MSR Lightning Ascent
Where to Buy
The MSR Lightning Ascent has the best traction of…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $300
The MSR Lightning Ascent has the best traction of any snowshoe I've used. The bindings are super secure, easy to use while wearing gloves or mittens, and won't absorb water and freeze. Their narrow width makes walking very easy, and the optional tail extensions increase flotation if you're carrying a heavier pack or are in softer snow.
- Field maintainable
- Plain colors
- Ergo Televators
- Foremost buckle can tear decking
- Nose-down attitude with tails on
I bought my MSR Lightning Ascent 30s in early March of 2014 as a guarantee that I'd have a pair for a weekend of snowshoeing some friends and I had planned, in case the different brand of backcountry snowshoes I'd also ordered didn't make it in time. Both sets showed up on time, so I brought both sets along and gave them both a bit of a workout.
If there's one thing that makes the Lightning Ascents stand out from every other brand of snowshoe I've ever used, it's their traction. Uphill, downhill, side slopes, hard packed snow or mashed potatoes, you name it, these things stick! Here's why:
As you can see, there are two large independent toe crampons, and three lateral toothed braking/traction bars under the deck. But what's most noteworthy is how the frame itself is toothed to provide traction. MSR calls this the "360 Degree Traction Frame" and it pretty nearly lets you climb vertical slopes. I simply could not believe how much more traction these have when compared to tube-framed snowshoes.
The drawback is that the frame itself doesn't provide flotation like a tube frame does, but deep powder isn't what the Lightning Ascent was designed for. These are meant more for steep terrain with more packed snow and ice.
You will sink more wearing these in soft snow than you will with an equivalent tube-framed model. It's not unmanageable, but it is noticeable. MSR's solution was to make "tails" that attach to the rear of the frame and increase surface area for improved flotation. Here's a pic of my snowshoes with the tails attached and detached:
The tails are 5" long, attach quickly, and bring the carrying capacity up to 300+lb. However, on rolling terrain you'll notice that your toes still sink while the rear of the shoes float better. I think this is because how close to the turned-up front of the 'shoes the binding is - there's simply not much decking in contact with the ground up front. On ascents your weight transfers rearward, and you're kicking the toes in anyway. When descending it feels like the foremost traction bar has a little more weight on it.
The bindings on the Lightning Ascents are simple to use, but since there are 4 individual straps per snowshoe it'll take you a little longer to get everything tightened up. The 2 front straps are 12" long and the others are 14", which is long enough to fit over some pretty big boots. 18" straps are available if needed. The buckles have fixed pins that you push through holes in the strap, and use plastic clips to hold the free ends of the straps.
I've found that the clips secure the straps better if the open ends face forward (for the forefoot straps) or down (for the heel strap.) I have to admit that at first glance the bindings looked a little cheesy when compared to those of other snowshoes I've used, but it didn't take long for my mind to be changed. I think their strongest point is that they allow you to tailor the fit to any boot — with four 18" straps Andre the Giant could probably fit in these things.
Other than the nose-down attitude with tails attached that I mentioned earlier, the only con I've noticed is that the foremost buckle can nick the decking. MSR is aware of this and says it happens with certain styles of boots, and that it'll only go so far and stop. My Sorel Conquests are apparently one of those styles, and what I did to fix it was trim the decking with a razor blade so the buckle would clear it then seal the edge with a lighter. They're working on a new design and will replace affected snowshoes under warranty, according to an email reply I got from them.
Some of my plans for this winter include snowshoeing at least one of the following mountains in N.H. — Chocorua, Kearsarge, and Monadnock — and I'll definitely be using my MSR Lightning Ascents. With their superior traction, Ergo Televators to make the uphills easier, and simple, rugged construction, I know they'll get me up and back with no problems.
I've had these snowshoes for a year now, and have used them almost exclusively this winter due to a knee injury that makes it difficult to get my Tubbs Mountaineer 36s on and off (I have to kneel on and push myself up with my injured knee.)
Surprisingly to me, I found the Lightning Ascents do just as well in deep powder and unpacked snow as the much bigger Mountaineers do. While I may sink another couple inches due to the smaller surface area, there's also less surface area & weight to lift OUT of the snow. On average I've been finding myself sinking 6-8 inches lately, and maybe 12-14 inches when we first started getting heavy snow, simply because it hadn't consolidated and was fluffy down to ground level.
