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Which Hillsound Trail Crampon is Right For You? How to Choose

The Hillsound Trail Crampon Family Compared
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Family Compared

Hillsound makes three different types of winter hiking traction aids, which unlike traditional mountaineering crampons, are primarily designed for use with flexible-soled winter boots and shoes.

  1. Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
  2. Hillsound Trail Crampon
  3. Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro

Unfortunately, Hillsound chose to name all three products similarly in a confusing and ambiguous manner, making it hard for hikers to know which product to buy and the conditions in which they will perform the best.

Since I’ve reviewed all of these products in the past and use them for winter hiking, I thought I’d explain the differences between them and when you’d use each. Many of you have asked for a comparison like this, and I’ve tried to distill my experience below. If you still have questions, ask them below in a comment.

Product Spec Comparison

Here are the specs for these products, for easy reference. If you’d like to refer to my original reviews, here they are: Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra (2017), Hillsound Trail Crampon (2011), and Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro (2011).

  • Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra:
    • Binding: Stretchy Elastomer
    • Number of Spikes: 18
    • Spike Length: 1- 1.5 cm / 2/5″- 1/2″ (longer spikes are on the rear traction plate)
    • Boot/Shoe Sizing Compatibility: 6-15 Men’s US
    • Weight: 16 ounces
  • Hillsound Trail Crampon:
    • Binding: Stretchy Elastomer
    • Number of Spikes: 11
    • Spike Length: 1.5 cm / 2/3″
    • Boot/Shoe Sizing Compatibility: 6-15 Men’s US
    • Weight: 16 ounces
  • Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro:
    • Binding: Ratchet Style
    • Number of Spikes: 10
    • Spike Length: 2 cm-2.6 cm / 3/4″-1″
    • Boot/Shoe Sizing Compatibility: 6-15 Men’s US
    • Other features: Anti-balling (orange) plates, two front spikes
    • Weight: 23.6 ounces

Key Differences

  • The Trail Crampon Ultra provides the least traction while the Trail Crampon Pro provides the most. The Trail Crampon is in the middle. You can tell this by the spike length.
  • The Trail Crampon Pro has orange anti-balling plates (see top photo). These prevent wet snow from clumping underneath the crampons making them awkward to walk with, eliminate any traction benefit, and can cause an uncontrolled slide in steeper terrain. The Trail Crampon Ultra and regular Trail Crampon can and do experience snow clumping.
  • The Trail Crampon Pro is the heaviest of the three products, requiring more energy to hike with.
  • The Trail Crampon Pro also the stiffest binding, because it has a center bar, so you can really dig the spikes into thick ice for traction.  This is very important when hiking over steeper, dangerous terrain.
  • The elastomer binding on the Trail Crampon Ultra and the Trail Crampon works well with winter boots and low hikers, even trail runners. The ratchet binding on the Trail Crampon Pro is best used with boots.
  • The Trail Crampon Pro has two front spikes which provide additional traction on steeper slopes. While these spikes are insufficient for climbing vertical ice, they do provide a bigger advantage over the other two models for vigorous winter scrambling.
It's important to wear winter traction aids such as microspikes or crampons when climbing snow or ice-covered rock to prevent as long uncontrolled slide and potential injury.
It’s important to wear winter traction aids when climbing snow or ice-covered rock to prevent a long uncontrolled slide and potential injury (surface condition 6.)

Uncontrolled Slides

While traction aids assist in propelling you up or forward on slippery surfaces, one of their most important functions is preventing “uncontrolled slides”.  Imagine that you’re walking up a packed snow or ice-covered incline or descending one, you fall, and start sliding downhill. That’s what a slide is. Uncontrolled slides can result in serious bodily harm and in certain cases, death. Typical injuries include broken limbs, concussions, and lacerations if you slide into trees, brush, or rocks. (An ice axe is often used in very steep terrain in conjunction with crampons to stop you from sliding very far if you fall, but requires special training to use.)

Winter Surface Conditions

Different types of winter walking surfaces require different types of traction aids and I’ve listed the 12 most common surface conditions you’ll experience, below. These are ordered from easiest to-walk-on to the hardest, in ascending order of difficultly and hazard. I haven’t included vertical ice, because none of the Hillsound traction products are suitable for ice climbing or roped mountaineering.

