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 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,
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.
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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