TUBBS NRG FLEX SNOWSHOES
TEST SERIES BY DAVID BAXTER
March 28, 2010
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
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5' 8" (1.73 m)
175 lb (79.40 kg)
I have been hiking for six years and backpacking for five. I get out on the trails or snow every weekend, regardless of the weather. My trips range anywhere from fairly short dayhikes to longer multi-day backpacking trips. In the winter I snowshoe or snow-climb in moderate terrain and occasionally participate in a glaciated climb. My typical winter pack is about 15 lb (6.8 kg) for a day trip, and 35 - 45 lb (16 - 20 kg) for a glacier climb with an overnight camp. In the summer my pack is around 25 lb (11 kg).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Tubbs Snowshoes
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: Tubbs Snowshoes homepage
Listed Weight: 4 lbs 3 oz (1.91 g)
Measured Weight: 4 lbs 3 oz (1.90 g)
Weight of hook-and-loop storage strap: 1.87 oz (53 g)
Listed size: 8 x 24 inches (20 x 61 cm)
Measured size: 8 x 24 inches (20 x 61 cm)
Other details: The mens Flex NRG snowshoes are available in 24 inch (61 cm) only. The only color available is a dark gray.
The Flex NRG snowshoes arrived with each shoe packaged back to back, with a snowshoe-shaped cardboard divider between the two. Various selling points were printed on this, along with the name of the company and snowshoe. Also attached was a thick hook-and-loop strap holding the two snowshoes together. A small instruction manual was attached at the toe of one shoe describing the bindings of Tubbs Flex series snowshoes in French, English, German, Norwegian, Italian, and Japanese.
The Flex NRG snowshoes are only available in a two-tone gray color scheme with some red and little snowflakes on the binding straps. Red lettering for "Tubbs" and "Flex NRG" decorate various places on each shoe. The snowshoe deck feels very sturdy and there are many rivets holding the plastic onto the metal frame. Everything is very tightly constructed however there is noticeable misalignment between the two plastic segments on the left shoe. I believe this is only cosmetic but I will keep an eye on it.
The main feature of the Flex NRG snowshoes is the bendable tail and "Soft Strike" heel zone. At first glance the tail appears very solid but with some pressure it does bend significantly. It will be interesting to see if this really does absorb impact or if the long and flat tail will simply knife into the snow. From the middle of the binding to the heel the hard plastic has been replaced with a slightly elastic rubber. This has a noticeable stretch to it, even with pressure from my hand. It deflects significantly under pressure and should provide some cushion to each step. Six large rivets hold this center section to the frame. While it provides heel cushioning it does not allow the ankle to flex side-to-side.
On the underside of each snowshoe two parallel metal rails run about three-quarters the length of the shoe, stretching from near the front to just beyond the heel. They are slightly bulged in the center and covered with chunky serrated teeth, like a fat sawblade. At the toe of the binding, just before the pivot, four large metal crampons provide additional traction. Towards the rear molded raised plastic bars also provide traction points.
The binding is a clamshell design, squeezing over the toe box of the boots and pinching each side together with a single strap. The V-shaped strap has a locking adjustment on the inside half with a sliding tab, and a spring-loaded friction grip on the other half, providing two points of adjustment. A plastic clip holds the extra lengths of the nylon strap.
Also included was a beefy hook-and-loop strap long enough to hold the two snowshoes together back-to-back for storage or packing. This has the name "FLEX" printed over it in large letters.
The small manual provides instructions for each of the three Flex-series snowshoe models. Each features a different binding so read carefully; initially I did not and was confused. The binding instructions are simple and clear for each specific model, however.
