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Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes

Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes
Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes

I think Kahtoola is a very innovative company. When they introduced Microspikes, they totally transformed winter hiking by eliminating the need for heavier strap-on winter crampons for a broad segment of the hiking community.

They’ve done it again, but this time with snowshoes. The Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoe is a two piece snowshoe, that provides the flotation necessary for snow and an integrated, removable crampon that allows you to quickly transition to use on ice. It’s helped me eliminate about 2 more pounds from my 31 lb winter gear list (2008), which is a huge weight savings.

When you come to an icy or rocky patch of trail, you disengage the crampon half of the system from the snowshoe decking by pulling on a spring lock which releases the crampon component.

Weight Breakdown and Comparisons

The 24″ Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes weigh a total of 63.8 oz. The pair of strap-on crampons weighs 19.2 oz and the snowshoe tubing and decks both weigh 44.6 oz (the decks have their own crampon teeth, in addition to those on the strap-on crampons.)

For comparison purposes:

Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes
8 point crampons

Above Treeline and Below Treeline Hiking Conditions

I hike in two different kinds of winter conditions: above treeline and below treeline.

I spend about 20% of my winter hikes above treeline with long periods of full exposure. For these hikes, I am happy to lug around a few extra pounds including double plastic mountaineering boots, step-in crampons, an ice axe, and a heavier pair snowshoes like my Lightning Ascents.

However, the other 80% of my winter hikes are below treeline, where I’m much more protected from the elements by forest cover. For these hikes, I can get by with the Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes for all of my traction needs, eliminating the need for a separate set of crampons and snowshoes, and saving about 27 oz of pack weight.

Crampon Fit and Performance

The crampons on the Mountain Snowshoes have 8 teeth each, located under the ball of your foot, and ending at the arch. The front four teeth are larger than microspike teeth but about 2/3 the size of step-in or strap-on crampon teeth. The back four crampons are serrated like snowshoe crampons, except the front pair is notched to lock into the spring lock on the showshoe decking. You should be able to see the notched crampon in the photo above.

Spring loaded crampon connectors on snowshoe decking
Spring loaded crampon connectors on snowshoe decking

All of the crampon teeth are welded to a plastic and steel base that wraps around your shoes. Webbing straps hold the crampons onto the front of your boots and a regular, notched rubber snowshoe strap, loops around your heel to keep the crampon positioned properly.

The area between the crampons is lined with a plastic anti-balling fabric, which keeps snow from compacting between the teeth and ruining your traction. This can be a real problem with microspikes.

At first, I thought that walking with a 1/2 crampon would be uncomfortable and provide limited traction, but they really don’t feel any different than walking in regular crampons, where the base of your foot tends to sink into packed snow a bit more anyway.

Walking downhill on packed snow with an icy layer or over icy rocks also does not feel much different than in normal crampons, although you need to put more weight on the middle of your foot instead of the heel for the traction to hold, and you need to be very mindful that there are no heel spikes. Other than that, the only major difference is when you need to traverse laterally on an icy surface, since the removable crampons don’t have side crampons along the rear sides of your foot and heel.

Permanent crampons on snowshoe decks
Permanent crampons on snowshoe decks

Snowshoe Fit and Performance

The Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes perform as well as any other tubular frame snowshoe on the market today. While they are a step down in performance from my MSR Lightning Ascents which have better traction for lateral traverses and a televator climbing bar, the overall weight savings are more important to me.

Little Nits

I have one small complaint about the Mountain Snowshoes. The end of the rubber loop surrounding your shoes comes loose when you are hiking or snowshoeing and is really annoying. Why do all snowshoes seem to suffer from this issue?

The solution is to pirate the new webbing studs from my MSR Lightning Axis snowshoes and use the on the Kahtoola binding system. These new metal studs do an awesome job in keeping rubber straps from getting undone and flapping about, and should work across the brands.

Where to find Them

Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes are available in two sizes, a 24″ snowshoe for general winter conditions and a 28″ snowshoe for heavy backcountry powder.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

The following online retailers sell this product:

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12 comments

  1. Looks like a good shoe. I have the Northern Lites Quicksilvers but the crampons are aluminum and wear relatively quickly.

    jdm

  2. Fantastic! Looks so good I've just ordered a pair of the 28" ones. No lighter than the system I use now but much less fuss. Thanks for bringing these to my attention.

  3. It's time to get excited about winter hiking! The mountain snowshoes sound like a pretty snazzy item, but I would have trouble switching from my MSR's, just out of habit. I did just buy a pair of Lightning Axis (hurray for holiday sales) to try out as a future replacement for my six year old Ascents, though. Can't wait for the snow!

  4. Weight is really important to me and having multi-function gear like this is one of the only ways to get it down in winter when the consequences of other weight reductions can become sketchy. I also thought having a removable crampon was a brilliant idea. It's not 100% the functional equivalent of the 2 lb special steel crampons I lug around, but they're good enough for the right conditions.

  5. Phillip – I sure you aware that until the last couple of years the UK along with I am sure several other countries have seen less and less snow, but this year and last year in particular with have had a lot. 20 inches at home at present with an overnight low of minus 16 centigrade (3 degrees F). Unusually cold for us. I have been out walking and just end up post holing in knee deep snow. Pretty tiring after awhile. We can get powdery as well as wet snow – would the Kahtoola mountain snow shoes be good for this weather? I have never worn snow shoes before. However if we continue to get a run of heavy snow years, I will certainly need them.

    Just like to say your blog continues to be an excellent source of info.

    Thanks

    Mark

  6. Really any snowshoe will do for you in those conditions. Take a look at any MSR snowshoe. These are a bit specialized for walking on low angle ice (without the snowshoe), but can also be used for general snowshoeing on wet snow or powder. I am jealous about the snow you've received….

  7. Philip, thanks for the advice. Yes the snow. I hoping to get out shortly for a backpacking trip. Sorry we can't send you some ! New record low overnight (for this area) minus 19 C (minus 2.5 F). Although the all time UK record which was in Scotland stands at minus 27C (minus 16 F).

    Phillip have a look at my last 2 posts on my blog for a flavour of what is happening in the UK at the moment.

    Not as cold as you will see in parts of the USA but unknown in much of the UK until now.

    All the best

    Mark

  8. Philip – just to let know that I purchased a pair of these and have done one short hike in the hills around where I live before I tackle anything more serious – as long as the snow sticks around here in the UK. Worked well and they are easy to use on snow which is 6" or more. One thing I did notice where snow is very light causes the trail crampon to come out of the snow shoe – I guess that is because the front spike digs into the soil. Is this correct ?

  9. Check the spring on the base plate to make sure that the crampon in properly locked in on both sides of the snowshoe deck. It can stick a bit. I don't think they should be releasing like that. I've walked on less than 6 inches just fine.

    Also, when walking just in the crampons, remember that you don't have any heel spikes. It's easy to slip on an icy rock if you're not mindful of that fact.

  10. Philip – I will have a look at that, thanks for the info

    Mark

  11. Hi,

    I am looking at getting a pair of these for some winter hiking and light mountaineering in the Adirondakcs High Peak region. I have minimal experience with snowshoeing and crampons and was curious as to your opinion on getting something like these versus a pair of MSR shoes and seperate cramp ons. Also I dont know if I should go with the 24′ or 28′ for what I am getting into.

    any advice?

    • I’d get separate msr snowshoes and crampons for the dacks. You probably also want a smaller size snow shoe than what the manufacturer recommends (which is largely based on Colorado powder) instead of the rockier terrain we have out east. Large size = more flotation.

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