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TUBBS MEN’S FRONTIER SNOWSHOE REVIEW

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The Tubbs Frontier men’s snowshoe is an unbeatable value for solo trailblazers and hikers alike. The Frontier features the superior ease-of-use and all-day comfort of our 180™ EZ binding, and its men’s-specific design is both lightweight and efficient on packed trails.

The Tubbs Frontier are advertised as day hiking and all terrain snowshoes. They have a plastic deck with tabs which attach to the aluminum frame. They have both forefoot and heel traction plates made of steel attached underneath the decking. The binding is simple and consists of an adjustable heel strap, two plastic flaps which hug either side of the boot, and an adjustable strap which closes the two flaps down around the boot and buckles to tighten and lock in place. The binding attaches to the frame via a bar which runs under the forefoot and straps on either end to the frame. In the words of Tubbs, the advertised qualities of these snowshoes include:

  • ArcTec decking material, puncture resistant to -40 F (-40 C)
  • Easton 7075-T7 Aluminum frame
  • Rotating Toe Cord which allows the binding and boot to rotate
  • Bear Hug binding with sturdy outside and conforming foam inner
  • Viper stainless steel teeth at forefoot and heel
FLOTATION SOFTTEC DECKING Tubbs SoftTec™ decking provides durable, lightweight flotation.
ARTICULATION ROTATING TOE CORD Rotating Toe Cord design enables the tail of the snowshoe to drop and snow to shed off the tail, reducing cardio-respiratory strain by 7%.
CONTROL 180 EZ BINDING The streamlined180EZ binding features a simple, one-buckle tightening mechanism, coupled with an easy-to-use urethane heel strap for efficient, lightweight support.
TRACTION RECREATIONAL CRAMPON Carbon steel toe and heel crampons feature front and rear braking teeth for a secure grip uphill, downhill and side hill in packed snow conditions.
FLOTATION FIT-STEP FRAME The innovative and biomechanical aluminum Fit-Step™ frame, designed with a slightly upturned, rounded tail, reduces muscular skeletal impact on hip, knee and ankle joints by 10%.

Binding:

The heel strap is adjustable on both sides where it attaches to the Bear Hug plastic flaps. The over-the-foot strap which connects the Bear Hug plastic flaps around my boot adjusts only on the flap opposite the closure buckle. The closure buckle works by inserting a tab into a slot on the opposite flap, and then closing the buckle to tension and lock in a similar fashion as a ski boot buckle. I will concentrate on this in pictures, since I personally think it is a pretty simple and neat design for a binding. In step one, the strap from the inside flap of the Bear Hug binding is brought toward the other side. You can see little nubs on one side of the red buckle (these fit into the black slot on the opposite flap) and a yellow button on the opposite side of the red buckle (which releases the buckle once it is in place):

 

You can additionally see some of the qualities of the bindings from the pictures, including the inner foam of the Bear Hug flaps which is soft and supposed to be conforming. The next step is to put the nubs on the red buckle into their slot on the other side of the Bear Hug flap. At this point, the buckle is still not locked (the nubs only sit in the slot). As the buckle descends into locking position, the two flaps of the Bear Hug tension inward:

 

Finally, the buckle is brought down, which does two things. First, it applies tension to bringing the two Bear Hug flaps together (similar to a ski boot buckle). Second, a catch on the underside of the red buckle slips into another slot on the Bear Hug flap and locks. This is the catch that the yellow button on the end of the red buckle releases. Here is the binding all done up:

 

You can see that the top strap has ratchet grabs on it for lengthening and shortening the strap on the opposite side. The same is true, as mentioned above, for the heel strap. Here is a side view of the binding. This shows a number of things. First, the Tubbs Frontier have nubs on the plate where the sole of the boot rests. Second, the binding rotates freely around toward the toe. (It would actually rotate all the way around except that the binding does not fit through the front opening). Finally, this picture illustrates the ratchet mechanism for adjusting the straps. The two red buckles (the left one for the top strap, the right one for one side of the heel strap) hold the ratcheted length in place. The straps can be pushed shorter. To lengthen them, I push on the ends of the red buckles where there are small grooves provided. This releases the ratcheted position.