Last year at this time the snow was well-consolidated so I didn't sink more than a couple inches with either 'shoe. As anyone in Maine or most of New England knows, this year we've gotten nothing but light, fluffy snow, which hasn't consolidated yet, or even crusted over in most places. Even now I find myself sinking knee-deep in voids next to shrubs and bushes, and getting out is easier with the Lightning Ascents.
The MSR bindings are also more comfortable than the Tubbs. With 3 straps that go over the forefoot, you can adjust each one independently for the greatest comfort. The Tubbs bindings hold just as securely, but in order to get the V-shaped straps tight over your toes you have to pull them tight over the instep, and if you prefer your insteps a little loose then your toes will be loose as well. With a more rigid boot than my Sorel Conquests, such as stiff leather mountaineering boots or double boots, this may not be an issue. It may not be an issue with people who don't have wide forefeet but are average/below average width elsewhere, which is my case.
I haven't been able to climb any of the mountains I wanted due to my knee injury, but that hasn't kept me from getting out for a few hours at least twice per week. However, snowshoeing has done more to help my knee heal than anything else I've tried so far, so maybe before the snow is gone I'll be able to hit one of them!
Here are some of the places I've been fortunate enough to find this winter, right here in and around town no less. Look at that pristine (or nearly so) snow! The Lightning Ascents performed flawlessly here, and have become my go-to snowshoes.
MSR Lightning Ascent 30” snowshoes, a very good…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $170
MSR Lightning Ascent 30” snowshoes, a very good snowshoe with some unique features.
- Secure binding
- Heel lift
- Plastic strap clip
MSR Lightning Ascent 30" snowshoes
Period of use: 1½ winters.
For a 30" snowshoe it seems to have typical 30" snowshoe floatation. :-)
It is about average in weight and has a narrow shape which makes for a nice walking stride with minimal metal to metal hits. I do prefer a snowshoe with a higher “round-up” in the nose of the snowshoe.
The pair I have is quiet, with minimal creeks and squeaks. Durability seems great, a slight loss of black paint here and there and one of the plastic strap clips broke. I have just ordered a MSR snowshoe repair kit ($15) that includes a bunch of pins, nuts, washers and a few replacement plastic strap clips.
The 5" tail extenders have been somewhat disappointing, I did not feel like it improved the floatation to that of a 36" snowshoe. But they do attach easily and never came loose.
The Lightning Ascents have very good maneuverability and excellent “side-hilling” control.
The MSR snowshoe binding has four straps, with three across the front and one around the heel. It’s easy enough to strap into and it makes a very secure hold to the boot that goes all day without loosening. Though the binding strap ends do tend to come loose and flop around a bit (not a deal breaker).
The traction is at the top of all the snowshoes I have used. Sometimes the extreme grip around the circumference of the snowshoe creates a little more drag than I like. In wet packy snow I will sometimes pickup snow clods in the bottom of the shoe.
I don’t use it a lot, but the ascent heel bail works like a charm and is a useful feature on the very steep trails.
Great engineering and American made!
The MSR Lightning Ascents are my choice when the snow has settled some, there is going to be a bunch of icy going, or the terrain has some very steep stretches.
I bought the 30" Lightning Ascent 'shoes after sliding…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: full retail minus 20% at REI
I bought the 30" Lightning Ascent 'shoes after sliding on a steep Nevada slope in my Atlas 'shoes and injuring my shoulder. The Ascents are THE grippiest 'shoes on the planet. No more sliding on the steeps. I got 30" 'shoes because I want max flotation. I'm a backcountry skier and 30" is nothing for me to manipulate when compared to skis.
- GREAT grip in all directions, especially laterally
- Decently light considering the strength and grip
- Nice flip-up heel supports for steep ascents
- Very tough sheet material
- Frame is virtually bullet proof
- Good tail extensions available (newer models, after 2010) and easy to attach
- Binding straps need a more positive, secure buckle.
- Flip-up heel elevators need more secure locking (seems to have been corrected in 2011 models).
