The Claw Patrol: MSR’s Lightning™ Ascent Snowshoes

The engineering peak of adventure snowshoes, Lightning™ Ascents top the list of snowshoes outdoor enthusiasts need to choose when it really, really matters.

Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters used Lightning Ascents to reach “the horizontal Everest” (photo courtesy Eric Larsen)

Outfitted with features creating one’s squad of support on snowshoes, thus The Claw Patrol, an adventurer tackles the deepest and most challenging winter treks with high confidence inspired by Mountain Safety Research (MSR). Nearly 50 years ago engineer and summiteer Larry Penberthy formed his own team, call it an inventive patrol of “unruly dreamers,” defining “precision engineering” for extreme outdoor quests. Then in 1995:

“Working from a concept by renowned inventor and big wall climber Bill Forrest, and developed using MSR technology and engineering, the original Denali snowshoes revolutionized the snowshoe industry.”

From that snowshoe cosmic big bang in the mid-1990s evolved the MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes, decoupling the sport from traditional thinking. Today we might refer to them as ingenious disrupters of the highest sort.

Note the upright Ergo™ Televators and red DTX crampons on the Lightning™ Ascent Snowshoes

Lifting these cobalt blue-jewels from their box, one begins to understand their feeling of timbre and design. Your Claw Patrol begins with wrap-around ratchets, “a vertical wall of traction” MSR notes, creating a box of grip underfoot. Three cross-members of the same “ultralight aerospace-grade” 7000 series aluminum add to the horizontal hold capacity. In ungroomed heavy snow conditions, my tests found no excessive slipping or sliding even with steep climbs or cutting trail off-camber. That frees a snowshoer, as the Mama’s and Papa’s sang, to “go where you want to go, do what you want to do” in the steepest of terrains without fear of skidding down or worse, falling off.

You own the tundra you want to cover.

An awesome member of your patrol, Ergo™ Televators, flip-up underfoot, about mid-heel, and essentially change a climb from vertical to more like stair steps. The snowshoe stays on the snow, but the foot points into a steep pitch allowing the toe crampons to reach max grip. Now you can challenge long climbs that beforehand wore out calves, hamstrings, and endurance. Now attack with far less energy expended. When the trek encompasses long distances in difficult terrain, spending less effort accomplishing it offers a key advantage to realizing the destination.

One uses climbing poles to yank a Televator up and pop it back down, or merely stoops with a gloved finger to maneuver it.

I tested the idea of going down smaller hills with the Televators engaged as most long climbs involve up-and-downs along the way. I just sat back on the ‘shoes and found that works swell. So, on the climb immediately following a downhill I could just trudge on up with no stopping required. If encountering a long, long downhill, I’m clicking the Televators to their rest position.

Steep climbs, a hallmark advantage of the Lightning Ascent snowshoe (photo courtesy MSR)

Lightning™ Ascent’s DTX—meaning “Durable Traction”—red crampons received an essential upgrade with more durable and thicker martensite steel. Understanding the process occurring inside MSR’s engineering and manufacturing complex empowers you, the adventurer. When caught in blizzard conditions, for example, the confidence in your claw patrol, the knowledge of the quality and thought designed into this team, provide grains of resolute determination that just may save you. That’s where the best equipment excels.

The crampons on all MSR snowshoes are made of martensite steel,  a class of very hard carbon steel that gains its strength through its rapid cooling process. It starts out as a solid carbon and iron crystalline structure. When heated to 1250 degrees and then forced to cool rapidly, its carbon atoms become trapped inside the iron atoms. This changes the shape of its crystals, greatly increasing the steel’s strength and rigidity.

Martensite’s hardness makes it a popular steel when resistance to abrasion, high stress, and deformation is crucial.

These components are engineered and manufactured at our Seattle Headquarters. The crampons and traction rails are precision-cut on a large laser cutter. Then, the crampons are formed by a programmable bending machine that configures the steel into the final crampon shape, ready to be mounted to the rest of the snowshoe.

Without supporting cold weather gear for your snowshoes,  success on a trek likely will not end in the way you want.

“Remember, the crampon of a snowshoe is only one small part of its assembly,” says Anthony Gervais, design engineer for MSR. “So the lighter it is, the better. Martensite’s strength-to-weight ratio makes it great for crampons that will be subjected to harsh environments.”

Buried in the research on martensite steel find this reveal providing keys to the design attitude of MSR and their approach to creating ultra-quality products:

Choosing the right materials for a product is absolutely critical to its performance and durability, and it’s a job that our product developers spend a great deal of time and energy on. That’s why, from their lightweight decks to their freeze-resistant bindings and rock-solid crampons, MSR snowshoes are made to deliver the safety, reliability, and efficiency required in the winter backcountry.

For the remarkable history of MSR innovation from 1973-2007, check this list. Innovation continues to accelerate with new areas of interest and then thoughtful, clever solutions to those needs. MSR says it this way: “We are engineers, tinkerers, and passionate outdoor users–each with strong perspectives on how a product should work based on our own experiences in the wild places we love. But collectively, we believe that innovative solutions are bred by challenging convention, and that functionality, simplicity, and reliability are the governing elements of enduring design.

