Monthly Archives: January 2019

Snow Shoe Comparison & Out of the Box Review – Northern Lites and MSR Military Surplus

Posted on AP 9 Jan 19.

This will be an out of the box first impressions review and comparison with my tried and true Northern Lites Tundra.  I’ll do a follow up post once I get enough snow to do some field trials.  Fortunately, I have a friendly golf course nearby that allows snowshoeing once the snow gets above 6 inches, so that’ll be great!

For the last 6 years, I’ve had a pair of Northern Lites Tundra trail shoes that I’ve used for hauling sleds & equipment through deep snow in the North country.  They cost about $250, and are worth every penny!  They are THE lightest shoe on the market (3 pounds per pair) compared for size and deck surface area (9.5 inches X 32 inches = 258 Sq Inches of displacement) and are rated for loads that can exceed 250 lbs.  Think of how your weight can go up if you are, say 175 pounds, add winter clothing, add LBE, add whatever long gun you choose, ammo, mags, and so on.  250 pounds is not hard to achieve (personally, I like the fact that they keep virtually any load floating on the surface of the snow). This will keep you, your pack (if you carry one), your carbine, and anything else floating in any snow condition you can think of.  Really, these shoes float better than any shoe I’ve ever tried with or without carrying a load, the bindings are easy on/easy off, are durable, and do not get phased by quick changes from extreme barely cold to back again.  The decking is especially noteworthy, in that it’s made from the material that White Water Rafts are made from, and will not tear.  I painted mine using a pattern similar to the original ASAT (All Season All Terrain) to blend in with the winter landscape, especially when I was in camp and stuck them into a snow bank near my shelter.  As you can see, the paint will wear off the bottom, but the top stays nice and camouflaged wherever the boots don’t rub it off.  This Spring will see them getting touched up.

Here’s a pic of my Tundras as they are now:

Here’s their site for you to review some of the advantages if you’d like.

The one weakness they have is that once you get into deep woods that a lot of trees close together along with semi-deep snow, they’re too long (almost a yard – 32 inches) to maneuver well, and you may have to take them off, strap them on your back, and break trail.  So, I’ve been looking for something I can use in the woods that’s light, can easily be stowed in my sled, are maneuverable, and usable on the trail if necessary, and so on.  Basically, the best of all worlds.

I’ve been researching various brands/types/kinds of shoes by various manufacturers, and I’ve settled on what I think will be they answer.  They’re made by Mountain Safety Research, aka ‘MSR.’  Specifically, it’s their USGI MSR Denali snow shoes with the 8 inch trail extensions.  They could be called a ‘convertible’ in that when you take the tails off, they’re only 22 inches long, and are just right fore tight maneuvering forest or brush.  They usually run about $250 – $280 from known retailers, but I found a pair for less than $135, new!  That’s about the best deal I’ve found and am like many folks refusing suggested retail on anything, including snowshoes.  So, I snapped them up.

These are slightly less robust, in that they handle “up to” 250 lbs with the 8 inch tails attached.  They’re also narrower by an inch and a half (8 inchs v 9.5 inches) and two inches shorter (30 inches – w/tails v 32 inches).  They’re also a tad heavier by 5 ounces per shoe without the tails.  I’m willing to take the trade off for the 22 inch capability in the woods coupled with the 30 inch trail capability.  We’ll see how this works out once I get some decent snow on the ground.

Here’s the out of the box pic of the MSR shoes:

The tails can be attached with little effort and secure nicely with the retaining screw.  Nice and snug is the way to go; you don’t have to use a lot of force.  The bindings are virtually identical to the Northern Lites, and I found through use they’re very, very easy to snug up when putting your shoes on.

The pictures immediately above and below this text show the aggressive cleating on the shoes for walking on icy terrain, climbing or traversing slopes.  Not a bad thing to have!

Beyond good snowshoes, something else to ensure you have is a good set of trekking poles whether you’re carrying a pack or pulling a sled.  The picture above of my Northern Lites shows how I covered mine with burlap because I didn’t have time to paint them when I first purchased them, and since then, the burlap worked out well.  However, I plan on painting them in the same pattern I put on my Tundra’s when it gets warm again (on the April through June project list).  So, if you don’t have any, make sure you get a pair. They are indispensable in keeping your balance and assisting you when going through snow.  The newer models are also extremely light, so when you get into very shallow or no snow, they can be easily tied to your ruck without adding significant weight.  The picture below demonstrates even in 18 inches of snow poles can help you even when you’re not breaking trail.  Yours truly was 3rd in line and was using the Northern Lites.


An aside on winter camouflage:  Too many people take a smock, poncho, or plain sheet and drape it over the top half of their body with dark patterns on their pants.  Doing so actually works against the person trying to move through snow country as the patterns are reversed.  Dark pants against white snow and white jacket covers against dark trees.  Try doing just the opposite:  Wear your white, grey, or very light tan snow camouflage from the waist down and the darker colors from the waist up when moving if one wishes to blend into the surrounding terrain.  Look at the lead man in the line:  All dark and he stands out.  Number 2, 3 & 4 all have their light camouflage over their pants and the darker colors on top.  Simply more effective.

What’s your favorite shoe and set up?