The original Lightning Ascents (LA) I have aren't compatible with the newer tail extension-adaptable models, but I'll grind slots in the bottom edges and put small stainless steel bolts in the sides to accommodate the new tail extensions. There are not too many pieces of equipment I can't successfully modify. (Modification done, works well and is at least as strong as the new model that is made for the extensions.)
As for the bindings, I'll see if I can get the new upgrades from MSR/Cascade Designs. They could be more user-friendly than the original bindings. My original bindings sometimes have a strap coming loose if the plastic "keeper" slips off its location.
The MSR LA 'shoes are very durable, more so than tuibular aluminum framed 'shoes and I could see them ending up in military use — with the better bindings (and in all white, natch :).
I think the review that gave these zero stars smells…
Price Paid: $275
I think the review that gave these zero stars smells of pilot error. Walking downhill on ice with snowshoes takes a little practice (like walking downhill in crampons) and snowshoes do not miraculously provide levitation. 250lbs with a pack and you should have been on at least 30" snowshoes - possibly even larger depending on the shoe.
The Lightnings are the sweetest thing happening in snowshoes. I have worn and sold every brand's "top end" model out there and these are the lightest, most efficient shoes I've ever worn.
After swearing them off for skis years ago, a recent approach to an ice climb forced me to try them out again. I was blown away. Primarily - you can traverse a crusty snow - which you encounter far more than powder! I can still remember a trip with Atlas shoes in Colorado where I almost threw them into the forest as I slid into tree wells on a long traverse. Round edges simply don't 'cut it'.
I'd still rather ski approach any day but if I have to wear snowshoes, I no longer guess what to wear.
I've owned these snowshoes for five years and the…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $280
I've owned these snowshoes for five years and the binding (made of very hard but brittle material) has now cracked in multiple places on both bindings making my $280 pair of snowshoes worthless.
- Great traction
- Bindings will crack at the rivet points making them worthless
- MSR does not respond to emails (4 of them)
- No replacement parts available.
- $280 bye bye
Bindings will break at the rivet points after ~100 - 150 miles.
You'll need to get new snowshoes since MSR does not respond to communications.
I'd suggest Faber Mountain Masters, a much superior design and binding system.
Solid, adaptable, compact, and good traction. I used…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $200
Solid, adaptable, compact, and good traction.
- Solidly made
- Compact size and lightweight
- Excellent traction on all angles
- Easy on/off
- Heel televator
- Sometimes hard to get heel strap on tight/fast
I used a pair of 30" Sherpa tubular frame/neoprene base/lacing shoes for many years. Sherpa had an excellent warranty for lacing replacements, and even gave me a discount on a new pair when my original ones finally gave out. When the lacing/base on those gave in, it was time to try something new.
Got the 25" MSR Ascents a couple of years ago on sale. Vertically oriented metal framing to which a nice neoprene base is attached/riveted. No lacing. Aggressive crampon under the hinge.
Generally they are quick and easy to get into and out of. On occasion I have found it hard to get the heal strap on tight/fast, since I can't see what I'm doing back there very well. Practice helps.
The shoes provide generally good floatation, and especially good traction due to the vertical frame structure and crampon. Coupled with the televator, ascents are less of a struggle than with the old Sherpas.
Very pleased with them. Recommended for typical conditions here in the Pacific Northwest.
These are tough, high quality, lightweight snowshoes…
Source: received it as a personal gift
These are tough, high quality, lightweight snowshoes with excellent floatation.
- light weight
- binding pins
My first pair of MSRs were the high impact plastic Denalis. The Lightning Ascents seriously feel like they weigh less than half what the Denalis did. The heel lifter is a huge benefit when headed up a steep incline and the serrated edges provide more than adequate traction in any conditions.
I've used the Ascents for two seasons now, and my only beef is related to the binding. The strap lock on the Denalis uses a hook that the strap is pulled over and held in place with tension. Unfortunately, MSR must have decided they could improve on perfection and created the strap lock on the Ascents using a pin that you have to push through the hole in the strap. Cold temperatures and cold fingers make locking the strap in place more of a workout than your entire day snowshoeing.
Finally, the Lightning Ascents are just about the most expensive commercial shoe out there, so price might be an issue for some folks.