The Modular Floatation add-ons are buried somewhere in the snow, but you can see the pull-on assist. I like tucking in pant legs but in the brush, Mother Nature may reach out and foul that particular plan. (photo Ultra Superior Media)

Click this 2018 video to enjoy Lightning™ Ascent Snowshoes’  Design Engineer Steve Schwennsen. Learn the improved geometry of the individual red teeth crampons and more.

Posilock AT (all-terrain) bindings join your Claw Patrol team by easing the process of inserting boots or running shoes in the bindings and keeping them there. The open side of the strap’s buckle simplifies the process of tightening “The Ties That Bind” while channeling your inner E Street Band. Start with the middle one and simply lift your foot to set the tab in the binding.

Glove-friendly, the durable urethane remains flexible to -20°. Stainless steel, inset-molded hardware eliminates pressure points for all-day comfort.

Secure the excess strap in the clip that easily moves to where you need it.

A beautiful day to trek on snowshoes (photo courtesy MSR)

Happily, bindings come in separate models to fit both women’s and men’s footwear. Women’s models are 4.5W to 14W while men’s fit 4.5M to 15M with an 18-inch strap accessory available.

I call it The Extender, but MSR chooses the professional title of Modular Flotation. Its use is the same: increasing the total float of the Lightning™ Ascent five inches by simply (and I mean simply) clipping it on and pulling a holding tab over the back floor of the snowshoe. The ease and simplicity of the design remind one of an engineering marvel; no buckles to snap or complexity to deal with at all. A video makes the process easier, too. View it here. The additional flotation tames deep snow while offering the option of a larger load if that is a necessity. The extenders offer a snowshoer flexibility and choices when heading out on a trek. Put them in your pack when not in use so they’re always handy. There are no sharp points to rip gear.

Showing the Lightning™ Ascents with size 14 boots comfortably strapped in, plenty of room for larger profile boots, the Modular Floaters adding that extra flotation for new and deeper snows. Note the Ergo Televators engaged under the boots. (photo Ultra Superior Media)

The durable decking crafted from a special die-cut polyurethane finds 18 points of riveting to each frame, increasing hold while securing redundancy if by chance ever needed. Accounts from the Arctic and Antarctic explorers prove things and situations can twist horribly wrong; using top-notch equipment provides the fundamental base to survive those challenges.

This high tensile fabric is what makes the Lightning™ Ascent snowshoe so lightweight and flexible, yet also durable. No cut-and-paste here, rather a methodically cut and riveted decking that attaches in precise angle to tension the frame for proper flex and function.

Three lengths of 22-, 25- and 30-inch offer a snowshoer unisex choices based on one’s weight expected load and personal preference. I tested the 22. Having raced in traditional, nearly 60″ wooden snowshoes, trekking with those 30s and the five more Modular Flotation inches attached seems like a lot of fun.

Read what must be the most creative snowshoe owner’s guide in the industry included with each MSR pair. The company’s creativity shows in the clever way the information literally unfolds, opens, and closes with small tabs. Easy to understand instructions presented in an organized, professional way enable one to get underway with less muss and fuss.

Reaching the geographic North Pole on May 6, 2014, setting a new American speed record, Eric Larsen and expedition partner Ryan Waters used Lightning™ Ascents for the 53 “grueling days” it took. He wrote on the adventure known as Last North:

In 1995, Reinhold Messner, easily the most accomplished mountaineer of all time, called his unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole the horizontal Everest. The entire mass moves slowly from the pole toward Canada, the U.S., and Greenland. In fact, waking up each morning, we were usually quite distraught after checking our GPS—losing up to three miles of forward progress while we slept. It is not with the least bit of overstatement that I say reaching the pole was in large part due to our MSR gear. We could not have reached the pole without these snowshoes. With our sleds weighing nearly 320 pounds at the start, the only way we could get enough traction over the rough terrain was by using the Lightning™ Ascents. Despite taking the brunt of all our effort—bashing into ice chunks constantly—they looked nearly new at the end of our journey. 

Perhaps the “Last North” unsupported, unaided expedition crossing the Arctic to reach the North Pole with Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters

The Claw Patrol traveled with Larsen and Waters in extreme conditions. Having the same Lightning™ Ascent patrol team with you—those blue-jewel frames, the ratchets, the Televators, the DTX crampons, the Posilock, the riveted decking, the Extender—provides the characters needed for successful long-distance treks, destination hikes, or just some time in the woods.

5 inches may not seem much, but when viewed top-down as the Lightning™ Ascents rest against a tree, the Modular Floatation difference pops. (photo Ultra Superior Media)

Simply the best-engineered snowshoe available, with options that would make a Range Rover owner envious, take to the snow in all conditions with confidence and support. The company, now with production in Ireland along with its home in Seattle, supports global snowshoeing and endurance sporting equipment.

Living the talk, and snowshoeing the walk, take the MSR hint and trek your trek with Lightning™ Ascent.

What are your trekking experiences? Write

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