Hillsound Trail Crampons

Hillsound Trail Crampon
Hillsound Trail Crampons

The guys at Hillsound really wanted me to review their Trail Crampons because they’re one of the first direct competitors of Kahtoola Microspikes.

First off, I wish Hillsound had named this product differently because it’s so easy to confuse them with the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros. The Pro model is a true ultralight crampon with anti-balling plates that can be worn with non-rigid soled shoes, unlike other ice climbing or mountaineering crampons. I think it’s the better of the two products, by a long shot.

Unfortunately, the lighter duty version of the Trail Crampon gets a thumbs down, as I explain below. If you want winter traction that is more aggressive than Microspikes, I’d recommend you get the Trail Crampon Pro instead.

Hillsound Trail Crampons

The lighter duty Trail Crampon is much more like a pair of Microspikes, with the same elastic webbing strap to secure it to your winter boots or trail shoes. The difference is that the Trail Crampons have longer spikes and there are rings of metal linking the spikes together under the ball of the foot and the heel like a mountaineering crampon.The orientation of the spikes on the Trail Crampon is slightly different, with twice as many spikes under the heel (4 vs 2), and the Trail Crampon has a velcro security strap to keep the elastic band from popping off.

Anti-Balling Plates

Anti-balling plates are plastic inserts that prevent snow and ice from clumping between crampon spikes. They’re standard on most crampons because it can be very dangerous if you hit a patch of ice without any traction. If this happens, you’re effectively hydroplaning on ice, without any control. Unfortunately, the Trail Crampons don’t have them, which was an immediate concern for me. They are standard on the heavier duty Trail Crampon Pro,

My initial testing of the Trail Crampons was on moderately wet, easy-to-pack snow, which is very likely to ball up under a crampon. I was immediately on guard about this, and unfortunately, the Trail Crampons, demonstrated this snow balling effect. I later experienced it on even wetter snow and ice, with a different pair of boots.

This balling effect is a serious issue since the lightweight traction provided by microspike-like products is particularly popular between fall and winter, and winter and spring, when you are most likely to encounter wet snow or ice.

In all fairness, I also ran a comparison test with a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes, in the exact same snow conditions. They also developed snow balls around their spikes, so neither product is immune from it.


The Trail Crampons have 11 points, while Microspikes have 10. The length of the spikes on the Trail Crampons is 1.6 cm. Microspikes in comparison are 1 cm in length, the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro is 2 cm in length, and a rigid mountaineering crampon like the Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampon is 3 cm long.

The longer spike length and metal rings linking the spikes on the Trail Crampons also makes them heavier, weighing 8.0 oz per foot (L) vs. 6.3 oz per foot for Microspikes. Unlike the Trail Crampon Pro model, the rings do not position the heel spike in line with the edges of your boot heel, like a regular mountaineering crampon. Microspikes have this same issue and both should be used with caution on steep descents, because it’s easier for the heel spikes to slip out from under you.

Traction Performance

I used the Hillsound Trail Crampon after climbing Mt Washington this weekend. My partners and I had worn plastic mountaineering boots and step-in crampons above Lion Head, but we switched to lighter weight traction on our decent to treeline. I switched to my Hillsound Trail Crampons and my partners put on their Kahtoola Microspikes, so we could reduce the weight on our feet for the long walk out on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.

On our descent, I braked my momentum by leaning back on my heels and bracing with my ice axe. However, this produced enough friction that it pulled the back ring of spikes out from under my boot and up the side of my heel. The elastic webbing holding the spikes in place was pulled out of alignment and I lost all contact between the spikes and the trail surface. I must have stopped every 20 yards to realign the spikes under my heel, that they kept getting pulled out from underneath me.

It was an issue. We were running out of daylight and had a few miles of moderate descent left before sundown, but  the heel spikes stopped getting mis-aligned once we got down to leveler ground and I could walk straight with my legs swinging in parallel. None of my companions experienced this issue with their Microspikes, though.


Unfortunately, the fail of the Trail Crampons on Mt Washington was the final nail in the coffin for me with this product. I’d rather keep my heavy mountaineering crampons on than lose heel traction like that again. When you add in the snow-balling issues, I describe above, I’d give this product a pass on winter hiking use.

