Northern Lites Race Snowshoe Review
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Northern Lites, based in Medford Wisconsin is one of those “we got started in the garage” stories. In the Northern U.S. with its frigid temperatures and plentiful snow, the garage is best served for ones car. Instead, the basement seemed to be a better option for its founder in the early 1990’s. As you may have guessed with reference to its name, these are some amazingly lightweight snowshoes.
Northern Lites Race Snowshoes First Impressions
With a handful of models available Northern Lites has every condition, style, and individual covered. From the ‘Backcountry’; an all-around snowshoe for mountaineering, hiking, and backpacking, to the ‘Tundra’; a perfect fit for larger individuals and carrying heavier loads. All fantastic snow shoes for enjoying nature. This review, however, is going to focus on the Northern Lites Race model. A sleek, fast, lightweight snowshoe ideal for speedy movement across the snow.
Snowshoeing is nothing new, but the shoes are usually larger to allow for the average person the ability to traverse through a variety of snow conditions. Trail running has seen an incredible surge the past 10 years, and those same individuals want to get out into nature when the trails are snow covered. The Northern Lites Race is a much smaller and lightweight model allowing the user to actually run.
We here at Active Gear Review have also seen a general interest in recent years for the active runner to hit the trail in winter. And why not? You can get a fantastic workout while doing some cross training without all that pavement pounding. In addition, you are able to see some amazing places that few get to see this time of year. The design and function of the Northern Lites Race snowshoes are perfect for your everyday runner. Do keep in mind that these are smaller, and going through really deep powder is better suited for the larger but slower snowshoes.
With today’s technology in metals, lightweight does not necessarily mean weak or flimsy. The Northern Lites Race are strong sturdy and able to withstand the constant pressures put on by running through a wide variety of snow and trail conditions.
- Framing: This is one solid snowshoe as it is made out of an advanced aluminum alloy that is 40% stronger than what’s used on a normal metal-frame snowshoe.
- Decking: Made out of Coolthane, a really strong super strong polyurethane coated nylon mesh. Coolthane has a greater abrasion resistance than Hypalon which is used in other brands. The great thing is that it is nearly impossible to cut or puncture, and it’s very slick so that snow will conveniently slide off so you won’t be schlepping extra weight.
- Pivot Strap: A 1.5″ thick strap that will not tear no matter how hard you twist it.
- Deck Clips/Perimeter Cleats: created from a toughened nylon with strength features that exceed rigid mountaineering requirements.
- Bindings: These Tru Trak bindings are also made out of thicker Coolthane with a 500 PSI tensile strength which is humanly impossible to tear. They’ll keep the feet straight without the need for toe baskets or heel pads.
- Crampons: They are spiked toe and heel crampons which are oversized with de-icing pads.
- Size: They are 8″ wide by 20″ long. The surface area is 130 Square Inches. This complies with the U.S. Snowshoe Association minimums.
Putting the Northern Lites Snowshoes to the Test
Now, all this technical information is great, but they still have to perform. I want to talk about the thing I find the most important when actually taking these out on the trails. The bindings. That’s right, I have had plenty of issues with bindings on snowshoes. Having to readjust mid hike, run, or race in the knee deep snow is not my cup of tea. The Northern Lites Race with its Tru Trak binding system easily attaches to your shoe by tightening the straps. The heel strap cinches tight around, and then the two straps on the top of the foot easily pull up and the pin slots into place without much fuss. This can be done with gloves on which is nice.
Northern Lites also has the Race Direct model available which allows you to directly mount your shoes to the Snowshoes with hardware. You do have to sacrifice a pair of shoes in this case, as taking them on and off becomes a bit more challenging. I think my next pair may have to be direct mount to provide for a consistent and lock down type of fit.
The Northern Lites Race model with the bindings is definitely your best bet to get started with running on snow. The adjustment capabilities, experimentation with different shoes for varying conditions, and ability to experience running in the snow are all you need for a fantastic workout and outdoor experience.
