Afternoons in the southern Colorado mountains are often sunny and warm causing some snow melt even in the darkest canyons. The melt then refreezes at night and our trails soon turn into something more suitable for ice skates than snow shoes. For these conditions I was looking for a shoe that would be fairly short and nimble for steep switchbacks on icy trails. I was looking for traction and safety on the ice without the large heel claw that can be so uncomfortable on hard packed and icy sections of trail.
The MSR EVO 22 snowshoe with the steel traction rails looked like the exact match for my requirements. I was intrigued by the steel traction rails for two reasons, the first of course being the safety factor on ice and the second being the avoidance of soft rubber wrapped around tubing that wears out so quickly. The hard steel rails and durable plastic have the appearance of a good formula for a long lasting product, even on punishing icy and rocky terrain. At only 22 inches, the shoes provides for quick direction changes and perhaps even some running on trail sections that accommodate a faster gait.
I was a bit concerned about the simplicity of the foot bindings, but soon discovered the obvious advantages. The three straps with open ended buckles are very easy to operate. No balancing act required while you try to slide your boots into the binding and no finding a place to sit while you tighten and tie or buckle the straps. Just place them on the ground and step in. The straps can easily be pulled over and fastened with one hand in seconds. During my four hour test hike on a rugged trails the bindings never slipped or loosened at all. When the hike was complete there were no frozen knots, strings or buckles to deal with. A quick tug in the other direction and the bindings are released and the snowshoes quickly removed. If the rubber straps do wear out which appears unlikely, they could be easily replaced with no difficulty at all.
The benefits of the traction rails became immediately obvious as I climbed the steep embankment to the trail. The slippery embankment was no match for the formidable front claw and traction rails. The traction rails also proved invaluable when traversing a steep hillside, digging into the terrain and preventing side slip. The rails are actually designed to prevent slippage on steep descents and they did not disappoint. Even on the long steep icy scree slope between trail sections, traction was no problem going up or down. The EVO 22 shoes do not have the ascent heel bar designed to provide optimum heel angle on steep ascents, but the bindings do have a swivel mechanism and I felt no discomfort on my fairly steep climb up the side of Bald Mountain.
On shallow hard packed snow covered ice the traction rails dug in satisfactorily, providing stability and confidence on the most difficult surfaces. Not once during my hike did I go over backwards or have my feet slip out from under me. The snowshoes provided adequate flotation in deeper snow for such a short footprint but if more flotation is desired, MSR provides an add on flotation tail feature for their EVO snowshoes that can be easily attached when deep powder is encountered. At only $139, the MSR EVO 22 snowshoe is an excellent buy and a good choice for both novice and experienced snowshoe hikers.