The Tubbs Catalyst is marketed as a racing snowshoe. We were intrigued by its innovative design and lightweight materials, and tested it as a lightweight multi-purpose snowshoe.
- Solidly built and very durable
- Titanium crampons (all very sharp!)
- Anodized 7000 series aluminum frame
- Asymmetrical shape to minimize tripping
- Lightweight binding with fixed toe to fit running or cross training shoes
- Toe crampons provide a good grip for racing, and climb well too
- Perform very well on packed snow
What’s not so Good
- Heavier than expected for a racing snowshoe
- Not versatile enough for backcountry use
|8 in wide x 25 in long (20 cm x 64 cm)|
|Measured surface area 158 in2 (1019 cm2), manufacturer specification 146 in2 (942 cm2)|
|7000 series aluminum alloy, 5/8 in (16 mm) diameter tubing|
|Proprietary ArcTec fabric and Hypalon|
|Adjustable toe yoke securely fits running/cross training shoes, two front straps plus one heel strap with quick release buckles|
|Titanium, two independent toe crampons, two heel crampons|
|Measured weight 3.1 lb (1.4 kg); manufacturer specification 2.9 pounds (1.3 kg)|
I tested the Tubbs Catalyst snowshoes on numerous trips in the Southern Rockies to catch different snow conditions and terrains. My testing ran through the month of May on an unusually heavy snowpack. Mid winter testing was on all sorts of conditions, but late winter testing was on firm snow in the morning and mushy snow in the afternoon.
The Catalyst is designed for racing on packed snow conditions. The first feature that jumps out is their asymmetric shape, designed to accommodate a runner’s stride and minimize crossover, especially when fatigued. On the Catalyst, the snowshoes are left and right foot specific, not the bindings. The next feature that catches the eye is that the deck is attached to the bottom of the frame rather than the top. This design is again specific for packed snow, to improve gliding over the surface.
The Tubbs Catalyst snowshoes have many specialized features for racing, but perform well for general snowshoeing on packed snow.
After four months of testing, I concluded that the Catalyst snowshoes are clearly in their “element” on packed trails, and do not perform particularly well in highly variable backcountry conditions. On soft snow they are laborious to use, lacking floatation and control. On late winter consolidated snow, they got along fine in the morning when the snow was firm, but in mushy afternoon snow ice balls developed under my heels to the extent that I could scarcely go 50 feet without having to stop and remove the clod.
The Catalyst bindings are specialized in that they have a toe yoke to position the foot over a pair of independent toe crampons to push off on while running. The bindings are made of numerous lightweight materials, are fairly easy to attach to boots or trail running shoes, align the feet well, and hold their adjustment. The bindings adjust well to fit different sized feet.
The Catalyst binding has two toe straps (one webbing and one rubber) and a rubber heel strap with a quick release. Pictured are the outside (left) and inside (right) of the right snowshoe.
On uphills the Catalysts handled 45 degree slopes with little loss of traction (those toe crampons really grip). On downhills anything steeper then 30 degrees was a controlled slide because of unweighting of the toe crampons as the slope angle increased. The Catalysts have two smaller lateral crampons in the center of the shoe that are minimal in size but very sharp, providing average sidehill performance.
The Catalyst titanium crampons facilitate forward movement, with two independent toe crampons (left). The other crampons are minimal.
Articulation is controlled by a stiff pivot strap that provides a solid connection between boot and snowshoe. In my running tests the bindings enabled a solid grip and a steady stride with no toe or heel drag.
The Tubbs Catalyst has a stiff pivot strap, as shown here with the foot lifted, giving it good performance on packed snow.
While I am impressed with the Catalyst’s high tech materials and design innovations, I feel that they are just too specialized for general backcountry use. They perform well on firm snow and climb surprisingly well, but they flounder in soft snow and do not readily handle diverse conditions.
In the Catalyst, Tubbs really makes a strong effort to innovate. The binding positions and aligns the foot perfectly, and puts two crampons under each toe for extra bite when pushing off.
Recommendations for Improvement
It would be nice if Tubbs incorporated some of the features of the Catalyst into a really lightweight ascent shoe for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. A lightweight version of the Catalyst (the Alpinist?) adapted for climbing up to high alpine basins and ridges in soft and variable snow conditions could be just the ticket - snowshoe up, ski down.