TRYING IT OUT
I first unclipped and loosened the binding straps, both toe and heel. Then I stepped into the snowshoes, centering the balls of my feet over the pivot point per the instructions. First I clicked the V-strap into place, which locked easily, then pulled the remaining strap outwards to tighten. This was very easy with bare hands but the strap is thin and the buckle is small, which may pose some difficulty while wearing gloves. Finally I secured the ankle strap by pulling backwards on it. It took some force and I could feel the resistance of the notches in the rubberized strap. This strap has a fat grip on the end which made it easy to hold onto. This pulled my boots tight into the binding and also pinched the sides of the "Control Wings" together. My feet felt very securely attached to the snowshoes.
I bounced up and down a little and felt the "Soft Strike" zone sag noticeably under my weight. This depressed far enough that I could feel the floor beneath my heels. Because I was on the carpet I was hesitant to take any steps wearing them. My balance felt off because of this heel sinking but I believe it will be less noticeable on snow when the side rails sink into the surface, resulting in less of a sinking effect.
Exiting the bindings was a simple matter of releasing the V-strap buckle. The snowshoes then practically fell off. I did not have to loosen the ankle strap to release my feet.
I secured the two snowshoes together with the provided hook-and-loop strap. To do this I placed the snowshoes back-to-back and wrapped the strap through the bindings on each shoe. I then fed the strap back through its buckle and secured it with the hook-and-loop closures. The snowshoes were now firmly stuck together. This seems very handy for storing the snowshoes in my closet but I don't imagine myself using it often on the trail. I use the snowboard carrying strap on my daypack which performs an identical function.
The Tubbs Flex NRG snowshoes are designed to provide good traction and also flexibility in the heel and at the tail of the snowshoe. This is meant to reduce impact forces while snowshoeing over packed surfaces and provide a more comfortable walking motion. They have a plastic upper deck with a set of metal rails and teeth for traction on the bottom. The plastic tail is designed to bend during a normal walking motion. The "Soft Strike" zone at the heel and the bendable plastic tail do appear to work well, I am looking forward to trying them out in the snow.
The snowshoes are quite attractive and feel very solid. My pair has some noticeable misalignment between the plastic parts but I believe this is only cosmetic. The Flex NRG snowshoes appear to combine the flexibility of aluminum-frame snowshoes with the durability and traction of plastic models. Tubbs markets these snowshoes towards walking on packed trails. I will be interested to see if they perform well in softer and deeper snow.
Please check back in two months for my field report. Thank you to Backpackgeartest.org and Tubbs Snowshoes.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I first used the Flex NRG snowshoes hiking to Low Mountain mid December. Our off trail route gained 3500 ft (1067 m) over about 3 miles (4.8 km). Weather was cloudy and cold with a strong breeze. The snow was thin at lower elevations and icy higher up.
I next used the Flex NRG snowshoes hiking to Keechelus Ridge early January. We followed packed groomed roads and snowmobile tracks over about 9 miles (15 km) gaining 2200 ft (671 m). Weather was warm for mid winter and partly cloudy. The snow was very firm until near the ridge top and was then soft or a little slushy.
I also used the Flex NRG snowshoes over a three day trip between huts in the Mount Tahoma Trail Association. We hiked up a groomed road for about 3 miles (4.8 km) gaining 2000 ft (610 m) to high hut for the first night. The second night we moved about 5 miles (8 km) gaining about 1000 ft (305 m) to a yurt for the final night. The last day we hiked out an ungroomed trail in the trees covering about 5 miles (8 km) with negligible elevation gain. The snow was very thin in places and at times the snowshoes were carried. In areas with sun exposure they were helpful. Weather was very mild and sunny.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
So far I am pleased with the performance of the Flex NRG snowshoes. They have, unfortunately, spent much more time strapped to my back than my feet due to an abnormally warm and snow-free winter in the Pacific Northwest.
The snowshoes have been very comfortable on packed terrain. On hard packed snow, such as a groomed surface or snowmobile track, I can feel the flexibility in the "Soft Strike" zone. It gives a feeling of walking on softer snow and does indeed prevent my knees from absorbing the full impact. It is noticeably softer than the pair of hard-plastic decked snowshoes I own and slightly softer than the aluminum-tube framed pair.
