This post may contain affiliate links.

Hillsound Trail Crampons Review

Hillsound Trail Crampons Review

Hillsound Trail Crampons are a winter traction aid that’s tailor-made for hiking on inclined trails covered with hard ice or packed snow where you need longer and sharper spikes to penetrate the surface and give you a good grip.  They’re compatible with insulated winter hiking boots, regular hiking boots, trail shoes, and trail runners and don’t require any special skills or tools to use. Made with carbon steel, they’re also quite durable and can be worn in mixed conditions that include ice intermixed with rock. If over time, you do manage to wear them down, they can also be resharpened with a file.

Specs at a Glance

  • Number of spikes: 11
  • Spike Length: 2/3″
  • Harness: Elastomer
  • Materials: Carbon steel spikes and plates, stainless steel chains
  • Sizes: Multiple based on shoe size
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Weight: 18.4 oz, size XL

Hillsound Trail Crampons have more aggressive spikes than simple chain-based winter traction aids like Kahtoola Microspikes or Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras. While their spikes hang from chains like those other products, the spikes are connected together by carbon steel plates that direct their effect in a more concentrated and coordinated manner.

That extra level of predictability is required when you hike over hard ice, wet ice, or mixed rock and ice, especially on inclined surfaces where a slip can be problematic. They’re similar to real mountaineering crampons in this respect but are lighter weight, don’t require any special footwork training to use, and are compatible with any type of footwear, including soft-soled boots and shoes.

The spikes are connected by carbon steel plates to help coordinate their action.
The spikes are connected by carbon steel plates to help coordinate their action.

They differ from mountaineering crampons because they don’t have front spikes for climbing very steep terrain or vertical walls, in addition to the fact that they have much smaller spikes. They also don’t come with anti-balling plates, which are plastic plates bolted to the bottom of mountaineering crampons that prevent snow from balling up and sticking to the underside of the crampons.

In certain circumstances, wet snow can ball up under the Trail Crampons. But it is often broken up by the movement of the chains connecting the carbon steel plates underfoot. A good whack of your trekking poles is also an effective way to knock any lingering snow off the spikes as well.

The Trail Crampons have an elastomer harness that holds them in place.
The Trail Crampons have an elastomer harness that holds them in place.

The Trail Crampons have an elastomer harness that holds them onto your footwear and makes them very easy to slip on or take off. I usually attach mine to a backpack strap with a carabiner and carry them that way.

There’s also a velcro strap that goes over the top of your boot to prevent the Trail Crampons from popping off and getting lost if you don’t notice they’re missing. This happens with Kahtoola Microspikes which use a similar elastomer harness, but don’t provide an added velcro strap.

The Trail Crampons have a velcro strap that loops over your boot to prevent the trail crampons from popping off.
The Trail Crampons have a velcro strap that loops over your boot to prevent the trail crampons from popping off.

Fit is very important though because the front and rear spike plates will slide off the left or right sides of your boots or shoes if there’s too much slack in the harness. This isn’t dangerous, but you’ll lose a significant portion of your traction if the spikes are not under the soles of your shoes. Hillsound has a wide range of sizes to dial in a good fit, but they size the trail crampons differently, depending on the type of footwear you use. Something to be aware of.

Hillsound Trail Crampons

Weight
Durability
Binding
Traction
Comfort

Must-have Winter Traction

Hillsound Trail Crampons are a winter traction aid for hiking on icy trails where you need longer and more penetrating spikes than those provided by microspikes. They work with all types of footwear and are much lighter weight and safer to use than mountaineering crampons which require special training and boots to use effectively.

Shop Now

How do you know when you should use these Hillsound Trail Crampons instead of Kahtoola Microspikes or Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Ultra product, which both have much smaller spikes?

Good question. If you find yourself hiking on a trail with thick ice, especially ice with a dry surface, you may find that the smaller spikes bounce off the ice and don’t bite into it. That’s a good time to switch to Trail Crampons. Additionally, if you’re hiking up a moderately steep incline or descending one, the longer and sharper spikes on the Trail Crampons will provide a better push-off on the uphill and or heel braking on the downhill. You’ll learn this with experience, but those are the situations to look for.

