MSR has introduced a new variant of the successful Lightning snowshoe product line called the Lightning Axis snowshoe. It features a new snowshoe binding that is supposed to improve the efficiency of your gait and make it easier to put on and take off your snowshoes.
The snowshoes I use in the mountains are MSR’s Lightning Ascent snowshoes, the predecessor to the new Axis. The Ascent has a simple but very reliable binding system. It consists of four rubberized straps that fit over the top and the back of your boots and lock them onto the snowshoe deck. It doesn’t matter if you go uphill or down, or even if you fall over, the simple binding system on the Lightning Ascent won’t let go.
I really like my Lightning Ascents. They’re great for mountain climbing and long hikes over uneven, but icy terrain. But the one thing I find a little irritating about that old binding system is the way in which the ends of the straps bounce around when you walk. The clips that come with the snowshoes never hold the straps down very long and come undone. It’s not a showstopper though
The New Lightning Axis Snowshoe Binding
The Lightning Axis Speedlock binding replaces the front two rubberized straps on the Ascent binding with a wide plastic toe strap that you fit in advance, before you leave the house. Don’t try to set up this binding or change it at the trail head. You’ll go mad.
MSR made the back top rubber strap optional, unless you want extra insurance for extreme conditions. Take my advice, you need this strap if you plan on hiking any hills, and I mean any hill, not the ones they call mountains in Scotland. Otherwise, your boot is going to pop out of the binding immediately, since there’s little to hold the rest of your boot to the snowshoe deck. It happened repeatedly to me during testing.
Additionally, be very careful with the little metal fittings that attach this “optional” strap to the rest of the snowshoe binding. They have a tendency to fall off and get lost in the snow. If this happens when you’re out on a hike, you’re probably going to have to posthole back to the car, unless you duct take the snowshoe to your boot.
I think you get my gist here. The new Speedlock Binding is not much of an improvement over the old Lightning Ascent binding, unless you only plan to snowshoe on a golf course.
New Locking Strap Stud
I have to give MSR credit though: they did get rid of the flapping straps by adding a locking metal stud to the end of Axis’ rubber strap. You fit the flapping end onto the stud to hold it down.
It works great for me, so I called up MSR Customer Support to see if I could buy some to use with my Lightning Ascents. They told me that customers had been experiencing a lot of problems using them with the Lightning Axis and that they are going to replace them in future production runs with the old strap holders used on the Ascent. Oh well.
However, if you like the studs and can get them to work, MSR customer Support will be happy to send them to you for free! I’m expecting 10 of them to arrive any day.
Axis Gait Technology
The other improvement introduced on the Axis is Gait Efficiency technology. According to MSR, most people walk in snowshoes with their toes angled away from one another. To counter this you can realign the binding on the Axis so it points slightly in the opposite direction: it swivels on the snowshoe deck to produce the correction.
After you set the correction, you’ll have the same gait, but the snowshoe will be pointed slightly inward so you won’t notice it when you walk.
To determine whether you toes points inwards or out, MSR advises you to walk in straight line on fresh snow and determine whether the outlines of your snowshoes point in or out. I’ve tried this multiple times on different types of snow and all I can determine is that I walk like a drunken man when I’m wearing snowshoes.
Just because I can’t figure this out, doesn’t mean that you won’t.
I’m not impressed with the new features on the Lightning Axis. The only thing wrong with the old generation Lightning Ascents were the flapping straps. Give us the new metal studs to fix that, and we’ll be happy customers.
Disclosure: MSR provided (Philip Werner) SectionHiker.com with a pair of MSR Lightning Axis Snowshoes for this review.
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