Ploughing through snow can be a sweaty, sweary and frustrating business. On more than one occasion I’ve wished I had a pair of snowshoes as I’ve pulled myself up out of another hidden hole in the snow. Never one to see a problem go unsolved, I recently picked up a pair of TSL ‘Explore Easy’ 305 snowshoes from Decathlon. Gone are the tennis racquets of yesteryear, these are a modern affair, a composite of plastics and metal, with easy to use fittings and a price tag which won’t make your eyes water.
The staff at Decathlon confessed that sales of these were so low that they had been removed from the shop floor to make way for other products, and this in the middle of winter! To be fair though I have never seen anyone using them, but I suppose it is a vicious circle. If you can’t buy them, you can’t use them. From the range they had on display I chose the TSL 305, as they were probably the lightest. Some of their rival brands were so heavy it’s a wonder anyone would consider them at all.
I gave them a dry run at home to get used to them. Who wants to be standing on a snowy hill with an instruction manual? I’m glad I did, because the manual is pictorial and gave me more cause for head scratching than it answered. In fact Youtube was more of help, with a few reviews on it, albeit in French. Not surprising, as though TSL have their US base in Vermont, European operations are based in France. So with a combination of Youtube, common sense and pot luck I managed to get things working.
The shoe has an adjustable base designed to take a variety of sizes of boot. The base is hinged for walking, and is fitted with a stainless steel claw and six crampon points.
To access the boot platform, open the straps which secure the ankle and toe. Press the black button in and pull the strap to release it. Flip the locking lever up, twist and slide the heel to the desired size, then lock.
To secure the boot, place the foot in the heel cup, and close the ankle and toe straps by placing them into the relevant opening until hand tight, then give a few extra clicks with the ratchet. It’s that simple. Open the transit clamp on the boot platform and the decking can swing while the snowshoe is in use, allowing a far more natural walk than simply having two rigid platforms strapped to your feet. When going uphill you can engage the heel lift quite easily using a walking pole, which lifts the heel up causing less of a strain on the calf muscles.
In practice I found them to be easy to put on and take off. Walking with them was great. I chose to test them at Corrour which had a good heavy coating of snow, allowing me to try them going cross country. I took them from their bag as the train approached the station which sparked some interest, as no-one had actually seen a pair before.
Unless the snow is hard packed you will sink in, but not to the extent you would without them, and this became even more apparent when I met up with two walkers heading for the same hill as me. I had ditched the snowshoes when I hit the ridge as the snow had been scoured from the stalkers track, but as we got higher it became apparent the snow was thicker. With the snowshoes back on my feet I was able to walk across the snow faster and with more rhythm, while the others sank in, slowing them down. The depth of their footprints against mine was a great comparison, and it was apparent just how much they were sinking in. As we began to climb I engaged the heel lifts and this took all of twenty seconds. The crampons dug in well, and on patches of ice were rock solid, I was totally confident in them with no fear of slipping. Once on the top the snow was thinner, coating a stramash of rock. This wasn’t ideal, but it was manageable, if you place your feet well. Coming down was just as good, and I took advantage of the shoes by avoiding the path and sticking to thicker snow or ice. I would say that on a rolling hill where you do not foresee the need for the precise foot placement of crampons that these would be more than sufficient.
Arriving back at Corrour I felt my legs were in better shape, less tired than I would expect after a winter walk like this. Another plus point is I also thought that overall my feet were warmer, as I had in effect another layer between me and the snow. Instead of sinking in, I was above, keeping the boot drier as well. For hillwalking or trekking in winter snows these are now for me a must, and perhaps in years to come will become as much of the average winter walkers kit as an ice-axe is.
Weight (2 snowshoes, no bag): 1.8kg