Between the Polar Vortex and record amounts of snowfall in February alone, Northern Michigan has become a winter wonderland. Last week, over three feet of light fluffy snow has accumulated and begs to be played in. Fortunately, MSR was kind enough to send out a couple of pairs of their Lightning Explore Snowshoes to help us enjoy the conditions. And that’s just what we’ve been doing. My wife and I both downhill ski but the hills in Michigan are underwhelming at best. Luckily, we have access to miles of trails and wooded areas to explore right out of our backyard.

Lightning Explore
One of our favorite spots to snowshoe

Up until now, we’ve had limited experience snowshoeing. But after several outings, are wondering why we haven’t been doing this for years. Mountain Safety Research out of Seattle Washington has been perfecting the snowshoe for some time. They break down their line into three categories, Accent, Explore and Trail snowshoes. All focused on a different mission. The Accent models are best suited for attacking steep terrain and mountain operations. On the opposite side of the spectrum the Trail models are perfect for mainly flat non-technical hiking. The best of both worlds lies in between with the Explore Series.

MSR 25″ Lightning Explore Specs:

  • Weight:  3 lbs 14 oz
  • Width:  8″
  • Length:  25″
  • Binding type:  Hyperlink
  • Televator:  Yes
  • Gait:  Unisex/average width
  • Footwear size range:  7-13M
  • Load: 120 – 220 lbs
  • Load with tails: 120 – 280 lbs
  • Country of Origin: Made in the USA of US and Imported Parts
  • MSRP $279.96  Sale: $209.95
Lightning Explore
360 degree aluminum Traction Frame

The lightest of the two Explore models is the Lightning Explore. This shoe utilizes a unique aluminum 360 degree Traction Frame. Providing grip and rigidity that can’t be paralleled with conventional tubular frames. With a serrated vertical structure, the frame itself becomes the main source of traction. Along with two additional crossmembers for both structural support and grip. On the toe of the binding, steel crampon style teeth offer “bite” as you step forward and point your toes into the snow. We were able to put these to the test on the abandoned ski hills in our neighborhood. Always propelling us uphill with no slipping backwards on steep terrain. Descents felt controlled with the crossmembers acting like brakes and not allowing a forward slide.

Lightning Explore
Hyperlink Binding with quick release buckles and EVA foam padding

The Hyperlink Binding makes entry and exit a snap. With large easy to manipulate cam style buckles, binding adjustment is easy even with heavy gloves on. I found that once I’ve adjusted the top and rear straps to my liking, I only use the top strap to get in and out of these snowshoes. Keeping the rear strap buckled, I can slide my heel snug to that strap and buckle the top strap…done. MSR added some strategically placed EVA padding on the cradle of the binding. A nice comfort feature to prevent pressure or hot spots during prolonged use.

New Release: Paragon Binding

Lightning Explore
Paragon Binding

One item of note. While I was at Outdoor Retailer this winter, MSR showcased their new Paragon Binding. This revolutionary binding will be featured on their Accent Lightning Snowshoe in Fall of 2019. “The Paragon Binding is the worlds first single-strap mesh snowshoe binding delivering the pinnacle of simplicity, security, durability and comfort in alpine terrain. With a one-piece mesh top strap that conforms to a variety of boot styles and sizes. The Paragon Binding offers fast, easy and intuitive foot alignment with glove-like fit. The variable thickness of the mesh optimizes strength and flex, providing a secure fit without painful pressure points on the foot.” ~MSR Press Release