Where to begin?? With a plethora of colors, shapes, sizes, materials, traction and binding systems along with countless additional bonus features – how the heck can we be expected to interpret what kind of snowshoe will best fit our adventures?
Coming most recently from a background of 21″ Dion running snowshoes, and more historically my old Tubbs 36″ tubular framed snowshoes for years prior (I roamed the backwoods with these massive Tubbs until the plastic straps literally wore out and one could watch a sizable crack stretch and grow with each mile trekked in the backcountry), I have certainly used a wide array of snowshoe sizes and styles over the years!
Most recently I have added the Tubbs Flex Alp to my arsenal of outdoor winter adventure tools. While this model is still fairly new to the snowshoe market – how do they size up, you may be asking yourself.. well it’s probably a good thing you found yourself reading this then!
Engineered for Winter Fun
Listed as “backcountry use”, the Flex Alp is Tubbs answer to steep and icy terrain.
The Flex Alp is offered in two sizes:
- 24″ model: 120-200lbs
- 28″ model: 190lbs and up
I opted for the 24-inch model as I knew right off that living in the northeast, 90% of the time I would probably not be breaking trail in over a foot of the fresh fluffy stuff.
Naturally, the larger the footprint of the snowshoe the more flotation it can offer to the user; one also has to factor in hiker weight too – although I feel this rule is not as adhered to as in past years.. like 20 years ago when different (non-synthetic) materials were in use.
Not only did I factor in weight (I am hovering around 140lb or so without a full pack..) while considering my two size options, but also the conditions, as mentioned earlier – at the moment, my Flex Alps will be used primarily in the White and Adirondack mountains – which I can safely assume will be packed powder, realistically nothing more than 12″ of powder; maybe several times in their lifetime I can assume they may find their way into snow depths deeper than 12-16″.
I opted for the 24″ for not only my weight but knowing that a shorter snowshoe would give me a smaller, tighter turning radius – just remember back to the first time trying on snowshoes and stepping on the back deck of the opposite foot while trying to turn, this puts my bum straight into the snow everytime!
However, if I thought I would be breaking trail or bushwhacking more frequently, I probably would have strongly considered the 28″ model. The trails I have put the 24″ pair through so far, leave me highly content with my decision for the shorter snowshoes. As I mentioned, I am most recently coming from Dion 21″ racing snowshoes which I did carry over into the White Mountains because their maneuverability was top-notch, traction also stellar (while going forward, unfortunately they had no grip laterally), but quite honestly they were constructed for groomed trails, not the rocky ancient paths of the higher elevations!
Fresh out of the box
What did I notice first upon unboxing these gems? Naturally, the color: black and orange for the mens version, black and light blue for the womens.. solid black tail with orange or blue on the nose, seems unique enough and stands out in a white-wash sea of fresh fallen snow, I dig it!
Let’s strap these puppies on and rip some trails!
One thing that seems quite clear with snowshoe manufacturers, is that they are in an ‘arms race’ to create the most unique, comfortable and functional binding (with some recent designs looking pretty darn funky!).
I can get on board with some of the dial binding set-ups (I have not tried any yet.. but would!) and all the new technology being fed into the snowshoe market but I have to admit, I have always had good luck with my ratchet-style bindings – they never got clogged with ice or snow, and always easy to step out of.
So how do the Tubbs Flex Alp bindings compare to the ease that I expect from a company who has been designing and producing snowshoes for over 100 years?
Complete with the normal back strap we have come to expect in most set-ups, the Flex Alp has a dual ratchet strap funky-business securing the toe of the boot.
So… what do I really think about this?
To be honest, I love it.
Just pull on the color-coordinated orange (for mens) or blue (for womens) ‘quick-release’ strap to unlock the Active Fit 2.0 binding – which opens symmetrically and effectively enabling the user to adjust either side of the binding and thus minimizing hot spots while exploring the forest (or walking your puppy dog on local trails!).
After the first trek in these snowshoes, and tugging on the ‘quick-release’ strap, I have gotten myself in the habit now of using my other fingers to be more gentle, removing the strap from the securing anchor pin before opening the binding fully. I predict there will be an instant where the straps will sooner-than-later fail (hopefully not anytime soon). When they do, all the tugging on these straps will likely cause micro-fractures and ‘creep’ in the plastic, that over time will speed up reaching their breaking point.
This is interesting because directly on the Tubbs website, they advertise these cinch straps as replaceable… perhaps they already know what fate I am speculating for these bindings!
However, the bindings are super quick and easy to cinch or tighten down, possibly the easiest set up to remove and step out of on the market – even while using just one hand!
What isn’t perfect about the bindings?
Worth mentioning also, while I am extremely happy with this binding and snowshoe set up thus far in the month or so that I have had them, the one kink that I still need to work out is descending steep grades with the Flex Alp. Occasionally the binding ‘rides up’, or seems to tighten down on the top of the foot. This is absolutely not caused by the boot, I can assure you of that (Asolo mountaineering boots with ~550 miles on them, otherwise super comfortable!).
Speaking of Traction
I’m a sucker for good traction in the high hills, so how do the Flex Alp hold up?
The best grip I’ve ever felt from a snowshoe! While some snowshoes that I have tried feel insecure while moving laterally or while standing on a slope, the Viper 2.0 (what a serious name for a serious little snowshoe crampon!) is rock solid, but for the size of the overall system – there are no extraneous pieces of metal that dangle or drag, tripping the wearer up.
The aggressive crampon directly under the ball of the foot articulates well and stays directly under the boot where you would want any uphill traction to be. My prior snowshoes did not have side rails, which made me feel extremely out of control on any sideways slope – one of the primary selling points for trying out the Flex Alp.