Just to address the concerns expressed by the top…
Just to address the concerns expressed by the top reviewer here; I work in an outdoor gear shop, and have been to training with various snowshoe reps, including MSR. It sounds as though the shoes he was reviewing are actually the Lightning Axis, a new shoe by MSR this year.
The Axis shoes have a new binding that mimics the old bike pedals from the 80s (ish). They are designed to be set at home, and not to be adjusted again, unless you change boots. I would not be surprised if these bindings need some work, given they are new this year. The 3 attachment points listed include the removable instep attachment. It is removable, which to me, means more margin for it falling off in the field. I don't know that I would buy the Lightning Axis this year - give MSR sometime to really develop the product.
MSR did remodify the bindings for the Lightning Ascents, however they are very, very similar to the old ones. These have 4 straps, 3 over the toe/instep and one around the heal. Compared to the old models, the three toe/instep straps move independently, whereas the old models were all attached to the same large piece of "stretch rubber" under the foot.
This is great, in my opinion. Gives a more custom fit, and easier to keep track of what strap goes where. The other big change is the metal nubs that catch the straps once they've been tightened. I guess this used to be plastic - the metal is nice. It's flush to the bottom of the strap, so they don't dig into your foot or boot, and the metal is beefier and much less likely to break.
The only thing I wish these did better were crampons. Not to say that these aren't awesome - they are much better than any other metal framed snowshoes out there, in my opinion. However to look at the MSR Evo Ascents, and note the agressiveness of those crampons and siderails, I wish they were able to bring some of that agressiveness to the Lightnings.
But overall, awesome shoe. I recommend it to many who come into the shop looking for a versatile snoshow that can make it up some really steep stuff.
This is not for deep snow backpacking. I could not…
Source: bought it new
This is not for deep snow backpacking. I could not get up the Canyon's North Rim as I sank up to my chest. Not a great way to discover an inadequacy. I was 25 pounds below the max weight listed for them.
- The lifter on the back was wonderful
- Not much different from postholing with a backpack on
- So light they don't hold you up
- Weight specs are totally wrong
As I said briefly, I am a winter backpacker. My hugely wide old Tubbs weigh 6 pounds and I wanted to lighten up. Boy was that 2 pound savings a huge mistake. I sank deeper and deeper the higher up the canyon I went. Past the Supai Tunnel I went to my chest and had to turn around.
My old Tubbs have never sunken deeper than one foot. It was shocking as I got the 25-inch ones and was 25 pounds from the max. so I reasonably expected these to carry me appropriately. I guess if you are going a day hike and 75 pounds from the max you will be OK and happy with them.
As for me these will be returned and my 25-year-old heavy Tubbs brought out of retirement!
Great shoes! Got the 25's and they can handle all…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $230 CAN.
Great shoes! Got the 25's and they can handle all conditions. Agree with the below comments.
One downside is that the 25's with the tail extensions may keel you forward a little bit in softer, deeper snow (15+ in.) because of the smaller toe. Opting for the 30's is better in this case because the front is proportionally larger.
Crampon frame and heel lift = straight up ANY hill.
Great snowshoe in all conditions. I really like these…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $107 on Amazon
Great snowshoe in all conditions.
- Excellent traction
- Light weight
- Adequate float
- Binding stays put
- Slapping sound from decking on hard pack.
I really like these snowshoes, they have awesome traction and float. I have the 25" ones and used them up Algonquin and Wright Peak the other day in the Adirondacks and experienced everything from hard pack, to ice, to soft but heavy powder. They were great in all conditions.
I can see needing the flotation tails in fluffy fresh powder for additional float, but in the heavier spring stuff they were great. Traction on hard pack and ice is as good as a crampon and they are lightweight and easily maneuvered. The binding system is simple yet stays put and is easy to adjust.
The heel lifters are sweet, they work great and are very easy to pull up. I use Black Diamond poles that have a lip on the top of the grip and it works great with these.
The only downside is that the material the decking is made out of makes a slapping noise as they hit your heels on hard pack, with any sort of soft snow they don't seem to do this. Kinda like a huge flip-flop.
I had reviewed the Lightning Ascent as well. My review…
Price Paid: too much for what they are worth
I had reviewed the Lightning Ascent as well. My review was to the "new" model binding more so than to the shoe itself.