The binding has been very solid. My feet stay firmly in place and my heel cannot slip side-to-side at all, which happens occasionally using my other snowshoes. Once secured it holds my foot in place and rarely needs a second tightening over the day. It is also very easy to step out of by simply unclipping the toe-strap. I would prefer a larger buckle, however. In thick gloves it can be difficult to undo the clip, especially if it is covered in packed or frozen snow.
But this rigid binding also causes one problem I did not anticipate. Compared to other snowshoes I find the Flex's difficult to secure to a backpack. Because of the thick, solid binding, when the snowshoes are set back-to-back and strapped vertically to my pack they protrude further from the pack and stretch the straps to their limit. This tends to make me feel unbalanced. The best packing solution I have found is to open the toe-strap on one shoe, spread the binding wide across the face of my pack, and cinch it down tightly to the pack. This keeps it closer to my back and is more comfortable. It does stretch the binding but so far I haven't noticed any damage. This did not work with my overnight pack while traveling between the huts, however. I resorted to carrying them under my arm since I could not find a satisfactory way to attach them to the pack.
|Snowshoes on my pack.|
I am unsure how effective the flexible tail is in a normal gait. I can't feel any effect from the tail while walking unless I take a funny step or walk in a very exaggerated stride. I swapped snowshoes with a friend on Keechelus Ridge so I could observe them from behind. I could visibly see his weight stretch the "Soft Strike" zone but did not observe any significant flexing in the tail. The added length of the tail does add some useful flotation in softer snow though.
The misaligned plastic I mentioned in my initial report has not caused any problems so far. I have noticed, however, an increasing amount of rust on the metal rails. I have treated these snowshoes the same as all my other pairs and simply let them air-dry after use. There are many spots where the metal has been scraped and the protective coating chipped off. These are now discolored from rust. At the moment it appears simply cosmetic but I am keeping an eye on it.
I am pleased with the Tubbs Flex NRG snowshoes. They offer excellent traction on packed and icy terrain. They are also very comfortable with the secure binding and flexibility of the landing zone. My knees do indeed feel less fatigued after a trip with the Flex's compared with my solid plastic snowshoes. The binding is very solid and holds my feet in place well. I do find the toe-buckle a little small and difficult to access while wearing thick gloves, though. I also have some trouble attaching them to my backpacks due to the thickness of the snowshoe and the rigid binding.
Thus far I have primarily used the Flex NRG snowshoes on packed snow or older, crusty snow. They offered excellent traction. They have also performed well in sun-softened deeper snow. I have not yet had the chance to use them in powder or deeper snow due to an abnormal winter and lack of snowfall but hope to have this chance before the final test period ends.
Check back in two months for my final report on the Tubbs Flex NRG snowshoes. Thank you to Tubbs and Backpackgeartest.org for this opportunity.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Since my field report, I have worn the Tubbs Flex NRG snowshoes four more times.
I wore the snowshoes on a snow camping trip to Artist Point in the North Cascades. We parked at the Mt. Baker Ski area and packed in about four miles to Artist Point and pitched camp at about 6000 ft (1829 m), gaining about 2400 ft (732 m). The snow was groomed partway, then a firm sun-crust the rest of the way. The weather was very sunny and mild during the day, dropping down to about 15 F (-9 C) overnight.
I next wore the snowshoes on a dayhike to Park Butte Lookout, again in the North Cascades. We parked around 2500 ft (762 m) and snowshoed to the tower at 5450 ft (1661 m). Much of the traveling was over snowmobile tracks since a local club was having a huge jamboree that day. The weather was sunny and very warm.
In late March I next wore the snowshoes attempting Web Mountain. We parked at 1500 ft (457 m) and gained about 2500 ft (457 m) before turning back. The weather was sunny but with a strong cold wind. A fresh storm had dropped about a foot of soft fresh snow. Our route was fairly mild overall but involved a 500 ft (152 m) steep traverse and climb to a ridge spine in the fresh snow.