 

Details and Other Notes:

The snowshoes have asymmetrical lasts on the bottom of the binding where my boot gets placed. This bottom area is longer in the toe for each foot. The front traction Viper plate has four main teeth in the front, and two teeth behind. The rear Viper plate has teeth which are composed of three sub-teeth. The back plate has four such sub-divided teeth, all toward the rear of the heel. The middle of the heel strap has an oval at its middle with a Tubbs logo on the outside and small grippy nubs which rest against the heel on the inside. All of the steel Viper plate teeth came pretty sharp, and were sharp enough to put some cosmetic scratches on the paint of the frame. The decking has a non-slip pad attached under where my heel comes down on it. The binding attaches to the Viper plate and articulation bar underneath via four Phillips-head screws and bolts. The rest of the attachments on the snowshoes (heel Viper plate, strapping of decking to frame) are non-removable rivets. The attachment of the binding itself to the snowshoe is via the articulation bar which is further protected by a plastic cover.


Field Testing Plan

Trip Details:

My testing of the Tubbs Frontier will occur over about six backpacking and day trips in spring snow. The test location will probably mostly be the Sierras of California, although locations change as my outdoor teaching schedule changes. Weather will definitely include snow, and will likely include temperatures ranging from 80 F (27 C) to below freezing. Elevations will range between 5,000 and 11,000 ft (1,500 and 3,000 m), and the trips will be mostly in mountainous terrain. I expect to see mostly spring snow during this testing, however, the Sierras will likely retain a deep snowpack for the next month or two for flotation testing.

Test Plan Details:

I plan to test the following aspects of the Tubbs Frontier by using them on all my trips for the remainder of the snow season in the Sierras.

  • Flotation and Maneuverability
    • Since snow is a variable medium, I will test how well the Tubbs Frontier do in varying conditions, from deep rime and slush (and hopefully powder in the early season) to compacted icy snow in tight trees. In the winter, I spend a lot of time off trail with a heavy pack, and so being able to use the snowshoes in tight quarters will be important.
  • Comfort
    • I have had all sorts of interesting experiences with snowshoe bindings. Some of them flop around enough to make my feet super tired at the end of the day. Some of them pinch across the forefoot. I will be looking at the effectiveness of the Tubbs Frontier to bind well and comfortably to a variety of footwear, allow my feet to go through a natural stride pattern, and hold easily and comfortably to varying terrain.
  • Traction and Support
    • This is similar to comfort, but has more to do with the versatility and usefulness of the Tubbs Frontier . I want to examine what terrain I can safely use these snowshoes on. Side-hilling, cramponing up stiff snow, and tight route finding in trees all stress the ability for a snowshoe to grip both the hill and my feet. I will see how they perform in many different conditions.
  • Durability
    • This is probably one of the most important items to test about snowshoes. I will see if I can field maintain and repair them, and whether they can stand up to the usual abuse I dish out to my winter footwear. Also, I will document any care and maintenance they need over the course of the test.

Initial Tests and Personal Observations

As soon as I had the Tubbs Frontier out of the box, I started playing with the binding. Most of what I discovered is mentioned above, but needless to say I was impressed with its simplicity and ease of use. One thing that I was worried about from the website is whether the outside flaps of the binding were indeed flexible enough to bind and conform to a variety of footwear. I continued to be worried as they came out of the box, since the Bear Hug flaps did indeed feel stiff. But then I tried everything from my plastic boots to my approach shoes in the binding, and the Bear Hug flaps conformed surprisingly well. The bindings are not flexible enough to make full contact all along each shoe, but I wiggled my feet around with the shoes on them and the floppy binding factor was absolutely zero. Here is a picture to illustrate how flexible the flaps of the Bear Hug are, despite simultaneously feeling pretty stiff. You can also see that this is the right snowshoe, due to the asymmetrical extension under the toe:

Other than that, there is not much to say. These look like very well thought out snowshoes. I have concentrated on the bindings a lot in this report because they have been my main source of concern and failure on other snowshoes I’ve used. In addition, comments on items such as articulation, flexibility, and durability will wait until the Tubbs Frontier have some distance put on them. This is not to say that the rest of the Tubbs Frontier do not deserve mention. The ArcTec decking feels sturdy and stiff, traction underfoot exists where I have enjoyed it in the past on other snowshoes, and the overall design is very clean and simple. I look forward to getting these out in some snow!

