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Lightning Ascent Editorial Review

Submitted by vegastradguy on 2007-02-11 | Last Modified on 2007-03-03

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 3 | Comment: 1 | Views: 7764

by John Wilder

Full Disclosure: The manufacturer of this product loaned it to for the duration of the review who in turn loaned it to the reviewer. Upon completion of the review, the product was returned to the manufacturer. This manufacturer does not currently advertise on 2/9/07

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Cascade Designs
Photo: Cascade Designs.

Having already had a pair of MSR Denali snowshoes for a few years, I was interested in how MSR's Lightning Ascents would compare. The Lightning is a more traditional looking design with a metal frame and a rubber deck, as opposed to the Denali which is a wholly plastic frame/deck design with traction bars. By comparing it to a traditional showshoe though, I am doing it an injustice. At a mere 1655g(3lb 10oz) for the 25" model it is lightweight, and such details matter when doing a lengthy uphill approach. It is the uphill approaches that climbers often endure, where the Ascent model enters it's own terrain. With the flip up heel bar and toothed cross members under the ball of the foot, and heel bar, it makes uphill seem less of a slog. While there are undoubtedly better snowshoes for level ground or more aerobic workouts, for the steep rugged trails climbers follow I found these snowshoes to be ideal. On one excursion with three different snowshoes in use amongst the group, only the Lightning Ascents I was using made it up the final steep approach to where we geared up for the ice. The other two snowshoes were removed before the base of the ice.

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Darkside attempts to give new meaning to "Get out and push!"
Joshua Groom
Darkside attempts to give new meaning to "Get out and push!" (photo by darkside)

One of the features fitting to such terrain although not unique to the Lightnings, was the heel lifter which MSR refers to as the "Televator". While I agree with MSR claims of it easing calf fatigue, I'm not so sure about it being easier. For easier, I think I could have done with a Sherpa to carry my pack as steep is still steep, although it did seem more like climbing stairs.

The materials used include an aerospace grade aluminum "Total Traction" frame, steel crampon cross members, black urethane for the decking, and clear urethane for the bindings. The bindings also consist of a spring-less steel hinge and three straps; a toe, mid-foot, and rear heel. One drawback I noticed was that the rear heel strap seemed to slip off the heel if not set high or checked shortly after starting up steeper terrain. While this may not be a big deal on level terrain, on uphill terrain, the rear strap takes quite a load as it holds the foot in the binding. The buckles have improved from the older Denali's since they now have an open side that allows easier disconnection of the strap making for a more single handed operation and greater ease of use. The simple arrangement allows operation with gloves on by grasping the large rounded end of the strap, slotting it into the side of the buckle, pulling it tight and onto the retaining peg, then slotting the excess strap into a clip.

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Despite the cool new snowshoes, darkside has little success in pushing his way to the summit!
Joshua Groom
Despite the cool new snowshoes, darkside has little success in pushing his way to the summit! (photo by darkside)

MSR's "total traction frame" claims to offer 360 degree grip and indeed this appears a reasonable claim as the frame has crampon teeth around its circumference that provide remarkable grip. Unfortunately the same teeth can also cause a bit of a tripping hazard if they catch the other shoe as may happen when manoeuvring through brush or narrow trails.

The Lightning Ascent comes in either an orange or a green frame, 22" or 25" length, and will fit a variety of types and sizes of boots. The MSRP is $259.95 usd and they can be bought online from the MSR website at or from dealers found via the website.

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Still trying, still not working!
Joshua Groom
Still trying, still not working! (photo by darkside)

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Way, way quieter than the plastic MSRs.

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