Size: 2.7″ W x 33″ L x 4.5″ H (when pair is folded)
Floatation: 182 sq. in. (Recommended for snowshoers up to 250 lbs.)
Conditions tested in: Fresh snow, groomed cat tracks, steep backcountry terrain.
Test Locations: Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Days Tested: 7
After tearing my ACL at Mt. Hood last summer, I was eager to spend more time in the backcountry and take a step outside of the park. To do so, I either needed a snowmobile, a split-board, some touring skis like the MTN Approach system, or snowshoes. And since snowshoes are the most affordable option, I started looking as soon as the snow began to fly.
In deciding which snowshoes to take into the backcountry, size and weight were two of the most important factors. My pack weighs enough to begin with (roughly ten pounds), and I aimed to limit any additional weight as much as possible. After considering a few snowshoes like the Atlas 24s and MSR Evo, I came across SnowXu, a new company whose first run of snowshoes had just hit the market.
The main feature that drew my attention to the SnowXu, and what makes them stand apart from their competitors, is their collapsible design.
In contrast to standard snowshoes that have a rigid metal frame in a semi-oval shape, the SnowXu more closely resembles the letter X: two straight aluminum bars connect and cross in the middle at a hinge. This enables the snowshoes to fold to only 2.7 inches wide for storage or for carrying—compact enough to remain unobtrusive in storage or when not in use.
The gap between the bars is covered with a lightweight canvas material, which decreases weight to just over two pounds each (less than many of their competitors), while simultaneously providing floatation in fresh snow.
SnowXu claims on their website that this design makes it an appealing choice for “recreational snow-shoers, hunters, rescue workers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and more.” They also put an emphasis on the snowshoe providing “easy access, use and storage,” making it “perfect for a wide range of hikes, trails and winter conditions.”
Given the breadth of intended users and the focus on being lightweight and compact, I was curious to see how well they would perform specifically for backcountry snowboarding.
The binding system of the SnowXu has a very durable rubber/canvas area underfoot, with two rubber straps that cross over the toes and extend around the heel of the user’s boot. The ease of the foot buckle strap is very convenient; rather than three or four different ratchets, the SnowXu keeps it simple with one behind the heal strap, requiring only one hand and less than two seconds to tighten down.
Two rivets connect the toe of the bindings to the frame, which helps keeps the snowshoes light and allows the heel to lift easily with each step. But this also where I experienced my first issue with the SnowXu.
These two rivets are the only connection points between the binding and the deck, which means my foot didn’t always remain in solid contact with the snowshoe. Sometimes (e.g. in deep powder) the snowshoe would stay in place as I began my step, the rubber binding would stretch a bit, and it felt like my foot was floating away from the snowshoe.
With so little of my boot connected directly to the snowshoe, and no additional traction on the deck under my boot, my heel was also able to twist or slip off the snowshoe when turning or attempting to side-hill a slope. Though this didn’t happen on every step, it did occur frequently enough that I quickly fell behind my touring partners, and I often felt that my footing was unstable.
I used my snowboard boots with the SnowXu, but found that the toe of both pairs of boots I tried (Northwave Decades size 10.5 and Burton Imperials size 11) were too wide to fit fully into the small rubber toe of the binding, so it was difficult for my toe to stay securely in place.
As a result, my foot often slid back out of the toe portion of the binding, and my boot remained secured to the snowshoe only by the part of the binding strap that crosses over the top of the foot.
Although the binding strap does adjust to the length of the boot, it does not have a way to tighten directly around the top or front of the foot, so tightening the strap around the back of my heel did little to prevent this problem.
To see if this was an issue specific to snowboard boots, I also tried the SnowXus with my knee-high hunting mud boots, which fit much better. Other hiking boots and shoes I tried fit as well, but I still had a difficult time getting the toe to be as tight as I desired.
While it would add a little weight and bulk, I think another adjustment for the toe of the binding would be a good addition to make this snowshoe a little more snowboard boot friendly.