  1. Packed snow on level ground
  2. Packed snow on an incline or decline
  3. Packed snow on an incline or decline, with the potential for an uncontrolled slide if you fall, and possible injury
  4. Packed snow with icy spots on level ground
  5. Packed snow with icy spots on an incline or decline
  6. Packed snow with icy spots on an incline or decline, with the potential for an uncontrolled slide if you fall, and possible injury
  7. Mixed rock and ice on level ground
  8. Mixed rock and ice on an incline or decline
  9. Mixed rock and ice on an incline or decline, with the potential for an uncontrolled slide if you fall, and possible injury
  10. Solid ice on level ground
  11. Solid ice on an incline or decline
  12. Solid ice on an incline or decline, with the potential for an uncontrolled slide if you fall, and possible injury
The Trail Crampon Ultra is well-suited for walking on mixed rock and ice on an incline or decline, with little danger of an uncontrolled slide (surface condition 10)
The Trail Crampon Ultra is well-suited for walking on mixed rock and ice on an incline or decline, when there’s little danger of an uncontrolled slide (surface condition 8.)

Which Product To Use When

The numbers in the left hand column below refer to the different winter surface conditions listed above, 1-12. As you can see, there’s some overlap in the conditions where you’d want to use the different Hillsound products.

Winter SurfaceTrail Crampon UltraTrail CramponTrail Crampon Pro
1++
2++
3++
4++
5++
6++
7++
8++
9++
10+
11+
12+

While I don’t define “steepness,” a good rule of thumb is to use traction aids with longer length spikes, the greater the slope angle or hazard potential.

The best way to summarize the differences is to say that the:

  • Trail Crampon Ultra is best for use in relatively flat and low consequence conditions, where there’s little chance of an uncontrolled slide
  • Trail Crampon is best for use in steeper conditions, moderate consequence conditions, where there’s a possibility for an uncontrolled slide
  • Trail Crampon Pro is best for use in the steepest or highest consequence conditions, where the risk of an uncontrolled slide would have the most serious consequences.

My Traction System

Given the overlap between these different products, my preference is to carry the Trail Crampon Ultra and the Trail Crampon Pro on my winter hikes, since they subsume all of the conditions where I’d need the Trail Crampon.

For example, I use the Trail Crampon Ultra on long, low-angle approach hikes because it’s the easiest Hillsound traction device to walk with, but switch to the Trail Crampon Pro when I get to steeper, higher consequence terrain. While you “can” walk on easy terrain with the Trail Crampon Pro, it’s not as comfortable and energy efficient as using a lighter weight traction device with an elastomer binding.

You want a full crampon like the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro to hike above treeline on Mt Washington where an uncontrolled slide can result in serious injury
You want a full crampon like the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro to hike above treeline where an uncontrolled slide can result in serious injury. The Trail Crampon and Trail Crampon Ultra don’t provide enough protection and are prone to snow-balling (clumping) because they don’t have anti-balling plates (surface conditions 6,9,12.)

Trip Planning

How do you know what the surface conditions on the trail will be like before a winter hike? There’s no certain way to know, even if you have a very recent trip report, which is why many of us carry snowshoes, a light traction device like the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra, and often a heavier one, like the Trail Crampon Pro on our hikes. It’s better to be prepared than blow a hike, miles from your car, because you didn’t want to carry an extra 16 ounces of traction.

Still reading about the route in a guidebook and looking at a map can give you a lot of insight about what to expect on a winter hike. For example, if your guidebook talks about “open ledges” or cliffs on your route, that’s a good indication that you’ll need a more aggressive traction aid with longer spikes. If you look at a map and your route goes above treeline or crosses steeply angled terrain, that’s a good indication that you’ll want a crampon like the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro with anti-(snow)-balling plates. Good footwork is also important, but beyond the scope of this article (See: Crampon Walking Technique.)

In addition, check the weather each day for a week before your hike. For example, if there’s a thaw and a refreeze, you can anticipate ice. If it snows, followed by a period of heavy wind, you can expect snow drifts and bare rock or exposed ice where the wind had blown the snow away. It pays to plan and be prepared if your winter hikes take you into potentially hostile terrain and weather or to hike with people who are willing to teach these skills to you.

If you have any further questions about the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra, The Hillsound Trail Crampon, or the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro, ask away. I’m happy to help.

Disclosure: Hillsound has provided the author with sample products over the years. 

