Snowshoes can be quite stiff and uncomfortable to walk in, especially for the uninitiated. The qualities that make them good for walking on snow – a large surface surface area and rotating crampon – can make them rather gawky to use. French snowshoe manufacturer TSL Outdoor has a different vision for snowshoes. In an attempt to better connect the user with the terrain, the company has designed a new composite shoe called Symbioz that is much slimmer and more flexible than conventional designs.
The typical recipe for a snowshoe is a stiff, aluminum frame with rubbery decking in the middle and a rotating binding with crampons on its bottom. Lately, manufacturers have been tweaking that design to add a bit more flexibility.
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In 2008, longtime sporting goods manufacturer Easton decided to try its hand at designing its own snowshoes. Instead of just copying its competitors, some of whom it happened to supply with aluminum, it introduced something different: a snowshoe with a two-part articulating frame meant to absorb impact. The frame was still stiff but did offer a bit of movement and flex to take stress off the joints.
A year later, Tubbs introduced its composite Flex line for hard and variable snow. These snowshoes dropped the typical stiff frame and promoted a more natural step with heel-to-toe roll.
The TSL Symbioz takes flexible snowshoe design even further. The way the company sees it, snowshoers have had to adapt to the shape and construction of the snowshoe for too long. It's time the snowshoe adapted to the snowshoer. TSL feels that its Hyperflex frame is the way to better connect the foot to the terrain in a "symbiosis with nature."
Both the frame and the binding flex liberally across the shoe's length and width. The extra movement is meant for adapting to the terrain, providing a more natural walking motion. Between the added flexibility and the claims of more natural movement, you could argue that TSL has invented the first "barefoot" snowshoe.
The added flex should create better grip on slick hardpack and ice. A series of spikes line the underside from the tip of the binding to the tail. These spikes bend and twist with the flexy frame, so they should offer extra points of contact on uneven terrain. If you imagine traversing across a steep slope, a stiff snowshoe with under-foot crampon is going to have trouble gaining traction since the crampon spikes are either not engaging the snow or do so at a sharp angle. As TSL envisions it, its Hyperflex frame and claws will provide better sidehill grip by bending with the contours of the terrain and offering more contact.
TSL's Symbioz press materials don't specify that the shoe is designed for hard, packed snow, but we assume that it is. The snowshoe won't need to do as much bending and flexing in soft, three-foot (1 m) powder. But, as with the sole of a shoe or sneaker, some flex should help promote more comfortable, ergonomic walking on hard surfaces. Also, the Symbioz appears to be significantly shorter and smaller than other snowshoes. This is an advantage for walking naturally, but a disadvantage for floating on powder since surface area equates to better float.
I haven't had the chance to try the Symbioz design yet, but I did briefly try the Tubbs Flex snowshoes when they first came out. I liked the soft heel strike of those shoes and felt that they did make walking more natural than other snowshoes. I think the Symbioz should offer similar benefits.
The Symbioz utilizes a telescoping binding that adjusts for fit. It also has an Easy Ascent heel lift feature that can be activated with the push of a pole tip.
TSL introduced the Symbioz this month but didn't reveal pricing. They should be available in time for the upcoming Northern Hemisphere winter.
Source: TSL OutdoorView gallery - 3 images