The front spikes are positioned under the ball of the foot so you get a good pushoff when hiking, especially uphill.
The front spikes are positioned under the ball of the foot so you get a good push-off when hiking, especially uphill.

Recommendation

Hillsound Trail Crampons are a winter traction aid for hiking on icy trails where you need longer and more penetrating spikes than those provided by microspikes. They have an elastomer harness that is compatible with a wide range of soft-soled boots and shoes from insulated winter hiking boots to trail runners. While they are not as aggressive as mountaineering crampons, they are much lighter weight and require no special training to use. I carry mine on almost every winter hike I take and view them as an indispensable tool for winter peakbagging in mountainous terrain.

For a more detailed description of the differences between the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra, the Hillsound Trail Crampons reviewed here, and the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro, see Which Hillsound Trail Cramponsis Right for You?: How to Choose. If you still have questions, just ask in a comment. I’m happy to help.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product.

SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

15 comments

  1. I find Kahtoola Microspikes tend to end up pretty worn with rounded off spikes after a couple of seasons. Do you feel like the the Hill sound model use a more hardened metal alloy? The spikes are certainly longer, which might help, but how tough are they?

    • They’re plenty tough. You know, you can sharpen them both with a file. Most people I know just retire the dull ones and use them as “rock spikes” when there’s very little snow and mainly rocks in autumn and fall, but you still want some traction. Then they buy new ones for full-on winter and cycle through those. They’re inexpensive enough that this is a reasonable strategy. To sharpen, use a Mill bastard file and sharpen the dull tips to the profile of a bic (ball point) pen.

  2. Great piece! We bought Hillsound Trail Crampons, thinking that they were just slightly more hardy than Kahtoola microspikes but still counted as microspikes. We used them on Waumbek last month; trailed was mostly packed and crunchy, only a couple places with visible ice. (No postholing risk unless off trail.) It sounds like we should have both types? We want to be safe, and also didn’t want to double up if they amount to the same. Thanks!

    • I think you’ll find it useful to have both. These trail crampons are quite aggressive and they can be awkward to use on flatter terrain. The hillsound equivalent of microspikes is called the hillsound “ultra”. I usually carry those and only bring the trail crampons when I know there is going to be serious ice on the trail. You can determine this by checking NETrailconditions.com.

      • Thank you so much–that’s very helpful. The trail crampons felt great and secure the day we used them–but it sounds like the others might have been the better choice (except in the one area I described). It was nice to have them on our first winter hike, though.

        The trail conditions site is great. (We luckily met people in the parking lot before hiking up who gave us even more current trail conditions–and told us the snowshoes weren’t necessary that day.)

        Thanks again!

  3. I noticed your NETC report from 3/11/22 where you voluntarily subjected yourself to Fishin Jimmy’s wrath. You stated you broke two of these on that trail. I am thinking about adding these to my traction collection and wanted to better understand how these “broke”. I’m wondering if you had catastrophic failures (total failure rendering the device unusable) or just maybe a busted spike. Could you elaborate on the failures, and whether your opinion of these has changed as a result? Thank you.

    • The chains separated from the plates underneath. Unfortunately, this seems to be a new trend across all manufacturers. It’s easy to fix with a pair of needle-nose pliers and vice-grips, but you have to be very careful not to rip out the elastomer anchors. Despite that failure, I still view these as indispensable and a much more comfortable option than full crampons. I bought two more pairs to keep as a backup. I’m not sure when the failure occurred to be honest. Could have been from Fishing Jimmy up to South Kinsman. I only noticed it coming down from there.

  4. Phillip,
    I have been using the regular micros spikes and purchased the size XL Hillsounds trail crampons. I took your advice years ago and bought a pair of Keen Summit County insulated winter boots in a size 11.5 which I used with the trail crampons. Great suggestion thanks. Anyway, I was hiking March 31 up to Pierce and Eisenhower and the trail crampons were constantly getting loose under my heels and completely slipped off several times. It was a mixed conditioned day with wet snow and slush and firmer snow and solid ice plus some deep sweet snow. I’m thinking the reason why is the size is probably too large and i need a size smaller or is this something you have experience when the surfaces are stickier? I do like the traction when properly secured. Any thoughts? I also bought the Hillsound Trail crampon pro in XL for my 11.5 boot and the ratchet system seems to be able to adjust enough for a secure fit and I don’t feel thees would slip off.
    Thanks
    Tom

    • Sticky snow pulls them off. Happens to everybody. You might try a smaller size. I have a 10.5 boot and I wear a L which is just about perfect. I suspect that the XL is the right size for your boots, but you can check on Hillsound’s sizing charts.

