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Kahtoola KTS Crampons

Kahtoolha KTS Crampons
Kahtoolha KTS Crampons

Kahtoola’s KTS Crampons are an excellent traction option if you wear soft soled trail runners for winter peakbagging or hiking. This can be particularly useful in spring when the base of peaks have no snow, but you need to bring along traction to deal with lingering ice on high ledges and summits.

Design-wise, the KTS Crampons are optimized for a soft soled trail runner, like the Inov8 Terroc 330’s shown above. Unlike hiking or mountaineering boots, trail runners can bend and twist in multiple directions, putting considerable structural stress on rigid crampons and possibly breaking them. While the KTS crampons borrow their basic design from old school crampons, they behave very differently, providing an dynamic and adaptive traction system that flexes with a soft soled shoe and not against it.

Feature Overview

The following table summarizes the key features of Kahtoola’s KTS crampons and several other trail runner compatible traction products that I’ve tested for comparison purposes.

Mfg.KahtoolaHillsoundKahtoola
ProductMicrospikesTrail Crampon ProKTS Crampons
# Points101010
Point Length1 cm2 cm2 cm
Front PointsNoYesYes
Weight12.6 oz23.6 oz24.4
Price$59.95$79.00$159.00*

*The first thing you probably noticed was how expensive the KTS crampons are. In reality, you also need to pay an additional $19 for a set of anti-balling plates, called Snow Release Skins, to prevent snow from clumping or sticking to the crampons. This boosts the total cost to $178 for a pair.

Are they worth it? Judge for yourself.

The KTS Binding System

The design of the KTS Crampon binding system is the thing that makes this product work so well with trail runners. It has three main components: an adjustable leaf spring that controls the distance between the two ends of the crampon, front webbing straps which secure the ball of your shoe to the crampon front, and an ankle strap/heel guard that keeps the back of your shoe on the back crampon. Let’s look at each of these in turn:

The Leaf Spring

First off, the leaf spring is extremely flexible, adapting to the flex of a trail runner sole when you climb a slope. While the flex prevents the leaf spring from breaking, it also keeps the spring close to the sole of the shoe so that the two remain in alignment.

Think of it this way, when you bend the sole of your shoe, its length decreases temporarily. To remain in alignment, the length of your crampon needs to stay in synch and shrink dynamically, or else your shoe will slip sideways out of the crampon binding. While there is some heel lift, I think it’s a creative solution to an interesting design problem.

KTS Crampon Binding Adjustment
KTS Crampon Binding Adjustment

You adjust the length of the leaf spring using a conventional crampon adjustment system. It’s best to set these up, way in advance of needing to use them and to adjust them as tightly as possible, to keep your shoes aligned with the crampons when they flex.

KTS Crampon Front Binding
KTS Crampon Front Binding

The Front Binding

The binding at the front of the KTS crampon is made out of webbing attached to the front points and the sides of the crampon using hinged attachments. The webbing is fed through a two way plastic buckle located above your toes, that crosses the straps over each other diagonally. The plastic buckle also keeps the straps from digging into the top of your foot, where the fabric of a trail runner is thin and not padded. The side hinges are crucial for keeping the ball of your foot over the front spikes, but they are flexible and will conform to the width and shape of your shoes. Like the leaf spring, the front binding is designed to keep your shoe in the crampon, but can also dynamically adapt to the torsional stresses that a trail runner exerts on the crampon frame, via the flexible side hinges.

The Heel Binding

The KTS heel binding is quite similar to those used on many other strap-on style crampons, with a piece of webbing attached to a back bailing wire that hooks onto your laces. As long as the leaf spring is short enough and the ankle strap is secure, it is very unlikely that your heel will pop out of the heel binding.

Performance Testing

I’ve been tramping around with the KTS Crampons for more than a month now with trail runners and other shoes/boots, and comparing them against Microspikes and the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros. Here are some observations.

