I own these snowshoes and have used this model a number of times even before I purchased them. My girlfriend bought the exact same pair based on my recommendation and it's the model (or the non-Ascent Evo) that I would encourage most people in the Northwest to buy unless they have more specific needs that are better met by a different type of snowshoe.
Why Buy This Snowshoe
The Evo Ascent would be a good fit for anyone looking for a durable all around snow shoe that could be used in a variety of situations for a few reasons:
- The single piece body increases durability significantly over designs with a separate frame/platform.
- The Ascent model offers a heel lift that helps quite a bit when walking uphill.
- The 3 point binding system and easy grip tabs makes it easy to keep a secure fit.
- The traction/teeth system is pretty aggressive and should cover just about any use.
- MSR's repair policy.
The Single Piece Deck
The Ascent version of the Evo line includes a pop-up heel lift (they call it the Televator) that offers your legs a little rest from trying to climb uphill. It's a bit like the difference between climbing a set of stairs versus climbing a steep driveway of the same grade. There is less stress on your calf muscles when it doesn't have to maintain contact with the ground at a sharp angle. Additionally, it will help with traction because your heel will be doing a better job of pushing the teeth down as you walk uphill.
There are two things to like about the bindings. The first is that they are “freeze resistant” and the second is that there are three of them that go over your foot.
The freeze resistant bindings have been easy to operate for as low as 15 degrees but I haven't had a chance to try them past that. From other research I found I couldn't identify a point at which these will become stiff enough that they cause problems, so my assumption is that they will operate pretty well for the majority of people.
The three binding system, while not at all unique, does make for a well secured pair of snowshoes. Spend some time adjusting yours before you get started and make sure to start with the middle strap. I will say that I feel if you spend a couple minutes making sure everything is right from the start you'll save time later.
The main deck has large crampon style spikes right under the balls of your feet. This means that where you will generally have the most weight pressing down is where you'll wind up getting the most traction. The side of the Evo series feature steel rails with a series of teeth as well.
These should hold you over in icy snow but won't add a lot of value in the dry powder. This is part of the reason that MSR's are a bit more popular snowshoeing near Seattle and in the Pacific Northwest. We tend to see more wet snow that can easily turn into packed ice. Plus since we don't tend to see snow on the ground at low elevations here most of the snowshoeing is around steep terrain in places like Mt. Rainier or Crater Lake.
Warranty and Replacement
MSR has a 3 year limited warranty against defects as long as you're using them as intended. They specifically indicate that you shouldn't water ski in them… so if you were thinking about it, stop.
Perhaps more important, however, is their repair policy. Even if you're out of warranty they offer highly discounted replacements if they can't repair your snowshoes. They also sell replacement parts for things like the binding straps. It is a policy they are pretty well known for. Since repair (not replace) is part of the culture and business model expect that you'll be able to get your snowshoes fixed up for a long time to come.
Most of the reasons not to buy these are not because of the product quality but rather because they aren't the right type of snowshoe for your purpose. While I think these are versatile, they wouldn't make sense for everyone.
Uni-body vs Frame/Platform
The uni-body design of the Evo series basically just makes them more durable and less prone to being easily broken by accidentally stepping on a rock. For that durability you're adding some extra weight and possibly comfort on really long hikes. The Revo and Lightning series both use less durable plastic and are more prone to cracking on the deck but they are also both lighter and offer some flex in the frame which can be useful on highly technical hikes.
Flat Ground or Varied Terrain
The MSR Ascent moniker is obviously intended for snowshoes that are built to go up hill. The heel lift is the main difference between the base Evo and the Evo Ascent but the Ascent also comes with an extra strap over the top of your foot. You might not need it if you're on flat terrain, though, and the non-ascent version is cheaper by $60 at full price.
Flat terrain is also where you tend to see the more traditional tube style snowshoes. Those work perfectly well in dry powder where you're not going to need traction but rather flotation that keeps you on top of the snow.
Light Weight Options
MSR also offers a lighter weight snowshoe series called Lightning. These sacrifice some durability and simplicity but save on weight and have more size options. This can make them great for longer trips or even backpacking. While the Evo series does offer optional tails to provide more flotation, the whole system weighs a bit more. If you're really serious about snowshoeing long distances it might be worth considering the upgrade but the Lightning Ascent version is about $100 more.
If you are just starting out make sure to check out our post on how to layer for snowshoeing as well. Especially if you're new to sweating in cold weather. Snowshoeing is much different than skiing and it's a subject worth researching before you head out.