Whether it’s helping you negotiate the approach or allowing you to float through sections of deep snow, snowshoes are an essential tool for mountaineering. Find out why you should add snowshoes to your mountaineering kit, along with a few other pieces of essential gear for your next trip.
Why use snowshoes for approach excellence
Even though snowshoes are too heavy to tackle a rocky ridge or vertical strip of ice, they are incredibly useful to get you there. Here are some of the remarkable ways snowshoes will help you get the approach right on your next mountaineering adventure.
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Light and compact
Many mountaineers choose snowshoes for the simple reason that they offer the lightest and most compact form of flotation available. For example, weighing just under four pounds, proven snowshoes like the MSR Evo Ascent will keep the approach manageable, allowing you to avoid post-drilling in seemingly bottomless snow. And when the going gets deep, you can add MSR’s modular tails (12oz for pair) for added flotation. When it’s time to go from snowy approach to “real rock climbing”, snowshoes fit easily in your bag.
Snowshoes are the most user-friendly flotation option available to climbers. Today’s snowshoe bindings are very easy to put on and fit comfortably over most mountaineering boots. Many snowshoe bindings are even compatible with snowboard boots, which is great news for those sliding through the backcountry lines and looking for quick descents on their latest mountaineering goals.
Compared to other tools used for mountaineering approaches, snowshoes are the most accessible. Unlike alpine touring skis and splitboards, they don’t require additional skills, you already know how to walk. They also avoid relying on bindings with multiple moving parts that can break or freeze (problems magnified when splitboarding, requiring the binding to be removed from the board when transitioning up and down and vice versa). Snowshoes also eliminate the reliance on skins which are prone to their own issues, including glue failure, snapping tips and clips, and snow sticking to them.
Heavy packs, steep terrain and high impact turns can make it difficult even for advanced skiers and snowboarders on a mountaineering trip; this is especially true for those who are more used to shredding the station. Alternatively, snowshoes provide a comfortable and inspiring approach and descent option.
Comparatively, snowshoes are a good deal for getting into the backcountry. A pair of the aforementioned MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes cost a few hundred dollars, which is roughly the price of a set of skins, not to mention boards, bindings, boots, etc. Snowshoes are a no-brainer for those who prefer to spend their dollars on adventure rather than gear.
Snowshoes are a great choice for trips involving technical climbing or ice climbing. Covering Class 4 and Class 5 terrain or water ice is doable with ski and snowboard boots, but much safer with mountaineering boots. Rather than taking the second pair of boots for a tech section (or skiing Silverttas, uggghhhh!), Snowshoes allow you to tackle your entire trip with just one pair of boots.
In the northeast (where we are located) snowshoes shine on many classic mountaineering goals in the region where you will encounter deep snow, pure ice, rocks, mud, dirt, thick brush and downed trees, often all in one section of Trail. A durable pair of snowshoes let you go through it all without having to put them on and take them off. If you decide to take your snowshoes off during the trail, just make sure you choose the right backpack.
Snowshoe options for mountaineering
For those who want to use snowshoes, check out a few options below, all of which offer aggressive traction and adequate flotation for the steep slopes on your next mountaineering adventure.
Ascension MSR Evo
The Evo Ascent, mentioned above, is a great lightweight option for the approach. It is also the most economical climb model in the MSR family. The plastic decking provides long term durability and the aggressive toe studs, along with steel traction rails provide grip on steep terrain. In addition, a 3-strap attachment is designed for a diverse range of footwear and is suitable for gloves for cold days. Available in 22 ″ with a recommended load of up to 180 lbs.
Flash Rise of the MSR
MSR’s Lightning Ascent delivers edge-to-edge grip delivering one of the most aggressive traction on the market for rough terrain. A heel lift bar helps relieve muscle fatigue when going up slopes, while the Paragon binding reduces pressure points with secure alignment. Expect a higher price tag for this aluminum snowshoe, but it’s well worth the reliability of these mountain snowshoes. To increase flotation, the Lightning Ascent also has the option of adding a modular tail. Available in 22 ″, 25 ″ or 30 ″ with recommended loads up to 180-280 lbs.