  • The Hillsound Pros are less comfortable than the KTS crampons when worn with trail runners because the ratcheted binding puts pressure on the top of your shoe to hold against the front crampon. This is barely noticeable if you are wearing a pair of winter boots, but it’s really uncomfortable with trail runners because they don’t have a rigid or padded toe box.
  • The rigid leaf spring on the Hillsound Pros is very uncomfortable when worn with a soft soled trail runner. Boots have a lot stiffer shank and are much more comfortable when worn with the Hillsound Pros.
  • The front bindings of the KTS crampon are difficult to adjust and it would be challenging to try to use them with different shoes and/or boots. By comparison, the Hillsound Pros are easy to use and fit with different shoes or boots, on the fly.
  • The KTS Crampons start rusting very quickly. You need to really care of them, and dry them off after each use, if you want tem to last.
  • While Kahtoola’s Microspikes work with all shoes and boots, they’re not as comfortable as KTS crampons when worn with trail runners, and may be insufficient for more gnarly ice, where longer crampon teeth are preferred.

Recommendation

If you use trail runners exclusively for hiking or peakbagging in winter, then it probably makes sense to invest in a pair of Kahtoola KTS Crampons. Although they are quite expensive, they are quite comfortable to wear and provide very good traction for soft soled shoes. If you wear different shoes in winter, you need to decide if it’s worth having different traction systems or if you want one traction system for all of them. If you decide to purchase just one winter traction system, I’d try a few more alternatives before deciding to use a KTS crampons with multiple styles of shoes or boots.

Disclosure: Kahtoola provided Sectionhiker.com with a complementary pair of of the KTS Crampons for this review.

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17 comments

  1. Thanks for the review! If you'd have to travel a very long distance on flat lake ice (no snow on top) in very cold climate with reasonably fast pace, which traction system would you choose? Kahtoola KTS for comfort use over prolonged time or Microspikes for light weight and speed? Or maybe something like Icebug runners with integrated studs?

  2. You haven't really given me a enough detail to make a complete recommendation, such as: will you need traction for any other part of your journey, how much are you already carrying, what kind of shoes will you be wearing, etc.

    However, I have been testing a combination that may interest you: the KTS crampons, with trail runners, and 40 below shortie overboots designed for trail runners. They provide very good insulation and work especially well with the KTS crampons. They also double as camp shoes. See – The version that I'm testing is the next generation of the model shown.

  3. I just started using 40 Below Light Energy overboots this winter. Definite winner. But my clown feet are a little too big with the 40 Belows for my microspikes. I do like the sound of these KTS crampons. Where's a good end-of-winter sale when you need one?

  4. Joel Attaway – the owner of 40 below – really likes the KTS crampons combo with his products. After doing a full comparison with the other contenders, I have to agree. They are a great combination.

  5. Thanks for the insight! I can't give a lot of details as the trip is still only a distant dream…

    Some 600km all on ice, no natural shelter, temps down to -40, high winds likely, flat ice with and without snow. For the snowy parts skis with skins are likely the winner's choice, but for icy parts either light shoes with traction system or ice skates (though I haven't tested that kind of skates). All food and gear for the trip hauled in a sled.

    At the point I'm merely sketching things in the back of my mind but trail runners + overboots + light crampons seem like a good choice.

  6. Distant dreams are good. Joe Newton is also testing these overboots for use with skis. This should be informative – you could conceiably use the same boots for skis and trail runners.
    http://thunderinthenight.blogspot.com/2011/02/fir

  7. In my opinion strap on crampons are horrible and not to be used for any length of time. They routinely loosen and shift. Your photo above illustrates this perfectly as the heel of the crampon is clearly not against the sole of the shoe. Another issue is that many people don't use proper boots for winter climbs. Soft sole boots are not the proper choice in my opinion. Especially if you are climbing mountains under winter conditions. Rigid sole boots provide the proper support and platform for using crampons. A good set of crampons with a heel lever and toe cage adjusted properly to a proper pair of rigid sole winter boots are the way to go.

  8. I used to share your your opinion Milton, but my attitude has relaxed a bit. It really does depend on the conditions a lot. Most people who haven't used plastic boots and front points don't understand that, but people who have been there do, and there's no reason they should suffer if they can use something else safely.

    What really gets my blood boiling are the people who show up at the base of a big climb and have no idea how to use a full crampon or even how to put them on. I met 6 of these folks yesterday on Mt Monroe (in 2 groups), and stopped to give them some basic crampon instruction. Those are the people most in danger, imho.

  9. There is nothing worse than people who misrepresent their abilities and show up unprepared or without a clue. The only good thing about those situations is that "nature will find a way".

    I like to call it "natural selection"

    :)

  10. Phillip,

    You wrote that you're testing the combo of KTS crampons, trail runners and shortie overboots.

