As an avid backcountry skier, I’ve never been 100% sold on the idea of snowshoeing. It always seemed like the slow, annoying younger sibling.
Then again, as an avid trail runner and ultrarunner, I’ve also never been sold on ‘the spring sufferfest’ — the tedious process of getting my running muscles back up to snuff.
Recently, it hit me that snowshoes might actually be an ideal tool for year-round plodding and prancing up and down trails, especially when deployed during high-pressure systems (i.e. no powder skiing anyhow.)
After a bit of research, I got my hands on the Women's Northern Lites Race snowshoes. And, in one fell swoop, I found myself getting these types of text message replies from my adventure buddies …
Snowshoeing? Who are you and what have you done with my friend Amy?!?
The long and the short: it’s fair to say the Northern Lites Race snowshoes have made me something of a convert. And, who knows, if the habit keeps up, I might once again be willing to tackle early season running races — something I previously swore off. Or, dare I say it, maybe even a snowshoeing race!
What I Like About the Northern Lites Race Snowshoes:
The new Northern Lites Speed binding is off-the-hook awesome! The Speed bindings strike the perfect balance between Northern Lite’s original Tru Trak binding system and the amazing-for-racing-but-a-pain-to-install Direct Mount system. It’s super easy to get your feet into them. And once in, your feet stay put — no constant binding fiddling required! This is in large part due to the fact that there’s just the right amount of friction — enough but not too much — between the orange laces that secure the snowshoes around your feet and the grey grommets that the laces run through.
Allows for a very natural stride! Going from running plowed country roads to running trails ‘groomed’ by snowmobilers — the former with nothing but my running shoes on my feet, the latter with both my running shoes and the Race snowshoes — proved to be a seamless transition. My cadence wasn’t thrown off in the least by these snowshoes, and I’ve never felt the need to bring trekking poles or ski poles with me for stability.
Two crampon attachments underfoot provide solid grip. In addition to running on packed trails with them, I used them to climb up a mountain, off-trail when conditions were crusty. Grip was never an issue — either too little or too much. And as a major bonus I have yet to have a problem with them icing up!
The snowshoes’ tail provides downhill glide. When I run, I typically strike the ground with my forefoot. When using this technique in snowshoes it provides great traction. But, I also found that I can get downhill glide by striking the snow with my heel and riding the snowshoes’ tail. It’s incredibly cool to have both the traction and glide options — which can be toggled between simply by changing my stride.
Lightweight. 20 ounces per pair really is quite incredible. I can easily pick up both snowshoes with my pinky finger. Also, it meets the U.S. Snowshoe Association’s minimum surface area standard for racing.
Maneuverable? Check! I let my 7-year-old wear them one afternoon, and she had absolutely no problem scrambling up, over and around big snow banks in them. Nor did she have any issues going on a self-created cross-country adventure through a snowy forest.
Well designed and well made! These USA Made snowshoes have everything you need and nothing you don’t! While letting my daughter wear these sleek beauties, I donned an old garage sale pair of snowshoes. And wow, did that contrast further my appreciation for Northern Lites. While I continuously dug ice balls out of the crampons and off the heel plate of our old pair, my daughter pranced around undisturbed in the Northern Lites Race.
What I Don’t Like:
The pink paint on the frame of the snowshoes is chipping in multiple places after a month and half of use. While this doesn’t affect the performance of the snowshoes, it does affect the aesthetic and seems like a surprising issue for such a high-end piece of gear.
No right and left. The mechanism for tightening the heel straps are on the left hand side of both snowshoes. I’d prefer to have this mechanism on the outside edge of each foot with a delineated right and left snowshoe, as tightening the heel strap when it’s on the inside edge requires a bit of gymnastics. It also could lead to the possibility of tripping over the loose tail of the heel strap.
Things to Note:
Designed for packed surfaces. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise given their specs, this particular model of Northern Lites snowshoes is definitely designed for packed surfaces, and won’t keep you afloat in feet of fresh snow. I tested it just to be triple sure after a mega storm here in the Tetons and post holed to my thighs. (Note: if your main goal is float, Northern Lites also offers excellent backcountry and mountaineering models).
Back of legs and behind get cold and wet. While I very much doubt this is specific only to the Northern Lites Race, running with snowshoes has a way of spraying quite a bit of snow onto the back of the legs and heiny. This region definitely got cold and wet at times, even when the rest of my body was toasty.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a snowshoe to use for racing, running or any other purpose that involves packed snow or groomed trails, your search is over. The Northern Lites Race snowshoes float on your feet as much as they keep you afloat.