Is snowshoeing really as easy as walking? Well, it’s getting to be that way. At Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, snowshoe makers introduced bindings that are designed to make walking in snow as comfortable as possible, especially for beginners. As SNEWS® saw with other product categories, such as AT gear, the latest snowshoes are all about removing obstacles that might have previously blocked consumers from picking up the activity.
Another interesting thing we heard on the trade show floor was that U.S. consumers are warming up to composite shoes, now that Tubbs has joined TSL in this arena.
Plus, we saw a couple of new racing shoes, which is a nice surprise, since that corner of the snowshoe market has been pretty quiet for some time now.
Walking was never easier
Atlas made a notable shift this year, launching a shoe with a free-rotating binding. Though Atlas has traditionally used bindings with limited rotation (so snowshoes are more maneuverable in the backcountry), the new FRS (Free-Rotating Suspension) suits casual walking on flatter terrain. It seems Atlas is working harder to target a broader consumer base, and you’ll find the FRS on the Atlas 9 series (MSRP $159.95), as well as the Elektra 9 series ($159.95). www.atlassnowshoe.com
The biggest overhaul for a snowshoe this year was the complete redesign of the MSR Lightning. Most notable with the new Lightning Axis series (MSRP $239.95-$269.95) is a new binding that accommodates a toe-in or toe-out stance (because few people naturally stand with their feet parallel). Basically, this should allow for a more comfortable gait. In addition, the shoe has a binding that secures more quickly than the one on the previous Lightning, as well as a new heel lift that deploys more smoothly than the previous design. We liked that the new detachable tails snap on easily, so you can quickly transition to walking in deep powder. www.cascadedesigns.com
Tubbs focused on making the new Xplore snowshoe (MSRP $119.95) comfortable and easy to use for beginners. It has a turned-up tail to allow a smooth, rolling stride, while new webbing on the binding is reportedly 25-percent easier to use than previous webbing on Tubbs shoes. www.tubbssnowshoes.com
TSL has introduced its own binding to make walking in a snowshoe less awkward. Two composite snowshoes -- the 418 (MSRP $189) and 438 (MSRP $189) -- have an Up & Down binding, which not only has heel lifts for ascending, but also has a setting where the back of the binding drops below the deck to keep the foot flat while descending. www.tsloutdoor.com
Composite shoes gain traction
Aside from the new binding, the news out of TSL is that interest in composite snowshoes has grown in the United States, partially due to the fact that Tubbs introduced composite models last year, lending them more cred.
As a matter of fact, we hear that Tubbs’ composite shoes were much more successful than the company predicted, so we’d expect that collection to get more attention. The company did add a new composite kids’ shoe, the Flex Jr. (MSRP $69.95), which is for ages 6-10. www.tubbssnowshoes.com
When was the last time you saw much press on snowshoe racing? Yeah, it’s been a while. But a couple of companies are rolling out new racing models this year, including Redfeather. Its new Vapor (MSRP $249.95) is similar to its previous Race shoe, but is has been downsized a bit to measure 21 inches long and weigh 2.5 pounds per pair (thanks in part to titanium crampons). www.redfeather.com
Jake Thamm of Crescent Moon said there’s more attention on racing because “more runners recognize the value of training on snowshoes.” With these folks in mind, Crescent Moon is launching the new Blank race shoe (as in “fill in the blank”) a direct-mount model, which allows a person to bolt their own footwear to the deck with hardware provided by Crescent Moon. With a suggested retail price of $179.95, Blank shoes measure 22 inches by 8 inches and weigh 2 pounds per pair. www.crescentmoonsnowshoes.com
>> Something we can’t wait to test….
There have been many attempts to combine crampons and snowshoe decks, but Kahtoola’s Mountain 24 (MSRP $279) and Mountain 28 (MSRP $289) is the smoothest we’ve seen. The key is that the company’s Skyhook Trail Crampon clicks easily into slots on the snowshoe deck, and releases by simply pulling a lever. www.kahtoola.com