  5. Jeremy Loomis-Norris

    Hi,
    I’m thru’ing the PCT this year and yikes will it be a challenge. I hiked it last year (when, obviously, the snow wasn’t as much of a challenge) and used Black Diamond Distance spikes, which are UL and were good enough for that. For this year, I’m stuck between the Trail Crampons, the Kathoola K10’s, and the Petzl Leopards. I’m leaning toward the Hillsounds because they seem like they’d provide more substanstial traction than “true” microspikes like the BD’s, but I’m nervous as to whether they’ll provide *enough* traction. The issue with the K10’s is that I’ve seen folks say the buckle system gets packed with snow and grit and stops working. Should the Hillsound be enough? Also, I’ve seen rubber or plastic plates on the bottom of some devices to keep snow from accumulating, and one of them (can’t remember which sorry) was just a thin floppy piece of rubber with slits cut in it for the spikes, which made me think- could I just cut my own from a sheet of the same material?

    Thank you, love the site I’ve used it frequently!

    • The K10’s buckles only clog with snow when you take them off – LOL. I think the question you need to ask is how much traction you need vs flotation. Given the snow depths, you might actually want snowshoes, which have crampons too. But I’ll let you decide that. People did carry snowshoes on the PCT when it had snow.

      The Hillsound Trail Crampons do a pretty good job in terms of traction on packed snow and low-angle ice. It’s what I mostly use all winter. You can’t add snowballing plates to them – they’re just too flexible. I’m pretty sure the K10’s come with “skins” for this purpose. I think that’s what you’re referring to. You’d just be better off using them.

      Net net. I’d go with the Hillsounds because they’re less finicky. I do break one or two pairs of them each winter though – the chains snap – but I’m probably hiking on more rock than you. Hope that helps.

  6. How often do you find yourself needing to go to something more aggressive than the trail crampons? I generally use microspikes (Camp Chainsen Light, specifically, which are excellent, btw) with my trail runners in the shoulder season when trails are dry down low and there is ice and/or snow up high. They’re easier to take on and off. When there is snow cover warranting traction door to door, I go with my winter boots and the trail crampons. The size of the footwear warrants different sizing of traction device, so I need two different one’s anyway. I could see how full crampons could be useful on thick, high angle ice on certain trails in the shoulder season over the microspikes and also in above treeline terrain further into winter. However, I cannot fathom spending $100+ on two different traction devices for two different shoes that only gets used 5% of the time. What adjustable length leaf spring crampon might be the best step up from the hillsounds, while having flexibility to go from trail runners to winter boots? Kahtoola K10 or KTS? It looks like the K10s actually aren’t that much more aggressive than the trail crampons (2/3″ vs. 3/4″ spikes).

    • Depends on the route. You can’t always know in advance, so there are times I carry both. I tend to go from trail crampons to grivels (G1 – several models have leaf springs). I also wear 400g boots in winter. i don’t bother with microspikes – they hurt my feet.

      • Could you use something like the G1’s or CAMP Stalkers with trail runners or softer boots, or would that type of binding system be quite uncomfortable with that type of shoe? I tend to be OK in un-insulated boots down into the teens with thick socks and enough room for good circulation. Although I do like the North Face boots you just reviewed….may have to try those out.

        • The g1’s are fine with soft boots, but not the stalkers unless you can find a flexible leaf spring for them. My boots are Oboz bridgers 10″ The problem with wearing a steel or aluminum brampon with an uninsulated boot is that the metal transmits cold. Those TNF boots are great. I really like them, but where’s at the point wear a warm boot is becoming necessary over 4500′ (in the Whites). The primary benefit of a high calf boot in winter is warmth. That’s why there are so few 400g mids and those that are are not rated to -40, but more like -10 (if you believe the manufacturers).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *