Gear Editor Chris Townsend pulls on a pair of lightweight snowshoes that work with any type of footwear
Walking can become difficult and arduous when the settled snow is soft and more than a few inches deep, and it’s even trickier when the snow covers holes in the terrain and some of the drifts are knee-deep and more. Skis can allow easier movement on snowy terrain but not everyone wants to learn to ski and they aren’t always that practical anyway, such as where there are dense trees, bare patches of ground, or areas of thin snow cover with rocks and vegetation poking through. Taking skis on and off all the time is a hassle, as is carrying them far on your pack.
This is where snowshoes come in. These are simple to use and can be kept on for crossing short sections of snow-free ground and in areas with rocks and vegetation. You use ordinary walking boots or even trail shoes with them too.
This winter I’ve been trying the MSR Lightning Trail snowshoes and have found them excellent. I’ve used them in snowy woods and fields and on steeper, rockier ground in the Cairngorms where the snow varied from soft powder to hard and icy. The Lightning Trails handled all this terrain well. I’ve tried them with three different pairs of boots too and each fitted well.
It’s all in the design
The Lightning Trail snowshoes consist of an aluminium frame with two crossbars, synthetic decking, and a pivoting foot platform with three straps. The lower edges of the frame and bars are serrated so they can bite into hard snow and ice. There are two points at the front of the foot platform too. For steeper ascents there’s a heel lift that can be flipped up to support your heel and take some of the strain off your calves.
The foot platform has little plastic spikes on it to help hold your boot in place. The correct position for the ball of your foot is marked. The three straps are easy to use even with gloves on and are made from flexible plastic that won’t crack in the cold. At 1.62kg for a pair of the 63.5cm-long size the Lightning Trails are quite light. They’re not that wide either and can easily be strapped onto the sides or back of a pack.
There’s a fair amount of ‘give’ in the frame so it can flex and adapt to rough terrain. In very deep soft snow the snowshoes did sink in enough that I had to be careful to flip the tips up as I walked to stop them burying themselves into the snow.
The knee deep boot holes I saw showed that using the snowshoes was still much easier than walking. For regular use in deep snow optional extra 13cm tails can be added.