I have taken the Flex Alp on some decent grades on Mount Washington this winter following fresh powder, prior to the line of hikers kicking in a ‘shelf’ sidewalk into the side of the mountain. Again.. these snowshoes felt super stuck to the snow. I have only used the Flex Alp in combination with trekking poles or an ice axe, basically something to create that third point of contact, extra security to lean into while traversing a steep grade, never once feeling as if I would slip. ………now had I been on a 30% grade on powder, my tone may have been a bit different, but so far the traction has been impeccable!
One downside to having no tubular frame is that the ‘deck’ of the snowshoe comes into direct contact with any rocks that may be sticking up out of the snow. Unfortunately, I have ventured into areas while treading softly as to avoid rocks as much as humanly possible, the plastic does seem soft and is showing scratches and some fraying plastic from maybe 50 or so miles so far – another observation that I will be monitoring closely.
I will let you know how they hold up into the spring months!
Why call them “Flex”?
While maybe not obvious from the get-go, the masterminds at Tubbs created this snowshoe from such materials as to allow for some give, some ‘flex’ in the decking – all in efforts to reduce strain, impact and stress in the users’ joints while romping around the wilderness.
Does it work? Is it noticeable?
Do the Flex..actually.. Flex?
I can tell you, the one thing that I have noticed is that the Flex Alp snowshoes feel extremely light. It is likely that the pliable material contributed to the early wear that I’ve noticed, I suppose we will see how the Flex decking holds up to use over time.
One feature that I was deeply saddened to trek without during the past several years while using Dion racing snowshoes was the “televator”. There was a time not long ago when I thought that I had coined the term, but have since heard others refer to ‘televator’ in their own reviews, so I will keep the tradition alive!
There was a time when I thought of this little three sided pop-up bar as “cheating” while ascending a steep hill, back then I preferred to not use it! Well I am happy to say, I am back using and enjoying the heck out of this added feature – any time I can make the climbing easier on my leg muscles, I know this will translate into helping my body last longer over the unforgiving terrain encountered during a long hike!
This little piece rests right under the heel of the boot while not in use and can be flipped up either by hand or (I am super pumped about..) with the help of a trekking pole! I have seen some models that are resting so dang tight in the deck construction of the snowshoe that it literally takes all my strength to engage the uphill aid – thankfully not with this set up -perfect amount of tension that stays in place while either up or down.
And yes, there is a noticeable relief in ascending a steep hill with the ‘televator’ engaged; the user can essentially feel the direction of power transition into the side rail crampons, thus aiding uphill travel and conserving energy! I love it!
Are they really worth it though?
My short answer: Yes. One thousand times, yes.
For someone who spends their time in iffy, challenging terrain high in the mountains, always unsure of conditions until finding ourselves knee-deep powder along the ridge – I have constantly felt in control of my every step with the Tubbs Flex Alp, I love, love, love the binding set up (while, yes.. I need to work out the kinks as far as securing my boot and avoiding the top of my foot feeling squished during very steep descents), the maneuverability is top-notch for a smaller sized snowshoe.
On several occasions I have been on both powder and packed, windswept alpine areas and the traction has not let me down; in fact, just yesterday while bushwhacking Big Jay in Northern Vermont, I felt what I assumed could be the closest I would experience to “skinning up” a hill with… well.. skins on skis (I have never skied..yet!)! Just one step at a time, no backward slipping – 100% secure on the side of the mountain, ascending quite easily!
Worth the hard earned paycheck?
Again, I strongly feel that they are worth the steep ticket price: $239.95 before any sales.
I have absolutely no qualms with paying a little bit extra for a piece of equipment that is going to not only keep me safe in the wilderness, but last a many, many trips into the woods.
I am super hopeful that with being a bit more gentle on the binding system, and unhooking the strap from each peg securing it in place before completely letting it loose, that I will keep cracks from forming in the straps.
Also, by trying to avoid rock travel, I am hopeful that I will keep the wear and tear on the flexible plastic decking to a minimum and have these snowshoes longer than I had my 36″ Tubbs (4 years with aggressive abuse during their lifespan!.. until the plastic webbing/decking literally grew cracks from stretching in extreme cold temps).
I hope this helped to answer as many questions as possible – but inevitably, I’m sure it helped further questions arise in your mind.. no problem! Please feel free to comment here, email me, or find me on social media if you have any questions about the Tubbs Flex Alp!
With that being said, I am fairly certain that I will make note of even more pros and cons and as I continue to hike with the Flex Alps – I’ll check back here often, updating my post as needed to keep you all up to speed with how they are holding up, etc.
Where can YOU find these black and orange beauts?
I prefer to support a company whom I have entrusted for years. REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.) with their one-time membership purchase of $20, customers (did I say it’s a life-time membership?!) typically receive 10% back on all of their gear, to be used on anything! REI even offers a side-aisle of their online and retail stores of ‘gently used’ or slight-factory-defect merchandise, which is always in perfectly good working condition!
By using any of the links here in this post, or found anywhere on my website.. you can tell the folks over at REI corporate who sent you – and in doing so (with NO added cost to you, of course!) REI will kick back a bit of loose change in order to help fund my own adventures and keep great content and trail reviews coming your way.
So tell yourself, tell your friends – help make the world a better place by simply clicking on the images and links found here prior to making a purchase – no matter how big, or how small! That’s all you have to do – NO discount codes, just click the link/image to open up REI.com and shop away.
Thanks in advance for all the help – of course, my Subaru’s gas tank naturally thanks all of you also!!
You can always find me here or out on the trails with any Tubbs Flex Alp questions, or photos – if that’s what you desire!
As always, happy climbing, happy snowshoeing and a very happy winter wonderland to you all!