The Updated MSR Lightning Ascent next to its Predecessor
The latest iteration of the MSR Lightning Ascent is updated to be beefier. New features include DTX steel crampons, augmented geometry, and thicker construction. See the changes in the side-by-side photos below (the new model is to the left).
Here's a list of what's new:
- DTX Crampon — The latest model features DTX (steel) which should increase the bite.
- New geometry — A continuous piece of martensite steel to increases strength.
- Thicker construction — Overall, beefier construction.
- New Colors — These snowshoes are available in updated colors.
- Increased Price - The price increases by $10.
We haven't taken these babys for a spin yet, so the text and ratings below are indicative of the original model.
Hands-on Review of the Original MSR Lightning Ascent
In deep snow on technical terrain, the MSR Lightning Ascent is unparalleled. Here, in early season High Sierra snow-over-talus, the precise footwork and durable construction work better than any other product in our test.
Flotation is measured by how close the snowshoes keep you to the surface of the snow. The best flotation will keep you at or just below the surface of diverse snow conditions. Snowshoes with poor flotation will sink further from the surface and require more energy for snow travel. The Lightning Ascent
is a decent floater, though the Top Pick Louis Garneau Blizzard II
and Crescent Moon Gold 10
float better. The 7000 series aluminum frames with urethane-impregnated nylon excel at keeping you afloat.
On packed snow and groomed trails, they feel similar to walking in boots alone because they are lightweight with excellent range of motion. When feet of fresh snow fell, we took them out to test their flotation in depths of up to three feet, and they managed to keep us afloat, close to the surface, and stable. In steep terrain, rather than sinking with each step as many other snowshoes do, they allowed for efficient movement upward. Better flotation directly correlates to more efficient motion. The Atlas Aspect
snowshoes rival the Lightning Ascents
for flotation because they have a similar surface area, but they are heavier in packed snow conditions.
In deep snow the size of the Lightning Ascent allows fairly good flotation. The Louis Garneau Blizzard II is better, but add the optional MSR Tails to the Lightning and its again a contender.
These have the most aggressive traction system in our review. There are two cleats under the front of the foot, three horizontal rows of sharp aluminum teeth running from edge to edge, and if that weren't enough, the entire frame is 360 degrees of serrated aluminum edging that offers additional traction. The Lightning Ascent
and Atlas Aspect
are the only snowshoes with lateral crampons designed into the frame. The aggressive traction keeps you stable and secure on steep and slick ice and snow and is ideal for side stepping and traversing. The MSR Evo offer a similar degree of traction
with brake bars running horizontally, lateral crampons (separate from the frame), and semi-aggressive underfoot cleats, but do not exceed the durable construction and design of the Lightning Ascents
The fully hinging binding/deck interface allows for precise and confidence inspiring footwork in all terrain.
It is in terms of stride ergonomics that the Lightning Ascent
edges ahead of its closest competitor. The Atlas Aspect
and Lightning Ascent
are largely similar, with the only other major difference being a slight edge in flotation to the Atlas Aspect
. In terms of walking comfort and precision, however, there is a significant difference. In general, we look at overall footprint shape and size and the attachment of binding to deck in assessing stride ergonomics. The Atlas
and MSR Ascent
are close enough in size and shape that these differences are unimportant.
In general, smaller is better, for stride ergonomics. With binding/deck interface, we look at two different systems. For on-trail use, a strap-based system is best. This sort of system allows for some shock absorption, with no other drawbacks. For all-around use that will include steep and rowdy terrain, we want a hinged attachment of binding and deck. This is more precise in tough terrain, and the drawbacks on trails are worth the trade off. The Lightning Ascent
has a hinged interface, while the Atlas
has a strapped junction. For this reason, and this reason alone, the Ascent
edges ahead to our Editors' Choice award. We are well aware that some all around and even some technical users will prefer the strapped attachment. This segment of the population is small, but will prefer the Atlas Aspect
. It is good to have good choices!
The heel lifters and relatively narrow shape of the Lightning Ascent aid its stride ergonomics.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is defined by how easily the snowshoes can be fastened, adjusted on trail, and removed after your outing. The Lightning Ascents
have simple to use binding straps that securely fasten through a belt style buckle. The rubber straps are freeze resistant making them easy to use in cold conditions with gloves on. Heel lift bars rest beneath the heels of the boots when inactive and easily lift up to encourage natural muscle usage when hiking uphill in steep terrain. The heel lift is easily lifted or lowered without resistance. The light weight of the Lightning Ascents
almost makes them unnoticeable while snowshoeing and results in an easy, natural stride.
This model is easy to use as a result of the simple binding straps, aggressive traction systems that ensure stability and security, and the light weight. The binding system packs down flush with the snowshoe deck for easy stowage, whether on your pack while hiking or in your luggage or trunk in transit.
Posilock AT bindings secure your boots onto these snowshoes. Three binding straps secure the top of the foot while a heel strap wraps around the back of your boot to keep your foot from sliding forward or backward. The long rubber straps tend to flop around if not held by the binding strap tabs, but the length allows a wider range of boots to comfortably fit into the bindings. The overall binding design provides the best security of any snowshoes in our review. Some bindings, like those found on the Fimbulvetr Hikr
and the Tubbs Flex Vrt
become dislodged while hiking, but the Lightning Ascent
bindings remain securely fastened. This style of binding, shared by the MSR Evo
and the Atlas Aspect
, is the most secure style in our test.
Like with all great products, simple execution with excellent materials is the recipe. The MSR Lightning Ascent is arguably the simplest product in our review, but performs at the top of the heap.
These snowshoes are recommended for backcountry terrain, although the user-friendly design and construction make them suitable for someone new to snowshoeing as well. The technical features will not be necessary on beginner terrain, but come into play on steeper terrain and in deeper snow. While snowshoeing on groomed trails we found the Lightning Ascents
to be lightweight and well tractioned but the full rotation bindings, edged frame, and heel lift were not fully utilized in this kind of terrain. For groomed trails and snowshoeing in the park, we recommend a simpler design such as the MSR Evo
or TSL Symbioz Elite
. For travel in backcountry terrain where deep snow, off-trail travel, and steep inclines are likely, the MSR Lighting Ascents
The Lightning Ascents
are the most expensive pair of snowshoes in our review, costing between $290-$300. They are a great value for the versatility, lightweight, and technical features. The Lightning Ascents
can tackle advanced terrain and are lightweight should you wear them deep into the backcountry for a technical mountain excursion. With the option of purchasing add-on flotation tails,
this extends not only their length but their wide range of applications as well. For a backcountry specific snowshoe that is capable of comfortably striding on packed trails, these are an excellent value. If saving money is your thing, we would recommend our Best Buy winner, the MSR Evo
Our Editors' Choice Award goes to these snowshoes for their versatility in terrain from beginner to the most advanced. Excellent traction and stability in varied conditions from ice to deep powder is necessary when snowshoeing in the backcountry. The aggressive traction systems and light weight make them the ideal option for snowshoeing into untrammeled landscapes and up mountains in the winter. They are a great value for the experienced snowshoer looking to expand his or her winter travel options.