Buying the right snowshoes can be overwhelming when you’re new to the sport. There are so many styles and features to choose from, it’s hard to know what you need. So in today’s post, I’m going to review the MSR Evo Ascent snowshoe. I’ve been using these snowshoes for about six years for hiking and mountaineering in Colorado. And in my opinion, they’re the best snowshoes for winter hiking and adventuring in the backcountry.
Before we dive in, note that MSR makes an entire Evo line of snowshoes, which can confuse shoppers. This post specifically reviews the Evo Ascent.
New to snowshoeing? Check out my post, how to snowshoe for beginners for more tips.
Who needs MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes
Basic snowshoes are fine if you plan to stick to well-traveled trails where the snow will be packed down. In that case, you can save some money and buy a lighter snowshoe with fewer features. But if you go this route, you’ll have a very limited range. Often, a trail will be packed down nicely at the start, but the boot pack will end after a mile or two.
So if you plan to head deeper into the backcountry where few people hike in winter, you’ll need a snowshoe that can cling to steep or icy slopes and float (to some degree) on soft snow. This is where the MSR Evo Ascent comes in.
What I love about MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes
Back when I first moved to Colorado, I rented several snowshoe models and also borrowed some from friends. But as soon as I hit the trail with the MSR Evo Ascent, I knew it was the one.
I now use my MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes on everything from popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to climbing winter 14ers to approaching the bases of remote couloirs, and they’ve proven to be tough and versatile.
Some of my favorite things about MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes:
MSR Evo snowshoes have been around for decades and are consistently popular with hikers and mountaineers. We actually had a couple of pairs at base camp when I was a backpacking guide in 1999. We referred to them as the “cool” snowshoes!
The molded plastic deck of an MSR Evo Ascent snowshoe is pretty much indestructible. Because I’m off-trail a lot, my shoes constantly get smashed into trees and rocks under the snow. After six years of heavy use, the plastic decks have some scratches but no chips or cracks.
MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes have a unique TriFit binding system that consists of three stretchy rubber straps that hook over pinned buckles. The advantage of the rubber is that it never freezes or holds water like nylon straps. These bindings are also super adjustable; they work just as well for my thin summer boots as my insulated mountaineering boots. Finally, the bindings are fairly easy to tighten with gloves on.
MSR snowshoes are well-known for their traction, and the Evo Ascent is no exception. The crampons run horizontally and vertically to give you stability in all directions, even while traversing or climbing.
If you will be hiking in deep powder, you can buy modular tails to attach to your MSR Evos for additional flotation. This feature is also useful if you sometimes carry a heavy pack while snowshoeing.
This little bar is a game changer when you need to tramp up a steep slope. Unlock it and flip it up with the handle of your pole, and it changes the angle of your foot to make climbing easier.
Made in the USA
All MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes sold in the United States are manufactured by Cascade Designs in Seattle using environmentally responsible practices.
Where there’s room for improvement
While I have been extremely happy with my MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes, there are a few aspects of the design that annoy me:
- If you have smaller feet, the ends of the rubber straps can flop around and get in the way. I’ve never tripped on them, but they still annoy me.
- The keepers on the straps are made of hard plastic that breaks easily in the cold and contributes to the flopping problem.
- Although it hasn’t happened to me yet, I’ve had friends break older MSR Evo straps. Fortunately, you can buy replacement strap kits.
- The heel lift on the MSR Evo can be difficult to raise and lower. Usually I can work it loose with my pole handle, but sometimes I have to take off my glove to get it done.
Who they’re best for
Like any snowshoe, the MSR Evo Ascent isn’t for everyone. You’ll probably appreciate this snowshoe most if you:
- Spend time hiking off-trail in the backcountry and need a high-performance shoe.
- Hike in the mountains and need a heel lift and traction in all directions.
- Backpack in the winter and need to add flotation to counteract the additional pack weight.
- Don’t mind sacrificing a little weight for better traction.
- Need an extremely durable shoe for frequent off-trail use.
Who should give them a pass
The MSR Evo Ascent snowshoe may NOT be the best choice if you:
- Prefer shorter hikes on packed trails.
- Weigh more than 250 lbs.
- Would like more size options (Evo Ascent only comes in one size, 22 in.)
- Want a very lightweight snowshoe.
Other snowshoe options to consider
The MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoe shares many features with the MSR Evo Ascent, including heel lifts and a modular tail system. However, these shoes are built on an aluminum frame that offers additional traction, especially on traverses. MSR Lighting Ascents come in three sizes; the largest fits people up to 280 lbs. They also have a slightly more advanced binding than the MSR Evo Ascent.
The MSR Evo base model is similar to the Evo Ascent but without a heel lift. It also has a two-strap binding system v. the Evo Ascent’s three straps. At $139, it’s an excellent value for winter hikers who don’t spend a lot of time climbing steep hills.
There you have it. My honest review of the MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes.
Have you tried these snowshoes? Comment below to share your own review. Originally published Dec. 28, 2018.