Let’s be honest, walking in snowshoes is already much more challenging than simply walking. Try running, and you’ve added a completely different level of complexity that does takes some getting used to. More so, the conditioning needed (and ultimately attained from) trying to run in oversized shoes through snow up and down hills is something all together quite challenging. I always say that if you want to get to experience nature to its fullest, you have to earn it. The work out is phenomenal, so I am a huge fan of snowshoeing running
I have run in several races in the past, but to put it into perspective, a half marathon distance snowshoe race took me just about as long as a full road marathon. Weather, elevation, equipment, terrain, conditioning, and a host of other factors also play a part in this, but that just puts it into perspective. I do have to say that my body did not hurt nearly as much because of the light soft and puffy snow.
Although early season snow conditions have been somewhat disappointing, I was able to experience running in these a handful of times in the Indian Peaks Mountain Range near Nederland, Colorado. The Sourdough trail is a multi-use trail, and perfect for snowshoeing. The climbs and descents are more on the gentle side although there are several heart thumping climbs that will put you to the test. Actually, walking those is probably your best bet as going up steep hills may put a real hurting on the legs and lungs. Let’s not forget, this is nearing 10,000 ft. elevation.
The initial trail conditions were hard packed snow with a few icy patches mixed in. The Northern Lites Race worked really well going through this. The cleats dug in nice, and provided great traction. After a few miles, the trail conditions turned more to what I was hoping for. In the cover of trees, the snow was looser and deeper. Now it was starting to become fun. Kicking up some snow dust, and plowing along so to speak. I kept a great pace going, and was starting to work up a good sweat.
The Race does give me the flexibility to take them off if snow conditions are minimal in certain areas, or if the trail has been windswept to exposed rock. They are 8 inches wide which is wide enough to provide some flotation on the snow, and narrow enough so you don’t have to vary your stride any if at all. I wore a pair of lightweight minimal trail shoes that are waterproof and have some insulation. My feet did get wet after a while, but I take that to be part of the trail/snow running down to earth grittiness. You can get some pretty cool shoe covers that will to the trick, and I’ve even used bike shoe covers.
Finally, I got to take these out in some serious snow conditions over the Holidays in Steamboat Springs. Feet of snow have blanketed the Rockies the past few weeks, and I was itching to go for a snowshoe run. The first mile was well traveled and compacted. This is where the Northern Lites Race really thrived, and I was moving at a nice clip even if the outbound trip was uphill. As I got several miles into the run, it went from 3- 4 inches of soft fluffy powder to knee deep trail blazing. I really had to work to keep moving, and I was definitely not running at this point. Point proven that bigger snowshoes are more suited for deep powder, but sometimes it can’t be helped as you encounter changing trail conditions. On the return trip I was absolutely hauling, and at times it felt as if I wasn’t wearing snowshoes at all. The slight tapping on my feet was the only reminder. Incredibly light, and the best part was that I never had to make any mid run adjustments.
The Northern Lites Race is available in bright orange or yellow.
Final Thoughts on the Northern Lites Race Snowshoes
These Northern Lites Race Snowshoes are great for walking, running, or cross training in the snow. I like them because they help you tear up the snow while moving fast! I run a lot, and as I age I take to the trails more and more to take the stress off of my joints. Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to cross train, but an even better way to get to enjoy the great outdoors. In my case, that is the peaks and valleys of the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado. The Northern Lites Race are a lightweight, strong, and durable snowshoe that will get you where you want to go. They will also do that super fast if you so desire. I am super impressed with these snowshoes. They are so light that it’s almost like you’re not wearing snowshoes at all. If you are a beginner in the snow, or an experienced winter outdoorsman, these Northern Lites Snowshoes will be a wonderful addition to your winter equipment toy chest. For more information and purchase for this or any other style to suit your needs please visit: www.amazon.com/northernlites or www.garagegrowngear.com.