My advice would be to try the higher-end Trail Crampon Pro instead, with its unique ratcheting binding, rigid heel cup, and 2 cm steel crampons. I think it rocks and is a step up from Kahtoola Microspikes, if you need a more robust, lightweight winter traction system.

Disclosure: Hillsound provided sectionhiker.com with a complementary pair of Trail Crampons for this review.

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  1. Products such as Micro Spikes and the Hillsound Trail Crampons have no place in true winter conditions in my opinion. They are best for "transitional" times of year such as Spring and Fall. There is no substitute for proper mountaineering crampons. Although I can appreciate the need to reduce weight and go as light as possible crampons are not the place to skimp out.

    • Products such as Microspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons most certainly do have a place in true winter conditions for trail running, just not for mountaineering, as you say.

  2. Maybe I missed it but how do they compare with the Microspikes as opposed to their Pro mode or real crampons?

    As to the fail coming off of Wash, would you have expected the Microspikes to have performed better under those condtions?


  3. You missed it – look in the section titled Specifications. Regarding the fail, I don't think I had any preconceived notions about what the Microspikes would do in the same situation, but the fact that the 3 other people I was with had no issue seems to be conclusive. I didn't expect the Hillsounds to fail – if anything, I hoped they'd be awesome. I wouldn't want to carry gear I suspected would fail that high and that far, and depend on it for my safety.

    • I will have to disagree with this review. I wear the Trail Crampons and my partner wears the Microspikes. This week we hiked the Brothers and Big Slide mountains in the Adirondacks. We encountered a mix of solid ice, bare rock and fresh powdered snow. My partner was constantly having problems with the snow balling when we were in the snow. I am not going to say I didn’t have problems with the balling but they were far less than the Microspikes. As far as the slipping off your heel, I would think you did not have the proper size. My Trail Crampon’s did not have one problem with slippage during the ascent or descent. I have the XL and wear a 12 1/2 boot. I am 6’1″ and 250 lbs without a pack. We also hiked Phelps Mtn last week which was all ice and rock and the Trail Crampons I wore performed flawlessly going up and coming down. The Trail Crampons are more aggressive than the Microspikes and with the addition of the top Velcro strap helps keep them snug on my boots. Maybe my weight helps sink the spikes better, I don’t know. I can’t say one bad thing about the Trail Crampons so far and I have used them to hike 4 different mountains. We still have a lot of winter to go so I will be able to get a lot of time using them. If I experience anything that changes my mind I will update my review.

      • Amazingly, I hiked Big Slide in Feb 2014 using Hill Sound Trail Crampons and the back heel plate kept sliding off to such an extent that i found them completely unreliable and therefore dangerous on the mixed ice and rock trail – exactly as the Philip described. My boot is size 12us and the Hillsounds are XL. Ironically I also hiked Phelps in Jan 2014 using Microspikes, the red section of trail was pure ice, glacial, the Microspikes performed flawlessly up and down, though I think full out crampons would have been better. I have found Microspikes to be completely reliable in <3" of snow. I am amazed that very few reviews mention this major issue with the Hillsound trail crampons.

  4. Milton – I am pretty much in your camp. For true high peaks in the Whites, microspikes and chain link style traction is wasted weight. I am on the fence however when it comes to lesser peaks where step-ins and rigid boots are insane overkill. Wearing them is just masochistic (I'm sick of arriving at those hikes, overdressed.)

  5. Sorry I wasn't clear in my first post.

    I am wondering if you think these are comparable to Microspikes in performance? Or would you suggest Microspikes over Trail Crampons?

    BTW these seems to a pretty good spectrum of solutions out there.

    For example, I think the Kahtoola Steel KTS Crampons might be fill a spot between the Trail Crampon Pro and "real" crampons.

    And many snowshoes have very aggressive treads.

    Thanks for the review.

  6. I'd say no – microspikes are a better product in that they do what they're intended for. The Trail Crampons don't.

    I have a pair in KTS Crampons in my review queue right now, but I suspect they will also have the same balling issues that the Trail Crampons have – they don't come with ABS plates, either.

    I don't understand why manufacturers ignore the tested designs of crampon manufacturers and everything that is known already about how to prevent balling.

