MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes: Introduction

MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes

I recently purchased a pair of MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes.  I have been thinking of purchasing snow shoes for several years now.  Until a few weeks ago, I had never gotten further than staring at them on the wall in Campmor.  Each time, I ultimately decide that it wasn’t worth the money for the limited amount of snow we get in New Jersey. This year I finally took the plunge. Let’s take a look at these together.

Understanding MSR’s Snow Shoe Models

At first glance, the vast array of snow shoes MSR has to offer may seem a bit confusing.  There are many models and many options.  The important thing to know is that there are really only two different models and three different binding systems.  Each of the 6 possible combinations comes in a men’s and a women’s version. Finally, each of these comes in several lengths.

Binding Packages

  • The Ascent series of snow shoes come with a traditional binding system.  It has a strap around the heel and three straps over the toes.   All of the straps adjust the same way as a belt or a watch band.  All of the Ascent series snow shoes also feature a televator. A televator is a small lever that flips up to support the heel while walking up hill.
  • The Explore series is fitted with MSR’s latest binding system.  It has a single strap around the heel and another over the toes. This strap has a ratcheting closure system, similar to that found on snowboards. All of the Explore snow shoes also come with a televator.
  • The Trail series features a traditional binding system like the Ascent, but only has 2 straps over the toes. The Trail Series does not include a televator.


Each of the above binding packages can be placed on either of two platforms.

  • The Lightning is MSR’s flagship model. It features a complete steel frame with steel cross bars for traction and stability. The deck is thin durable plastic.  The lightning is intended for more aggressive use. The Lightning comes in 22, 25, and 30 inch options.*
  • The REVO is the budget model.  It  has a partial steel frame mounted on a rigid plastic deck.  The cross members are plastic.  A pair of REVO snow shoes cost about $100 less than the Lightning with the same binding package. The REVO only comes in 22 or 25 inch options.*

*All MSR snow shoes can be fitted with optional extensions for extra flotation.

Introducing the Lightning Explore

The Lightning Explore combines the Lightning platform with the new Explore binding package.  As mentioned above, this binding allows the user to lighten or loosen the straps using ratchets. You toggle a little lever to tighten it up, or press down on a switch to loosen.  This system mimics the popular binding system found on snowboards and make it easier to put the shoes on and off.

The little silver lever lets you ratchet the straps tighter, while the red switch loosens them up.
The little silver lever lets you ratchet the straps tighter, while the red switch loosens them up.

Lightning Explore Technical Specs

These specs are taken directly from the manufacturers website:

Technical Specs from
Technical Specs from

First Use

I went for a test walk on the Lightning Explore Snow Shoes at a nearby county park.  The terrain was easy, with gentles hills and few obstacles.  There was very little fresh snow, so I walked on hard-pack.  This is the type of terrain for which I would normally wear micro-spikes. I walked for about 3 miles, up a gentle hill, along a ridge, then back down and across an area with slightly deeper snow.

MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes
MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes


Walking up hill was comfortable.  The aggressive crampons and crossbars kept me from slipping on the hard packed snow and ice.  Walking along the ridge, I noticed the toe strap starting to pinch.  This became increasingly painful when I walked downhill. I tried loosening the strap, but found it was too short.  Even at its loosest, the strap pinched my toes painfully.  I was relieved to take them off. When I got home, I found the toes on my right foot were cut and had started to bleed.

Injured feet after testing the MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes.
Injured feet after testing the MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes.
Injured feet after testing the MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes.


I plan to test the MSR Lightning Explore Snow Shoes a few more times. I will experiment with different socks and different boots.  I will try to loosen the strap more so that my toes can slide further forward. It I cannot make these snow shoes more comfortable, I plan on contacting MSR. I would like to see if I can exchange the Explore binding system for the Ascent version.  From what I can tell, it should be an easy conversion.


After writing to MSR and inquiring about replacing the Explore bindings with those from the Ascent series, they offered to send me a pair of Ascent Bindings at no charge. See their response.