More than a decade ago, I acquired a pair of well-used MSR Denali Classic snowshoes that somebody dropped into the "Free" box at work. They were vintage even then, featuring the original lash binding system that debuted with the snowshoe in 1995. Since that fateful day, this pair has been my go-to snowshoe for any winter adventure that requires extra flotation, from a successful Winter Presidential Traverse to tromping around the woods of New England in this 2011 winter of mega-snow.
I love the packability of the snowshoes. When nested together, they lay flat on top of each other, making it easy to lash to the outside of my pack. They also accommodate huge winter footwear—I can get my size 15 plastic mountaineering boots in there with little problem. They have excellent uphill and side traction, thanks to their side rails and metal front teeth underfoot. My only real complaint about their design is poor downhill traction, which is provided by a series of three dull plastic "fins" in the back half of the snowshoe; they are prone to slipping out, especially in loose snow downhill sections.
The only thing to have broken in all those years? The grommets that attach the metal side rails to the front of the plastic decking. Over time, all four of these have popped out. They each required only minutes to repair using simple nuts and bolts. And even when broken, the snowshoes still worked fine. (I was more concerned about the next series of grommets popping from the increased strain, which none of them ever did.)
The original design changed little over the years. The plastic decking and traction system remained essentially identical though MSR changed the harness design within a few years after the snowshoes' introduction. Later versions (pictured) feature rubberized plastic strap and metal buckles that are easier to operate (especially with gloves).
But now it seems that the 15-year reign of the Denali Classic is over. Don't expect to find them at major outdoor retailers this season. For the first time, they are conspicuously absent from the 2010-2011 MSR snowshoe assortment. The niche has now been entirely replaced by the MSR Evo series—a more streamlined version of the Denali Classic—which has been around for many years as well.
It's too bad. The Classic provided an excellent price point ($100 -$140) in an expensive product category where top styles sell for well over $200. But it's not too late to acquire a pair. With 15 years of widely distributed inventory, there are plenty of Denali Classics still available from a variety of online outlets.
I shall cherish my pair the more.
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.