Finally I wore the snowshoes to Mt. Higgins. After parking at 1300 ft (396 m) we walked up a bare trail to around 4000 ft (1219 m) and then used the snowshoes for the final 1000 ft (305 m) to the summit. A late season storm had dropped about 2 feet (0.6 m) of fresh heavy snow the night before. Weather was very sunny and mild.
I have been out more times than these with the Flex NRG snowshoes but they have remained strapped to my backpack since conditions did not require that I wear them.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Many of my recent trips have been on either groomed or well consolidated snow, which Tubbs indicates are ideal conditions for the Flex's. They do indeed feel softer than similar plastic snowshoes I have used in the past and are comfortable even when carrying a 40 lb (18 kg) backpack for snow camping in firm snow conditions. The traction has overall been excellent. I find the only time I slip is when descending a steep slope. Because of the length of the snowshoes, and the traction bars only extending about 3/4 of the length, I sometimes have them slip out in front of me. Walking side-step down slopes greatly helps avoid this.
The snowshoes also worked better than I anticipated for heavy, soft snow. They provide decent flotation and on our Mt. Higgins trip I did not sink much deeper than my friends in their snowshoes. Because of the large opening around toe-area of the snowshoes each step tends to push a large "worm" of snow through the gap upwards and over my boot. This is a little annoying since it covers my boot with snow and also makes for a heavier lift-out of the snowshoe from each step. The thin edges of the plastic deck also sliced sideways into the snow and was more difficult to lift out than other pairs.
I mentioned in my initial impressions a misaligned piece of plastic. I am happy to say this has only been a cosmetic defect and the snowshoes show no significant damage despite my heavy use. There are a few creases in the padded parts of the binding from ratcheting it down tight over my gaiters but no damage. The silver paint, or powder-coating, on the traction rails has also been scraped off in many places but the underlying metal hasn't shown any damage or rust. Frequently I have walked across bare rock and melted streams in the Flex snowshoes and they have stood up well to the abuse.
I am still ambivalent about the bindings on these snowshoes. They are very easy to attach and exit, and once set they have been very solid in all conditions. They are also fairly comfortable and keep my foot from slipping around. This firmness unfortunately doesn't allow for much ankle flex. This does provide good support, but a few times has made me feel like I nearly turned my ankle stepping on a firm side slope. The binding is also bulky which makes it difficult to attach to my backpack. The best method I have found is to place the snowshoes back-to-back and carry them vertically. This holds them well but unfortunately leaves them cantilevered far from my back, making me feel a little off balance. I can tolerate this for shorter distances but on a few trips, when scrambling through steep forest below snowline, they have caught on branches or otherwise kept me off balance.
Overall I am pleased with the Tubbs Flex NRG snowshoes. While not ideal in all snow conditions, I have found them very good for firm and packed snow. They feel slightly "squishier" than other plastic snowshoes I have used and are comfortable to wear. I cant tell if the flexible tail provides this or the "Soft Strike" zone at the heel. My knees do appreciate it though. The snowshoes are less effective in deeper soft snow but this may be due simply to the smaller size of these snowshoes when compared to some other brands.
The Flex snowshoes are less useful when strapped to my backpack. They do not weigh significantly more than other pairs but they are relatively more bulky due to the binding. This makes them awkward to carry. Conversely, this bulkier binding provides good support, easy entry and exit, and is comfortable. It is a trade off, to be sure.
I plan to continue to use the Flex NRG snowshoes for trips over groomed or firm snow. They provide excellent traction and are comfortable in these conditions. If I expect to encounter deep, fresh snow I will instead use my larger aluminum-frame snowshoes. These provide better floatation in deep conditions than the Flex's. Also, if I anticipate carrying snowshoes on my pack over long distance, I will instead use a different pair. While they are reasonably lightweight to carry, I do not care for the bulk of the Flex snowshoes when strapped to my back.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
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