freezing to 43 F (6 C). All trips had deep base snow conditions. Snow conditions were generally excellent with a little melting snow at warmer temperatures and lower elevation.
|Yes, that's a stop sign!|
Polaris Trail, Loon Lake, Sierra Nevada, California: 6.1 mi (10 km); 6,327 to 6,510 ft (1,928 to 1,984 m); 32 F (0 C); stormy, windy, snow conditions; 6 ft (2 m) base with several in (cm) of great snow conditions with some light powder atop.
China Wall, Sierra Nevada, California: 4.6 mi (7.4 km); 5,000 to 5,200 ft (1,524 to 1,585 m); 33 to 39 F (0.5 to 2 C); sunny with large puffy clouds; 4 ft (1.3 m) base with several in (cm) of good snow conditions.
Coldstream Valley, Donner Lake, California: 3.3 mi (5.3 km); 5,935 to 6,236 ft (1,809 to 1,901 m); 33 F (0.5 C); mostly cloudy with storm moving in; 10 ft (3.3 m) base with several in (cm) of great snow conditions.
Mount Rose, Carson Range, Nevada: 1.8 mi (2.9 km); 8,911 to 9,080 ft (2,716 to 2,768 m) elevation; 43 F (6 C); sunny and clear; 20 ft (6.6 m) base with several in (cm) of great snow conditions.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Symbioz were really easy to adjust at the trailhead. I had gotten all of the 'set-it-and-forget-it' adjustments done at home prior to my first outing. So when I got to the trailhead I only had to insert my foot, snap down the toe strap and insert the ankle strap (and cinch it). I got even faster at this where I'm quite quick about being ready to go. This very easy and quick ingress and egress from the Symbioz is a real benefit. I'm never hesitant to remove the snowshoes for a lunch break or for any other reason and nobody has to wait for me to be ready.
|I 'heart' heel lifts|
I noticed on my second hike that I could really cinch down on the ankle strap and feel it through my boot. So on the third hike I purposely left the strap very loose. Well, that didn't work at all and I soon walked myself right out of the snowshoes on a steep and deep snow ascent. Oops. I just need to be careful not to cinch down too much since it is so easy to keep ratcheting the fine adjustment.
The flexibility of the Symbioz is incredible. I was able to span gaps in snowpack and the snowshoes just flexed to whatever situation arose. My body weight didn't seem to cause any binding or unusual torqueing of the Symbioz that they couldn't handle easily. The snowshoes flex quite a bit but are still very stable. I had some initial concern that they'd flex and twist so easily that my feet and ankles wouldn't have a firm platform, but that is not the case. I always felt stable and supported even on steep sidehill slopes. The traction was very good allowing slipping (skiing) only on the steepest slopes.
I used the heel lifts quite often for steep slope conditions and loved them. I folded them down and back up usually with the aid of my trekking pole basket. I could also use my gloved hand which worked fine on flat areas but required some balancing that could be difficult to do on steep slopes. I tried to operate the heel lifts by using the grip end of my trekking poles to avoid scratching the snowshoes with the tip end but couldn't quite get adequate leverage for that to work right.
I didn't experience any extremely cold temperatures so I had no problems with the buckles freezing up. I plan to do an overnighter soon and should see below freezing temperatures overnight to further assess this.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the Symbioz for an additional two days of snowshoeing including one overnight trip.
Shadow Lake, Sierra Nevada, California: overnight trip of 10 mi (16 km); 6,327 to 7,264 ft (1,928 to 2,214 m); 28 to 52 F (-2 to 11 C); sunny and clear; 10 to 15 ft (3 to 4.6 m) base with several in (cm) of good snow conditions with some melting slushy areas
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The weather warmed quite a bit and snow melted quickly making snowshoeing more difficult to arrange. However, I did get out on one overnight trip early in the period when there was still a lot of snow.
The side toe straps that I initially set when I first received the snowshoes seemed to be too loose so I re-tightened them. I'm not surprised that there was some loosening given that there is constant force on that area when walking. Re-adjusting once every handful of uses does not seem excessive or inconvenient.
I continued to have to be careful not to cinch down the straps too tightly or else my boots became noticeably uncomfortable. There is a sweet spot where the straps are very secure but still not so tight to cause discomfort.
After one lunch break stop where I removed the snowshoes, I managed to get the shoes swapped left and right and noticed some weird rubbing on the bottom of my foot during a steep sidehill descent. I stopped to investigate and found that user error was the problem. After putting the snowshoes back on the correct feet, there was not a problem. I've no idea how I was able to do that, but the design is clearly fairly symmetrical to even allow my boots to fit on the wrong snowshoes.
The grip continued to be very good allowing me to be confident in the traction in every condition including steep climbs, descents and sidehill traverses. I even felt sure-footed while sawing some dead limbs for a fire on our overnight trip. I was exerting quite a bit of force and the 'tree well' footing was a little dicey but the Symbioz gripped tightly and I didn't slip.
|Good traction while sawing dead limbs|
On the backpacking trip I had a good opportunity to see how the buckles fared after sitting in snow overnight. I just left the snowshoes sitting atop the snow under the tent vestibule and by morning temperatures were below freezing. I had no problems operating the buckles, straps or ratchet mechanism.
The flotation of the Symbioz was fairly good but not great in the lightest powdery snow conditions especially with a full backpack. I (with a full pack) am well under the recommended weight though for the small size. However, given that I'm using the small size and that the snowshoes are such a streamlined design, I'm not unhappy with the flotation. The snow conditions in our area are usually 'Sierra Cement' so I don't often have to contend with light dry powder conditions.
The durability of the Symbioz has been excellent with no wear, part breakage or malfunction of any kind. The only damage is some slight scratches on the inside edges where I manage to step on top of my other snowshoe. However, even this is much less than on other snowshoes that I own given the design of the crampons and grips being inset away from the very edge.
Overall the TSL Outdoors HyperFlex Symbioz Elite Snowshoes have made for some excellent outings and are a unique, extremely flexible design.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
Bindings allow for plenty of adjustment
Bindings allow for quick on and off
Lots of traction
Flotation a little less than specified range
Some foot discomfort if straps are ratcheted too tight
This concludes my Long-Term Test Report and this test series. Thanks to TSL Outdoors and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in this test.
Read more reviews of TSL gear
Read more gear reviews by Nancy Griffith