I’ve been using a pair of 2005 Lightning Ascents for the past several years, and they’ve held up remarkably through some rugged use, but I had a super good deal on buying a pair of these, so I had to try them out. Here’s what I’ve found.
The frame and traction of the Lightning Axis is basically the same as my Lightning Ascents. That’s fine by me. I love the Ascents. They have been extremely sturdy, they grip all kinds of snow and ice without trouble, and I have used them on everything from solid ice on Mount Washington to powdery snow in the North Maine Woods. They’re very nice.
The real difference is the binding system. MSR highlights the “Axis Gait Efficiency” system, which allows you to rotate the binding. I don’t bother with this. Then there’s the “Speedlock Comfort” binding, which I do use. The Speedlock is basically one large strap that goes over your toes. You set the large strap before going out in the snow so that it’s the right size for your footwear. This takes some getting used to, since the large strap is not easy to set. If you set it two or three times, though, you get the hang of it and you won’t need to set it very often.
Once the large strap is set, you just kick your foot into it, then tighten a strap around your heel like the older MSR snowshoe bindings. That’s all you need, really. With just the toe strap and the heel strap, the snowshoe will stay on your foot much better than you’d think. I’ve heard people say they think the new Lightning Flash, which doesn’t have a third strap like the Axis, must not be stable on the foot. I use the third strap on the Axis, which goes over your ankle, for a little extra holding power, but I always set it as loosely as I can and the shoes still stay on. The only part that needs to be very tight is really the heel strap.
The last bit of news from the snowshoes is the little studs that have replaced the plastic clips that hold the straps in place once tightened. I love them, but according to Sectionhiker.com, MSR will be abandoning the studs after some initial negative feedback. Too bad, because once you get the hang of the studs, they are far more effective than those crappy clips. The clips break all the time, and really don’t hold the straps all that well. The studs take some force to set in place, but they hold very well, and are super easy to undo. Luckily for me, I don’t think I’ll ever need to replace them. If I ever get a new pair of MSR snowshoes, I’ll probably be able to take the studs from this pair and transfer them to the new pair. Tadaa!