I imagine that there are very few products in the outdoor world that can claim the same universal approbation that MSR’s snowshoes can. Whether afoot their all-plastic Evo or the intense full-traction Lightning Ascent shoes, they are unique in their range of function. MSR recognized that they had something good in both their all-plastic and full-traction models; this review is examining their Revo Explore model, which attempts to retain the best of both worlds.
MSR Revo Explore Features:
- Perimeter external traction
- Made of durable, injection-molded plastic deck
- HyperLink binding system for comfort and fast setup
- Ergo Televators to aid uphill efficiency
- Weight: 3lbs. 14oz (22 inch); 4lbs. 2oz (25 inch)
- Price: $199.95
Old ideas meet new tricks
Mountain Safety Research is known for their technical snowshoes and the Revo Explores promise a balance of performance and comfort. They’re among the more affordable models but it can’t really be said that MSR skimped on any area of the design. The foundation of the shoes is a plastic deck akin to what they use on their all-plastic models which is durable, lightweight and flexible. This is surrounded on both sides by toothy metal traction rails which provide, in theory, the same 360′ traction as their decking-on-metal models. So, in theory, we have a lightweight and comfortable shoe with some serious mountain chops.
The big-ticket item on Revo Explore is its unique HyperLink binding. The idea behind the HyperLink is to create a comfortable cradle for the foot, rather than the top-down pressure that most bindings provide. I’ve used this snowshoe with a pair of Scarpa Triolet mountaineering boots and my dear Vasque Snowburban winter boots; these are very different boots and offer a pretty good glimpse into the diversity of footwear that might be used in snowshoeing. I’m happy to report that the HyperLink handled both of them with relative aplomb – it’s quick and easy to adjust them to the vastly different sizes of the boots and, for the most part, it was easy to get a comfortable fit. My one substantive complaint is that the sole front ratchet puts quite a bit of pressure onto one place; so, although the binding is cradling my boot all around, there’s still uneven pressure in that one area. I never wound up with a blister from it but it’s the sort of thing that you’ll want to stop and readjust every couple of hours to maintain comfort. The problem is exacerbated on technical terrain that demands a tighter fit.
As with virtually all modern snowshoes, the Revo Explore features a hinged binding with a front crampon point to help dig in on icy conditions. I clawed my way up a few tricky slopes while testing these shoes and I’m happy to report that it’s easy to kick in a reliable step in the Revos. The bindings are not as secure as MSR’s technical four strap models, but they’re still trustworthy. Additionally, I would be completely remiss not to express my gratitude for MSR’s excellent Televator heel lifts which help to reduce strain on long climbs. MSR puts an indent and a bit of a bend into the bails so that it’s easy to hook them with a trekking pole to engage them without stopping. Nicely done.
My testing included some very challenging terrain high in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada – picture backcountry climbs on 60′ slopes with a wide variety of snow conditions. On the one hand, MSR nailed the all-around traction thing; once you set these shoes down, they stay put. Additionally, I was actually pretty impressed with the plastic decking’s ability to track with the terrain, especially on side hills with windswept, unpredictable snow. In this regard, they may be the best snowshoes on the market. However, they’re not perfect and I think MSR could stand to alter the design in one place. On my snowshoes, the plastic near the hinge where the rear section meets up with the metal frame and then transitions into the front section has significant stress marks. In this area, the snowshoe is especially prone to flexing and at one point mine was so badly distorted that it bent the metal railing.
This sounds bad at first, but MSR’s design would be robust enough to withstand a failure even here. If the plastic failed at the topmost rivet, I don’t think I would notice any difference with the rest of the rivets taking the strain on the plastic. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’d be able to finish a trip no matter what happened.
I mentioned the HyperLink binding above, but I ought to spend a little more time on it. In many ways, the HyperLink is the ideal binding for touring in snowshoes. If you only have one pair of boots, you can set the rear binding and never have to touch it again. If you use multiple pairs like I do, it’s a breeze to adjust these for a perfect fit. Unlike webbing bindings they never slip or become waterlogged, and MSR included a redundant release button to make sure they won’t accidentally come undone. Very large boots will occasionally be tough to fit the toe strap over. It’s a good design for touring, but if you know that you’re going to be on extreme terrain then you ought to opt for the Ascent version.
For reference, I weigh 185lbs and will often carry packs in excess of 40 lbs when mountaineering. I tested the 25″ model and it gave me plenty of flotation without feeling cumbersome. Tails are available for heavy loads.
- Great traction all-around
- The flexible plastic deck is very secure
- Design is strong with points of redundancy
- Crampon design makes it easy to kick steps
- HyperLink binding is fast, adjustable and (relatively) comfortable
- My testing brought out some significant stress in the frame and plastic
- Very large boots may be tough to squeeze into the front binding
The Bottom Line: MSR Revo
I already own a pair of MSR Lightning Axis snowshoes and, for a long time, they were the final word in my mind. The new Revo models are, frankly, superior in many respects for many pursuits — the comfort of the HyperLink binding contributes much in this regard. While I’ll keep my Lightnings for the most technical of ascents, the Revos have won a place as an ideal snowshoe for touring on days when I might encounter some gnarly terrain. I hope MSR tweaks their design slightly, but that won’t stop me from using and abusing these great shoes.
Buy Now: Available from REI.com