  7. ive got a set … i find it as a microspikes with a bit better traction …

    its mainly for icy trails and easy ascents … basically anywhere youre going to wear trail runners or soft winter boots …

    for the harder stuff … well thats where the sportiva boots and sabretooths come in ;)

  8. I don’t often disagree with product reviews, but this one… well… here’s another point of view.

    I had a Trail Crampon equipped group out last week-end. It was my first experience with the product. My impression is that it works well for its intended purpose. The group participants (a photography class) were excstatic that they could safely maneuver on icy terrain (water ice up to 15 degrees or so).

    First, the reviewer and I agree that neither Micro-spikes nor Trail Crampons is a replacement for mountaineering crampons. However… comparing the two product types is like comparing apples and oranges – rather like comparing a general mountaineering axe with a technical ice climbing axe. They’re different tools designed for different tasks. I own, and use, technical ice climbing crampons, general mountaineering crampons, and micro-spikes. Each product is designed to accomplish a particular task; if pressed into service for which another product is designed it can be made to work, but the application isn’t ideal.

    Second, because Trail Crampons (and Micro-spikes) are affixed with an elasticized mechanism they WILL slip if one attempts to use use them AS a general mountaineering crampon IN PLACE of a general mountaineering crampon. While it IS possible to do french technique with Trail Crampons, and I was able to demonstrate the concept using Micro-spikes and coach my Trail Crampon equipped group in the procedure, that isn’t a technique that is in the “sweet spot” for the product any more than doing a self-arrest is in the “sweet spot” for a technical ice climbing axe, or “self belay” is in the sweet spot for a leashless technical axe.

    Third, balling IS a problem for any of these products with chain attachments. But when conditions get to the point where this occurs, I take the microspikes off. If the snow is that soft, I typically can do without traction aids anyway. But again, I wouldn’t be using Micro-spikes or Trail Crampons on high-angle terrain.

    These days, most of my ice-climbing friends pack micro-spikes in addition to their technical ice climbing crampons; *depending on terrain*, we switch to Micro-spikes for the walk-off. They’re light, small, packable, and do the job. There’s no need to smash up expensive, specialist ice climbing crampons on, say, the rocks of Lion Head when a micro-spike “class” product is perfectly adequate for the terrain.

    IMO, Micro-spikes might be one of the two best inventions of the past five or ten years (the other being soft shells). Trail Crampons may do Micro-spikes one better and I will consider them when the time comes for replacement.

    To my thinking, the primary reason for choosing Trail Crampons over Micro-spikes is that the “plate” system on which the points are attached appears to lend itself to more easily sharpening the points than is the case with micro-spikes. The facility to keep the points sharp without unnecessary effort is a huge factor for me.

    A second reason for choosing the Trail Crampon over the Micro-spike is the velcro instep strap. While it does not completely prevent movement of the crampon around the foot, it does work well within limits. Again, this isn’t a product that is intended for extensive use of “french technique” or for vertical ice.


  9. i bought a pair of these for my wife for Christmas and she was very happy. We went on a hike to Mt Major on New Years day and I had a pair of cheap rubber-screw type traction slip ons and she had the Hillsound’s. It was not even close, as far as performance. I slipped from time to time, but she was walking steady up and down the hill with confidence the whole time. When we got down many of the metal screws were missing from the lesser crampons. We returned them the next day. Then last weekend, we went hiking Red Hill and did not bring traction and slipped and slid numerous times especially on descent. I went online after the hike and purchased the Hillsound X-LARGE for me. Today we both went up Tecumseh (4000ft) and I had a great experience. Perfect purchase up or down and they even fit over my Scarpa T3 tele boots. I skied from the top, but it would have been no problem hiking down with the Trail Crampons. Can’t wait to use them again!.

  10. I would like to leave my impression on Trail Crampons.
    I was using them during the last 3 winters-springs on different trips, but mostly in Adirondacks. I used them with heavy backpacking boots.
    IMHO they perform great for traction on ice and rock, more solid platform gives better results on steeper terrain than microspikes. I have not experienced slipped heel part even on steep ice and rock. And on snow covered ice they also performed better than my friend’s microspikes. However snow is balling under front part in soft snow, more so than microspikes.