 

Field Testing

For each trip I provide a description of the location, conditions, and use below. I then provide a description of how I used the Tubbs Frontier on the trip, and comments on what I thought about the Tubbs Frontier while testing them.

  • Trip One: Climb and snowshoe Baldy Bowl
    • Dates: April 4, 2004
    • Location: Mt Baldy, Angeles National Forest, California
    • Weather: Cloudy and beautiful, 75 to 35 F (24 to 2 C)
    • Elevation: 6000 to 10,000 ft (1800 to 3000 m)

    Description: I carried the snowshoes up the bowl proper because the approach was dry, and the bowl is too steep for snowshoes. I then used them for the heavy snow after the bowl and on the descent.Comments: Snowshoes are always hard to pack, but of those I have used in my experience these take the cake. Though flexible, the Bear Hug bindings are very hard to flatten properly to get one snowshoe to lay flat on the other. And, once flattened, the sides and straps stick out quite a bit on a small pack. I packed them tightly in an outside flap made for such attachment on my pack, and though they were stable, they took a great deal of fiddling to pack and unpack. But that is a small worry, in my opinion. I was wearing bulky insulated stiff leather boots (size 9.5 Men’s US / 43 EU), and the bindings fit at their very outermost setting. Although the binding is simple, it is rather difficult to apply. It seemed easy in my living room, but putting them on in powder on an incline in the wind was much more fiddly. The main reason for the difficulty is the stiffness of the heel strap. To put my boot in the binding, I have to pin down the snowshoe with both hands and push my heel with a good deal of force back into the heel strap. Only then does the ball of my foot line up with where it should go on the foot plate. And only then can I begin fiddling with the adjustment on the Bear Hug flaps with one hand (while still pinning down the snowshoe with the other hand to prevent it from getting launched backwards from the force of my boot pushing back into the heel strap for a proper fit).

    Once my feet were in the binding however, things were much better. The Tubbs Frontier felt quite secure on my boots. I traversed a small amount of terrain which was maybe 30 degrees of incline, and the Tubbs Frontier took it in stride. I experienced no slipping or sliding, and the snow was wind-packed to a very hard consistency. The top and descent saw extremely variable conditions, from rime and slush on exposed sunny patches, to extensive collections of windblown powder which my partners sank into, to hardpack and wind crust, and even to ice covered scree. On the steeper hardpack, it was easier to traverse because the front points of the Viper cleats stick out at such an angle that I can’t really frontpoint on them, and walking flat-footed causes them to catch when I lift my foot up. But all in all, the Tubbs Frontier performed very well. The Viper cleats were deep enough to catch in two-inch-deep (5 cm) rime and crud, and I never sank more than a few inches (3-8 cm) even on the powder which would have been postholing up to the knee. I was a bit worried about the use on the icy scree because I kept punching through a bit down to the rock, but neither the decking nor the cleats show any adverse effects. Only the frame had some of its anodizing get scraped off, and that is only cosmetic.

    The two things I appreciated most about the Tubbs Frontier on this trip were (a) that they handled variable conditions extremely well, and (b) that they allow for an extremely natural stride pattern in most situations. It is quite rare to see so many different types of snow and demands except in late season here in Southern California, and the Tubbs Frontier felt equally as comfortable and maneuverable on powder as they did on rock. As for enabling a natural stride pattern, the binding rotates quite freely, and so it did not even feel as if I had snowshoes on until I tried to side step or go backwards. All in all, the Tubbs were solid and stable performers on a variable and thus demanding day.

  • Trip Two: Backpacking in the Mount Whitney area
    • Dates: April 23-26, 2004
    • Location: Mount Whitney, California
    • Weather: Sunny and slushy, 80 to 25 F (27 to -4 C)
    • Elevation: 8,000 – 14,000 ft (2400 to 4300 m)

    Description: On this trip, I brought the Tubbs Frontier  in the hopes that the snowpack would still warrant the use of snowshoes. Unfortunately, the gully approach turned out to be much steeper than the Tubbs Frontier could really be useful for, but I did have enough opportunity to give them some short run throughs.Comments: Although usage was limited on this trip, I confirmed many of my opinions from earlier. Again, packing was a pain. The bindings protrusions prevented me from securing the snowshoes under the lid of my larger pack (where I usually like to stow snowshoes) and thus they got strapped, tips up, to the back of the pack. In this position, they caught on just about every willow tree on the way up the North Fork gully. To their credit, the Tubbs Frontier took the bashing in stride. The flaps, straps, foam, and frame are a bit scratched, but really only on a very cosmetic level. I half expected the foam on the inside of the Bear Hug binding to be shredded, but it held up exceptionally.