    Are these overboots rugged enough, in your opinion, to handle prolonged hiking?

    I can see the value of them on snowshoes where the snowshoe platform protects them against abrasion against the ground, but with the crampons there's lots of openings for the sole of the overboots to abrade against ice and possibly rock.

    And there's also the issue of what to do with the overboots when you drop below the area where crampons are needed. Do you just carry the extra 12oz along with the crampons?

    I guess I'm asking if the overboots provide sufficient extra warmth for trail runners that they warrant carrying the extra weight in your pack once you're no longer wearing the crampons.

    Thanks,

    Marty Cooperman

    Cleveland, Ohio

  11. In term of warmth, most definitely

    In terms of durability, I believe so, and there are ways to augment them to make them last longer.

    In term of utility – best as part of an overnight system since you can also use them as camp booties while your shoes dry out.

    Just contact Joel at 40 below and he's explain further.

  12. If those shortie boots end up anything like the Light Energy boots, they're quite a bit more durable than they look. You could probably walk around on White Mountain summits for a while without serious damage. And they're very nice for warmth, too.

    So far I only use the overboots with snowshoes or microspikes (maybe switching to KTS Crampons in the future). If it looks like I won't need them for low elevations, then I generally won't be using them for the higher parts, either.

  13. Fellows,

    I'd like to understand the use of the overbooties better.

    Are they durable enough to stand up to a full hike from parking lot to summit and back, repeated over a full season's hiking? Or not?

    Assume the temps are low enough down at the parking lot as well as up high, to warrant wearing the booties.

    Assume the ice (or snow for snowshoes) starts getting serious closer to the summit.

    Would you wear the booties for warmth just over trail sneakers on the entire hike, or would you only wear them as you donned crampons or snowshoes up higher?

    If the former, I can see their use.

    If the latter, then how do you keep your feet warm until you get high up?

    On trips in western PA where the snow/ice doesn't vary that much because the elevation also doesn't vary that much, I can see their continual use over the course of a trip because I'd generally wear snowshoes/microspikes continuously. I was puzzled, though, about their use in the eastern mountains.

    Thanks for your explanations,

    Marty Cooperman

    Cleveland, Ohio

  14. There are many different kinds of overboots out there. The ones I am testing are not intended to be used without a traction system of some sort, including snowshoes, except in camp.

    These are all good questions, but I'm not far enough in my review process to answer them. There is however a very long series of articles about every dimension of the topic (in nosebleed detail) that I will refer you too on backpackinglight.com.

    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpacki

  15. Oh yeah. My Light Energy boots are durable enough for walking on rock or dirt for a decent distance, but you wouldn't want to do it for an entire hike– no traction on the bottom. In eastern mountains in winter, you're in snow for most of the hike, so I wear them with snowshoes. If I get to an exposed summit where there's only ice, rock, and light snow (since the wind has blasted the snow away), I'd either go with just the overboots for a short while, or traction devices for prolonged ice.

  16. Hello, I'm Chris from Kahtoola, and Philip said it would be OK if I mentioned this here. In the 3/4 rear view photos the heel is lifted up off the back of the KTS, to the point where you can actually see the background in the gap that is there. Normally we don't see this, and it is most likely happening because of the placement of the strap around the ankle.

    The strap attached to the rear (heel) section of the KTS is not meant to go around the ankle, but rather around the upper portion of the shoe and over the shoe's tongue. In order to help keep it in place, there is a small plastic clip that we include on the strap and faces inward towards the shoe that is intended to be clipped on to shoelaces. We actually discuss this in the instructions under a section called "rear strap hook for low top footwear", and mention that this hook should be used to keep the strap on your shoe, so that it does not slip off on to your ankle and create an uncomfortable fit.

    The ability to maintain a secure but still very comfortable fit is one of the advantages of the independent front and rear straps on the KTS. I just wanted to make a note about this fitment since keeping the rear strap around your shoe (rather than your ankle) will really help keep your heel planted more effectively during the times that the KTS is flexing during your steps. Thanks!

  17. Chris – thanks for bringing this to my attention. I went back and found the KTS instructions and RTFM on me. I use so many other crampon binding systems that just use an ankle wrap that I assumed the same here. I'll re-take the photo when we get some decent snow and drop it in. The space shown on the current picture is a little exaggerated anyway for illustration purposes, so I'm glad we could clear this up. Thanks for clarifying the issue.

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