    On last trip one of the eyelets on front rubber part ripped and I had quite unpleasant descent. I contacted Hillsound ; they were very nice and replaced the rubber part on both crampons at no charge.

    I think it is a very good crampon for appropriate conditions with some advantages and some disadvantages compared to microspikes.

  11. I have to really, only because I use sectionhiker as a resource when purchasing new gear & the link here was one of the first when Google’d.

    I originally planned on getting the Microspikes & only accidentally stumbled upon the Hillsounds by accident. I liked the plate design & also that the teeth were a bit longer, so I decided based on that.

    Yesterday, I climbed Mt. Monadnock with a group of friends, all who had different types of traction. Spellman Trail was decently icy, with a few inches of powder covering most of the ice. Out of all the different products, the Hillsounds were the only ones that were problem free. Yaktraks gripped for the most part, but broke in multiple places. Rubber lugged slip ons provided almost no grip & continuously slid off. The Hillsounds stayed firm and snug the entire time, and I never had so much as a slip. I saw a ton of folks with Microspikes, & I believe they would perform almost the same. I think they are just advertised/branded better right now. Never had an issue with balling, never had an issue with them moving around on my feet or popping off… Overall, I was extremely impressed with these!

    Will these work in every condition? Of course not. But I don’t feel like bringing full on crampons to wear with Merrell Moabs on a hike that just requires a bit extra grip than usual. They have their intended purpose, comparing them to a product with an entirely different purpose is just silly.

  12. My wife and I tried our new trail crampons today on a 12 km hike in mixed snow, ice and rocky conditions. We loved them and they performed admirably. The author of this review should have read the manufacturers recommendations prior to using them as he did because they do not recommend this product for mountaineering or very steep terrain. One should use the right product for the right application. In our case we didn’t have any seriously steep terrain and they were great. The only thing I would agree with in this review is that there was the smallest amount of “snowballing” but it wasn’t a problem for either of us. I would buy these again in a heart beat and would recommend them for regular trails, not climbing or descending mountains.

  13. Spent the weekend in the Catskills with a pair of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras. The first two days (Blackhead, Balsam) with significant ice but little or no snow, they were flawless. After a three inch snowfall on day three (Slide) I had _very_ significant clumping of snow. It was a short hike so it did not become an issue for me, but I will not use these again under such conditions. Know the tools in your toolbox.

    • It should be noted that the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras mentioned here by Karl are NOT the product under discussion here – Hillsound Trail Crampons. (Hillsound does have confusing product names). The Ultras are very nearly the same product as Kahtoola Microspikes – the design is almost identical, except that Hillsound opted to put three small spikes on each mini-plate instead of two. They are reported to function very like the Microspikes.
      The Hillsound Trail Crampons are significantly different from the Ultras and the Microspikes – the spikes are significantly larger, and are mounted on two large plates (there are six tiny independent plates for the Ultras and Microspikes).
      After having read extensive comments on these products, it is my impression that the Trail Crampons do provide superior traction in more difficult conditions, but may not be as comfortable to wear in more moderate, mixed ice-snow-rock conditions as are the Microspikes and Ultras. That is the trade off.

  14. Hi! I am currently in the process of buying a pair of crampons and I came across your article (great article by the way!). I hesitate a lot between Hillsound and Kathoola after reading this article. Do you have an opinion or brand that you like in particular?
    Thanks in advance :)

  15. I live in Alaska. I have done a lot of sub-freezing winter camping in the last 9 years. And we have long winters. When winter hiking, I have been using mountaineering crampons, which have been extremely effective in all winter conditions including glaciers; but I felt they were overkill and started to research other options. I started out very interested in Kahtoola microspikes; but the spikes seemed a little small for the kinds of Alaskan hiking I was doing. Further research brought me to Hillsound. Originally very interested in the ULTRA version, I realized that just like the Kahtoola microspikes the spikes seemed too small. Further research identified the Trail Crampons to be exactly what I needed. The smaller microspikes are great for walking and running activities, especially around town or groomed trails. But the Trail Crampons are for backpacking on more challenging trails. Clumping is not much of a problem in winters below freezing with light, small snowflake snow.

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