SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE GEAR REVIEW:

Gear Review: Montrail Susitna XCR

This fall, as the snow began to fall in the high country, I could tell that the trail running season was ending and the snowshoe season was just around the corner.

All summer I had been running the trails in a pair of Montrail Hardrocks. They were great for gnarly trails, from solid slickrock to alpine singletrack, and they quickly became my favorite trailrunning shoes. So, as I contemplated the snowshoeing season, it was heartening to know that I wouldn’t have to give up my Montrails for the winter. I just needed to switch to a pair of Susitna XCRs.

The Susitnas are named after the Susitna 100, a 100-mile ultra-race through Alaska in February. The race is open to all human-powered traffic and features many snowshoers. Montrail thought so highly of the Susitna that they decided to make a shoe that could withstand the races’ bitter cold conditions from beginning to end. While the Susitna XCR is capable of making it through the Susitna 100, it’s also a good choice for shorter distances, say five of ten kilometers.

These shoes are supportive, sturdy and fairly light for a winter shoe (13 oz.). But that’s not their selling point. What distinguishes Susitnas from other shoes is the GORE-TEX XCR that wraps the entire shoe. While other runners spend the winter trying to find a way to warm up their feet, the “snowshoe runner” with Susitnas will be quite warm and comfortable in the snow and slop. These shoes even come with gaiters to keep the snow out of your feet. Although they might seem like a gimmick, the gaiters really do work well with these shoes and I recommend that you use them.

While many snowshoers will like the Susitna, they will be most popular with snowshoe racers. These shoes are running shoes first, so they allow you to push the pace. At the same time, they will keep your feet warm throughout your 10K. They also transition well onto the road for cold-weather training runs. I found that during my morning runs, my feet were the warmest and most comfortable part of my body – even when the temperature hovered around 15 degrees.

The only problem I had with my Susitnas was the limited access to the laces. They lay buried under the outer-shell. If you ever need to change the laces on these shoes, you’ll be in for a fight. However, because of the outer-shell, chances are that your laces are going to be just fine – whenever you have the shoe on, the laces lay hidden beneath the shell so that nothing can harm them.

Additionally, there’s something nice about buying a pair of Montrails because the manufacturer is not just another shoe company. Based in Seattle, Wash., Montrail is a small company with just 27 employees. And it seems like every one of them is a runner, or a climber, or a snowshoer (or all of the above). As they say on their Web site: “We are a collection of outdoor and endurance enthusiasts and we like nothing better than to create gear that improves our ability to reach incredible places, both spiritually and physically.”

The folks at Montrail don’t just make flashy, marketable products; they make and sell gear that they would like to use themselves. And that quality shows up in every pair they make.

Susitna XCR ($125.00) http://www.montrail.com