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 a 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:
- a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes weighs 12.6 oz,
- a pair of Black Diamond Contact strap-on crampons weighs 29 oz,
- a pair of Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro step-in crampons weighs 32 oz
- a pair of 25 ” MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes weighs 60 oz
- a pair of 22″ MSR Lightning Axis Snowshoes weighs 64 oz.
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.
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. Snow balling 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.
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.
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