Kahtoola’s KTS Crampons are an excellent winter traction aid if you wear soft soled trail runners for winter hiking. This can be particularly useful in spring when the bases 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 soft soled trail runners. 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 a dynamic and adaptive traction system that flexes with a soft soled shoe and not against it.
The KTS Crampon 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.
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.
The Front Binding
The binding at the front of the KTS crampon is made 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.
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.
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 KTS crampons with multiple styles of shoes or boots.
Disclosure: Kahtoola provided Sectionhiker.com with a sample pair of the KTS Crampons for this review.
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