MSR Lightning Ascent Review

Editorial Rating:

MSR Lightning Ascent Review

I’m sure many winter explorers and backpackers agree that MSR Lightning Ascent is the best snowshoe there is currently. Sporting a minimalist design, this snowshoe performs incredibly well in backcountry terrain, thanks to its aggressive traction system and secure bindings. Its flotation rating is also proven to be the highest in its class, making deep powder travel so much easier. Okay, you can disagree on that one. Exploring backcountry accesses through knee-high fresh light snow still requires a great effort on your end, but without capable snowshoes like the Lightning Ascent, you’ll definitely be in more trouble. You can learn about this snowshoe in more detail in this review.

MSR Lightning Ascent Review – In a Nutshell

What's Hot
  • Superb flotation on deep snow
  • Excellent traction systems
  • Lightweight and durable construction
  • Glove friendly buckles
  • Extremely secure bindings
  • Easy to flip heel lift bars for steep ascent
  • Compatible with add-on tails for even better flotation
What's Not
  • Wider frames can be awkward on narrow trails
  • Bindings can be a bit of hassle to set
  • Add-on tails come at a price
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MSR Lightning Ascent is available in three different sizes: 22, 25, and 30 inches. The latter rates the highest in flotation, capable of taking on a total weight load of 300 pounds. That’s something that can commonly be achieved by at least 35-inch snowshoes. Heck, even a few of those 35-inch snowshoes can’t haul that much of weight. The key to its superb flotation is the minimalist wide decking. It stretches up to 8-inch wide, slightly larger than typical snowshoes. With such extra contact surface, this snowshoe can stay more stable under weight, holding your feet better above the snow. The catch is it’ll be a bit awkward to walk on narrow trails.


MSR Lightning Ascent ReviewYou really don’t need to question its capability to grip on snow. MSR Lightning Ascent has the most advanced traction system of all the snowshoes that you can find on the market today. Instead of regular tubular aluminum frames, it comes with grippy traction frames that anchor the entire decks on the snow surface with each step. This will really help with traverses. Right under the balls of your feet, a huge set of solid carbon steel teeth are attached. They can bite deep into any hard pack and slick ice, making sure you stay sure-footed on your ascent. Last but not least, there are a couple of aluminum crampon bars right under your heel that work as a brake when you make your way down the hill.

Ease of Use

The bindings in MSR Lightning Ascent are a bit bulky, featuring three freeze-resistant rubber straps and a heel strap of the same material. All of them are secured using regular pin buckles and are equipped with open C rings to clip the loose ends. The buckles are claimed to be glove-friendly, but since there are four of them, adjusting and tightening can be a bit of a hassle.

Furthermore, MSR lightning Ascent is one of those fully-fledged backcountry snowshoes that incorporate full rotation binding. The decks and the attachment are connected to a pivot joint, allowing for full range motion as you stride. This can be handy in steep ascent and powdery situations, given that the tails drop with every step. However, it reduces the overall agility. I wouldn’t recommend it for a fun walk on groomed trails.


The pin buckle mechanism is always more favorable among many snowshoers simply because they work. They may not look fancy, but they get the job done nicely. Once you’re done setting the bindings on the trailhead, you hardly need to play with them again along your journey. The three rubber straps that secure your arch put more pressure points on your feet, and it might get uncomfortable on long hikes. But, such extra measure is necessary for traveling in the backcountry where the conditions are generally more extreme than in forest service trails.

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Still not convinced? Find out how MSR Lightning Ascent fares compared to other snowshoes in our list of Top 10 Best Snowshoes of 2019.

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