    Actually putting the things on was a bit of a hassle again as well. I had them adjusted properly to begin with since I used the same boots on this trip, but the launching potential from the heel strap tension still existed. On this trip, however, I was more at peace with it. The binding feels so secure once properly applied that I simply chalked the fiddling nonsense up to being a tradeoff. Then, once on, they feel very secure and comfortable.

Comments by Attribute

Comfort and Support: Excellent
Once on, these snowshoes are a dream to walk in. When walking forward on relatively flat terrain, they really do feel like natural extensions of my boots. They are light, stiff, responsive, and do not pinch or bind anywhere. The bindings do not flop around, and they are torsionally stable and supportive. One of the things that has irked me about other snowshoes is the floppiness of the binding. The Tubbs Frontier Bear Hug bindings, however, have a floppage factor of… absolutely zero. This is a huge plus in my book, and well worth the fiddling and packing frustrations. The only item that I find interesting about the comfort (which is more funny than anything) is that (a) the tails drag, and (b) the decking is very stiff. This means that on hard snow, the snowshoes play a little musical tune as they vibrate across the snow on each step. Sort of a step-rattle-step-rattle… etc. But despite this, the binding does not wiggle, and they remain comfortable.

Flotation: Excellent
Slush, powder, hardpack, and with a heavy pack (for a total weight up to 210 lbs / 95 kg) — these guys took it all in stride. The flotation is also very even. When wearing them, I feel like I simply could walk more easily on the snow rather than feeling like I was being pushed up by my heels like with some other snowshoes I’ve used. They also have a very stiff feeling. When I step on powder, there is a little bit of give as the shoe sinks, but then the shoe provides a solid platform to step off of. All in all, they have provided float and lots of it for being so light and small.

Maneuverability: Good
The Tubbs Frontier have a tradeoff in this area. Their comfort is high because of their high flexibility in the forefoot, that is, the binding rotates very easily. Unfortunately, this significantly decreases their maneuverability. When stepping to the side or backwards, the tails immediately flop down and catch on the snow. I have learned to cock my ankle to the side in order to ‘pick up’ the tail and then quickly put my foot down again before the tail falls, but this is still a bit of a pain. So, for the short periods that I was side stepping uphill (on steeper hills) I quickly learned that I would rather posthole without the Tubbs Frontier on than wear them. This same problem affects walking backwards, but since I walk backwards much less than I walk sideways it is less of an issue. However, these issues do not appear when walking forward. They are very maneuverable when making reasonable turns or simply trekking around. The binding attachment is very stiff, and thus the whole shoe turns quite responsively when making my way through trees and the like.

Traction: Excellent
The long big spikes of the Viper traction plates are great. They have not punctured very hard snow, so I would certainly not consider the Viper cleats to be a substitute for crampons, but they provided adequate traction for traversing small and low angle icy patches Other than that, they have provided what I consider to be reliable traction on all types of snow. Additionally, they clean themselves rather well. Snow balled up in the rear plate area, but the flaring front spikes have kept themselves free of snow so far. And it was not from lack of sticky snow, either. The spikes are wide enough to get a good grip in just about any consistency I’ve seen so far.


Summary

The Tubbs Frontier have so far been fun and comfortable snowshoes. They feel very natural on easy slopes and for walking forward, and provide excellent and stiff flotation. They do require a bit of fiddling to get them to fit properly, and their side and backward maneuverability is limited, but overall they have been solid performers so far.

  • Upsides for me so far:
    • Very easy to walk forward
    • Great flotation
    • Stable and secure binding
  • Downsides for me so far:
    • Difficult to walk sideways and backwards
    • Binding requires some fiddling to put on
Field Use Summary

I continued to use the snowshoes into the spring last season, and briefly had a few day opportunities to use them this season. Their flotation continues to be spot-on. My forward stride with them feels very balanced and natural, and the binding rotates evenly and freely.