Read more: The Claw Patrol: MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review
With a unique V-tail design, the aluminum Redfeather Alpine offers mountain maneuverability as the ripstop vinyl deck withstands subzero temperatures. Additionally, the Epic binding includes 3 easy-to-use ratchet straps for foot stability for a variety of boot types, which sit on a high impact polymer cleat plate. A heel lift bar helps relieve muscle fatigue while aggressive powder coated front and rear cleats help prevent snow and ice buildup. Available in 25 ″, 30 ″ or 35 ″ with recommended loads up to 175-220 lbs.
Read more: Rackets designed for everyone: find your match
Tubbs Flex VRT
The Tubbs Flex VRT has a flexible bridge, which helps relieve stress on muscles and joints when climbing. The unique Dynamic Fit binding combines an easy-to-use Boa closure for a precise fit, as well as Eva foam padding to relieve pressure points. In addition, the Viper 2.0 carbon steel toe cleat and 3D curved traction rails provide excellent traction. Available in 24 ″ and 28 ″ with a recommended load between 160-190 lbs.
With its spring suspension, the Atlas Montane helps absorb shocks while allowing natural and free movement of the foot. All-Trac toe crampons and Traverse Trac side rails provide the grip needed to traverse and climb. Plus, a heel lift bar helps relieve fatigue while Nytex decking is flexible and durable for a worry-free, quiet ride. Available in 30 ″ and 35 ″ with recommended loads of 250-300 lbs.
With characteristics similar to the Montane, Atlas offers a specific shoe model for women, the Atlas Elektra Montane. This snowshoe is built with a tapered heel and narrower frame to match a narrower gait, but with the same great features to conquer those mountain slopes. Available in 23 ″ and 27 ″ with recommended loads of 160-200 lbs.
Extreme Mountain GV
Built like a mountaineering snowshoe, the GV Mountain Extreme has a unique platform design to prevent snow build-up during your hike. Toe and heel studs provide grip on the slopes with a heel lift bar to reduce muscle fatigue. In addition, the Entech deck can withstand temperatures as low as -50 ° C, as well as a flexible aluminum frame. The foot stays in place and fits comfortably with ratchet bindings, a textured footrest, and tapered toe binding. Available in 25 ″ and 30 ″ with recommended loads of 140-170 lbs.
Other essential equipment
Of course, snowshoes aren’t the only gear you’ll need to tackle mountaineering trips on your checklist. Here are some of the other equipment you will need.
Ice ax and crampons
An ice ax and crampons are fundamental parts of any mountaineering kit. They literally keep you attached to the mountain as you go up. Before embarking on a mountaineering adventure, know how to use these winter mountaineering tools.
Depending on the terrain, avalanche preparation may also be required. Bring a beacon or transceiver, probe and shovel. You can also purchase this equipment as a complete set from Backcountry Access or Black Diamond. Of course, you’ll also want to be trained in their use and how to spot avalanche warning signs and danger zones.
Read more: Avalanche prevention and FAQs
A helmet, harness and rope are three other essential pieces of mountaineering equipment. The helmet protects your head from falling rocks or ice, while the harness and rope offer the rope team a degree of protection in the event of a limb fall and unable to self-stop. A harness and rope (and the knowledge to use them) are also essential if your route has crevices. And if your course has crevasses, having a crevasse rescue kit (stakes, cord, slings, carabiners and Petzl Micro Traxion pulley) is essential.
Appropriate layers are also essential for mountaineering. Perhaps our favorite layer is the super warm large puffer jacket that is worn during all breaks and time at camp.
Read more: Tips on winter clothing from a snowshoe guide
Did snowshoes provide any essential help on a recent mountaineering trip? We want to know your experience with them in the mountains. Tell us in the comments!
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Avalanche safety basics for snowshoers: warning signs and danger zones