My choice: MSR Evo Ascent (photos at bottom)
My steepest trails: Northshore (North Vancouver, West Vancouver), Sea-to-sky
My deepest snow: Just below knee.
I have used the tube-and-rubber style for a few years, placing my foot carefully and transferring my weight onto it gingerly.
Then I went and rented a pair at Hollyburn because I was too lazy to pick up mine from my friend’s. The rental had MSR Ascent.
I was just so shocked at how much of a difference it made.
So I started renting every time I had a chance, either from MEC in town or from the resort. I ran the entire Dog Mountain trail (not long) in them with my friend’s dog. Not a moment of fear that my foot would fail to stick. Though I don’t know if I recommend running in them to everyone. I do have very strong ankles.
This was a few years ago. Eventually I bought a pair.
MSR keeps trying to improve the strapping system. They tried the one-strap, and three straps with a different material, and different shapes, etc. I like this one best. The buckle that doesn’t need to be threaded through is brilliant. I honestly don’t know why people think this needed/needs to be improved. You can keep all your gloves and mitts on to strap in and out of these shoes.
Mine is sufficient. The later models had it bumpy like a snowboard grip, but I have not had any problem with my foot sliding forward.
Many store clerks tried to convince me and my friends that a rocking cradle is better. Those are just names I created. You know, the kind that lets you keep your ankle straight and stand straight even when you’re standing on a slope and the snowshoes are tilted.
My feeling is like this. Those rocking cradles probably offer the same benefits of an automatic shift. I like a manual shift, a snowshoe that lets me force it to do what I want it to do even though it meant I sometimes have to accommodate its quirks.
This is the biggest difference between the tube style snowshoes (e.g. Tubb Mountaineer) and the big teeth-on-plastic/resin style (e.g. MSR Evo, MSR Revo, Tubb Flex). Different models have different tooth depths, and my Evo Ascent is one of the deepest. Its deepest is under your feet, so if anything slips out, it would be the head or tail, not where your foot is at.
The Ascent heel lift:
These REALLY help you on an uphill. It’s the difference between hiking a steep hill and climbing a staircase. All the energy you can save by not having to engage your calves, you are saving for actual climb.
It’s tricky to disengage them for people that are new to it. Just pull it straight up toward your hip and let it fall. Don’t ask me why this works though.
Once you get a hang of it, you can pop it up for uphill and pop it down for flat, even for a short distance.
Wear and Tear:
Because in Northshore we get various amounts of snow on the same trail, and some parts requiring snowshoes (or a deep-toothed trail crampon) on top of a gravel I end up abusing my snowshoes. The paint (rust coating?) is wearing on the side teeth and the teeth under my toes. But the plastic/resin part, which I was most concerned about becoming brittle with time, is only just scratched and showing no sign of ageing.
Just like almost all of my hikes, I wear my Asolo, snowseal, and MEC gaiter. I kind of like that the tip of the gaiter gets in between the boot and the top strap, preventing friction from eating at the leather.
I’ve seen many gaiters from other brands break. This one shown below is heavier, and its top corners probably have to be duct-taped because they are scratchy. But they have never failed me and kept me waterproof as I walked through bogs, slush, and snow.
I remove the laces and clean the boots well with brush and cleaner. Dust particles getting inside the leather is a shortcut to cracking. And I warm the boots a little, apply snowseal generously, and melt the snowseal with your hairdryer. Let it absorb, and wipe of excess. I probably only do it once a year, but I wear my Chaco sandals for almost all of my summer hikes and snow boots for flats, so it’s hard to gauge how often you should apply snowseal.
If deep, heavy, wet, or sticky snow, I put the gaiter on top of the waterproof pants to save the pants from being pushed up, and if anything else, I put the pants over the gaiter to save the pants’ waterproof membrane from the friction.