The terrain I took the Tubbs Frontier into was mostly mountainous, and involved late and early season hard snow as well as warm and mid-season soft snow. Temperatures hovered right around freezing on all trips, and the Tubbs Frontier did not see temperatures above 50 F (10 C) after the Field Report.

The decking and cleats are superb. The decking sheds snow like it is liquid water, and the cleats have excellent grip. I used the Tubbs Frontier mostly in hard snow for their grip, and was never disappointed. The one place I had trouble was during traversing because the decking tended to not tilt enough to get purchase with the cleats, but this was not a problem with the cleats themselves.

When in powder snow, the Tubbs Frontier also performed well. I have had limited snowshoe experience before (I mostly travel on skis) and the other snowshoes I have used feel much softer and more adaptable to changing terrain. The Tubbs Frontier felt dependably stiff, which was nice and natural feeling on hard snow for purchase, and sometimes wobbly on variable terrain in soft snow.

I never understand weight ratings for snowshoes. For the Tubbs Frontier , I consider the weight rating to be accurate for up to about a layer of foot (0.3 m) deep maritime soft snow with a loaded pack. (For me, this is about 200 lb / 91 kg.) With powder snow any deeper, I sink enough to call it ‘wallowing’, and desire a snowshoe with more flotation. I feel that the snowshoe rating that Tubbs lists (just the weight range) is not enough to give the full picture. In other words, in five feet of powder, will they still float 200 lbs (91 kg)? Of course not. Here, I would give a ‘full picture’ rating for the Tubbs Frontier 25 snowshoes as 120-200 lb (54-91 kg) for 0-1 ft (0-0.3 m) powder.

Overall, my biggest problem with the Tubbs Frontier continued to be the bindings. First, I realized that I had not tried soft boots with the snowshoes, and had only used my big hard snow and ice plastic and leather boots. With soft shoes, I had to cinch the single strap on the Bear Hug so tightly that it pinched my feet such that they hurt! And my shoes still kept sliding around because the binding sides and straps were too soft to conform to lightweight hiking boots or tennis shoes. Thank goodness I was only trying it on a short trip.

Also, the boots and shoes must match the angle of the sides of the Bear Hug to fit well. I used some larger, moderately stiff boots with large toes and narrow heels. The heels would always slide around because the one strap would tighten the flaps around the toe, but tons of air would be around the heel. With other snowshoes with multiple top straps, I have been more likely to get a better fit over my range of boots. Oh well.

One other little nitpick I had was their packability. After a while, I got the sides of the Bear Hug binding all flattened out and worn in so they packed a little flatter, but I think having to wear in (or, wear out) a binding in order for the snowshoes to pack well is silly.

But as long as my boots fit, and I had the patience to strap them in with the fiddly adjustment and locking mechanism (which is difficult to adjust to a new set of boots in the field with gloves on — I learned to do it at home beforehand if possible) then the Tubbs Frontier were great. My favorite part is certainly their great cleat design which works very well.

Long Term Opinions

Care and Maintenance:

Overall, the Tubbs Frontier have needed no maintenance. I shake them out and let them dry after each trip, and any dirt just shakes right off. The cleats are clean and shiny and sharp still, even after walking a good bit over rocky parts of snow. The rotation of the foot and binding is not as smooth as it once was, but with my other snowshoes some sewing machine oil solves that issue, so I am not too worried about the binding gumming up in the future. I consider it to be a natural part of snowshoeing.

Durability:

The Tubbs Frontier have been quite durable. The foam around the Bear Hug is still intact, much to my surprise. I have always carefully packed the bindings in toward my pack to protect them when bushwhacking, however. The decking has a number of scratches from endless bushwhacking (including a lot of over-my-head willow groves) on my way to late-season snow approaches. But functionally, the Tubbs Frontier are very much intact and performing well after a great deal of abuse.

Summary

Overall, the Tubbs Frontier are very nice snowshoes with grippy cleats and decent flotation. However, this is only true as long as the binding fits the shoes I am wearing. Some pairs of shoes get squashed, some have the heel slide around, and some fit just fine.

Likes Dislikes
Natural, easy stride Binding squashes soft shoes
Solid decking Difficult to pack
Sharp, dependable, and grippy cleats Binding is very fiddly and grips inconsistently on differently shaped boots
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