The new adjustable toe, middle strap heel strap binding is something you should shy away from.. I had numerous problems, pin wouldn't stay registered, had to readjust constantly, the pull strap for the adjusting pin broke off and I had to use pliers to get it back in the hole. The middle strap has a new binding hook that continually falls out..
MSR totally over engineered this binding, way too complicated, too many things to go wrong.
Now on with the "new shoe" and the "old binding system." I would have given it a 5, and may still do so, but time will tell. I have done 3 hikes since the change over through some really deep powder, I'm 260 without a pack and needed the 30" model and it does have the ability to do the 5" tail.. no problems attaching it and easily packed if you don't need them.
Update: April 3, 2011
Well this is the third review on the Lightning Ascent. I made a mistake on the first two reviews as that shoe was the MSR Axis.. still a shoe i would shy away from..
Now on to the Lightning Ascent. wWell, not happy, the rubber decking is tearing on both the right and the left shoe. on the outside, probably due to the stress from walking at an angle to the slope and the pressure from my weight.. 255..
Paid a buttload of cash, probaly should have gone for the EVO. damn I hate wasting money, and then when you go to the website.. under warranty repair..
What is not covered
Normal wear, abrasion, misuse, alteration, abuse, taking apart of the product, or improper washing and drying are not covered. This warranty does not cover damage caused by improper care, accidents, prolonged UV exposure, or the natural breakdown of certain materials over long periods of time. Cascade Designs will not be liable for incidental or consequential damages. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation may not apply. Shipping charges to Cascade Designs for a defective product are not covered.
Makes you wonder what is covered????? 5 treks.. torn rubber decking.. arg..
I have had a pair of the men's 25 inch lightning ascents…
Price Paid: $270
I have had a pair of the men's 25 inch lightning ascents for over two years now. They are, in my mind, the best snowshoes money can by.
Mine are the model previous to what is on the store shelves as of December of 2010. Please keep in mind my review reflects that fact and does not reflect the new model (although the new model upgrades would probably increase my rating to a 5).
These snowshoes grip and grip well. I have been on numerous group outings and it really gives me perspective when I can easily go uphill, downhill and sidehill with ease. While others, wearing slip and slide, especially those with snowshoes whose frames are tubular. Proper technique and physical abilities of a snowshoer are always paramount, these snowshoes will take you to your max potential.
Pros: Lightweight (surprisingly the same or less than others), the BEST traction, intuitive and calf-saving heel bar for uphill, bulletproof and easy to use bindings, very-very durable construction, very field maintainable with a repair kit purchased at almost any store that sells MSR snowshoes.
Cons: No ability to use flotation tails (new models DO have this ability), plastic clips to hold excess binding straps (although you can trim them at home to reduce the excess and the new model has metal rivet style clips), and as mentioned in a previous review use of gaiters is a good idea (but the are almost always necessary for snowshoeing anyhow).
I am 6'8" 235lbs.(close to 265lbs with all my gear) and as noted use the 25 inch models. On everything but the most groomed/packed trails I do experience a moderate to heavy sinking (varies greatly on the composition of the snow/layers). But, using 30inch snowshoes all the time is such a pain.
I was really pleased to see that the new model is capable of accepting a 5inch flotation tail, making a 25inch snowshoe a 30inch one when you need it. Versatility. Isn't that what makes a happy consumer.
I think I will make myself wait one more year before buying the new model (who has the money to go out and buy a new pair every year or even every couple of years these days).
In conclusion the MSR Lightning Ascent are the best snowshoes your money can buy. As a side note MSR also came out with very similar model called the Lightning "Axis" this year which the only difference is the bindings (one pre-set strap over the top of the foot versus 3 for the lightning ascent). Now, I for one am much more comfortable having 3 straps instead of one. Call me superstitious.
I've had the opportunity to use a variety of snowshoes…
Price Paid: $200
I've had the opportunity to use a variety of snowshoes in the mountains of BC including Atlas, Tubbs, and two MSR models. I was all set to purchase the new MSR Evo Tours, but the Lightning Ascents landed in my lap for the same price.
I love the grip, as I found out today that you can climb the steepest of steeps with the ease of climbing you stairs at home. Their light weight, quick and easy three strap system, and heel bar make them worth every penny.
The major selling point for myself is the hinge system of the crampon doesn't allow the shoes' body to float around and kick you in the calves like most of the suspended style systems do.
I've talked to a variety of users on the trail that have them and have never heard a complaint.
The MSR Lightning Ascents were the second style I've…
Price Paid: gift
The MSR Lightning Ascents were the second style I've used and followed the tubing style I started on. They were night and day stable. On my first hill climb I forgot the heel bar for a few hundred feet. What a difference it made. It was like climbing stairs with it up in place.
I also noticed and appreciate the stability afforded on the traverse on slopes. The heel doesn't move compared to a standard shoe and binding. The only glissading I experienced was steep downhill in a couple feet of powder and it was a controlled downhill jog. Never had any strap issues as far as loosening up but one did break. Sold the family on these and anyone I've let test out.
The binding rubber becomes inelastic below 10 F. The…
The binding rubber becomes inelastic below 10 F. The two front binder straps continually release - usually after the plastic keep breaks.
All straps must be taped at the dead end or they will spontaneously leave the shoe at some point.
The two strapper requires so much pressure to keep boot centered that only plastic boots can be worn for long periods.
Edge teeth have ripped my Patagonia Guide Pants twice so it is advise to wear gaiter with these shoes.
Otherwise, a great platform.
Binding needs tweaking.
I used those in the mountains of Quebec, and it was…
Price Paid: 250 CDN
I used those in the mountains of Quebec, and it was amazing; they look like they're not going to support you in the snow because they are narrow, but hell, it's perfect in 10 feet of snow.
I moved to Vancouver and went off-trails with them, in a lot of snow on flat or very steep, climbing rocks, it all goes, perfectly. What I do in this hardcore snowshoeing-hiking country, is called "crazy", I call it heaven.
If you are an off-trails, on-trails, lots of snow or not, steep condition or not, this is the top of the line.
I bought my Lightning Ascents a bit over a year ago.
I bought my Lightning Ascents a bit over a year ago. At that time, the binding used two straps over the top of your boot; they have upgraded it this year to three straps over the top of the boot.
And that may solve what I found to be the key problem: my boot drifted in the binding.
Overall, I agree with the other reviewers about its traction, light weight, the value of the ascent bar, and its generally strong performance. But the foot drift was an annoying problem.
I think MSR probably changed the binding in response to the problem I and others encountered. I have used the same three-strap binding on other MSRs (the Denali Ascent), and it has been very satisfactory.
So, while I would rate my two-strap Lightning Ascents at three stars, my guess is that the three-strap model would deserve four or five stars.
I was able to test these shoes this morning after…
Price Paid: $144
I was able to test these shoes this morning after a good October snowstorm. I was very impressed with the performance. The bindings were easy to get in and out of, and they stayed as tight as I needed them to. I was making first tracks through fairly light Utah powder and the snow shoes stayed on top very easily. I headed up steeper terrain to test the climbing ability of the shoe and it performed as advertised. The shoes were lightweight and felt great under your feet. I look forward to many more miles on these. If you are looking for a shoe to put around packed trails, this might be too much shoe, but if you are looking to get to some steep backcountry terrain this might be the shoe for you.
I did a fair amount of 'field testing' rental snowshoes…
I did a fair amount of 'field testing' rental snowshoes before settling on the MSR Lightning. You can usually count on a various mix of trail conditions in a typical Northeast winter climb, ice, packed snow, waist deep powder. With the exception of 'wanting to glissade' in these shoes (which doesn't happen with the traction they afford you) there isn't much bad you say about the shoes. Late spring slush hikes can throw quite a bit of water onto your calves, so keep the gaiters handy. They are light, offer unbelievable traction and pack well.
Wonderful shoes, lightweight, low profile, easy to…
Wonderful shoes, lightweight, low profile, easy to get in, go anywhere and the kicker, they're orange :)
I bought them last year '07, used them 6 times. Snow…
Price Paid: $300
I bought them last year '07, used them 6 times. Snow was always hard. They slid on ice going downhill. This year first time out lots of fresh snow sinking 16-24 inches, thought I might be spending the night.
I am new to this 6' 3" and with gear 250 lbs. Sales person said they would do the trick, and MSR also rated them for 225+ lbs.
I am now looking for a new pair. Anyone know of a brand and style that will do the job?