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21 comments

  1. Hi Philip, is the snow clumping with the regular crampon and crampon ultra considerable? Just wondering if it is enough to be bothersome on the trail.

    • Yes. It’s like trying to balance on top of a bowling ball. Impossible to walk without breaking off the snow first.

      • Your crampon ultra review stated that you highly recommend the product. Is this despite the snowballing effect? I am about to buy a pair and after seeing the ultra review was convinced its what I need. Now I am confused. I live near Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario and we have no hills higher than 2200 feet in the entire province. We do get a fair amount of snow and a good January thaw that tends to ice everything up. (It has been around 36-38 F for the past 6 days). I do no mountaineering. Of the crampon ultra, crampon, pro, and microspikes, which do you recommend?

      • Yes, still highly recommended, The snowballing effect happens occasionally, not constantly, mostly when you hike on wet snow or get the spikes wet by stepping in a puddle or stream and then stepping on snow. When it happens you knock the snowball off. My recommendation depends on the conditions shown in the table above. All the products are good, but it depends on what conditions you need to them to perform for.

      • I know you want me to tell you that you should get the Ultras. The reason I’m not is because you can experience uncontrolled slides on mountains that are just 2200′ feet high. I have no idea what your conditions are – you need to decide. If in doubt, get the Ultras and then add-on a second product if you think you need more traction. You’ll still use the Ultras most of the time, probably.

      • The Ultras are pretty much the same as Katoola Microspikes, which I use for traction 99% of the time in NH. The balling doesn’t happen too often but it is something to be wary of if you are in a spot where traction is vital. If you are somewhere where traction is not vital and you experience constant balling due to snow conditions, you are probably in conditions where you won’t need any extra traction beyond your boot treads.

        If you do consistently hike very steep and/or exposed terrain, then you’d want something more aggressive than the Ultras.

      • Thanks Philip!

      • The anti-balling provisions really do help when hiking in certain types of wet snow. Otherwise you are cussing because you are knocking the snowball off with your poles every few steps. BTW, they shoe trail-riding horses with an anti-balling plate in wet-snow locations – when I lived in Western MA a long time ago, the horse got this every winter.

  2. What timing, this post! I had just yesterday decided to hell with my stupid plastic boots (and therefore my step-in crampons) and realized I should just get some strap-on crampons so I can use non-plastic boots. So with that, I have a question: are the Pros good enough for above treeline in the Whites? You indicate yes but I’d love more details on that.

    And an unrelated-to-crampons question: Where were the photos taken? They are all really nice.

    • For the most part, the pros are sufficient for above treeline hiking in the white, provided you have good footwork and know how to avoid danger zones. The only real benefit with a mountaineering crampon is spike length. Fit with plastic boots is another issue.

      Locations: Fisher mountain near Welch Dickey, Moat mountain trail, lion head on Mt Washington.

      Cheers

    • Thanks. It does look like the Pros have shorter spikes than my step-ins but I think I’m willing to make that trade in order to accommodate foot comfort.

  3. Timely review since I experienced a couple slides,snowballing and my microspikes coming off this weekend.
    I was already looking into the Pro’s. However, I read a few reviews of people who said the connecting piece bent or broke due to shoe flex. I got as far as comparing the Pro’s to the Black Diamond Contact Straps which had some of the same type reviews. Do you consider this to be an issue with this type of crampon used with regular winter hiking boots? I use both Keen Revel II and Salomon Toundra boots.

    • I’ve used the pros for many years with nonrigid boots including the Toundra. I’m surprised that anyone could break them although it’s a possibility I suppose if you wear a very large sized boot. If you go with the BD crampon, be sure to buy a flexible leaf spring…a center bar designed for a soft boot. They’re configured out of the box for rigid mountaineering boots and you will likely bend or break them if you wear a soft boot with the rigid center bar.

  4. I climbed Kinsman this weekend with temps hovering above freezing and the trail being mostly loose snow with a number of icy patches. Everyone in my group had Microspikes (which look similar to the Ultras) while I had the Trail Crampon. I barely ever slipped, but did notice how some people in the group were slipping on the looser terrain and also had a bit more trouble going up the steep icy patches. Maybe it was technique, maybe the loose snow, but this trip made me think the Trail Crampon has better traction due to longer spikes. Just my $0.02

    • There are parts of that route, especially the Fishing Jimmy Trail, where I like to use the Trail Crampon Pro myself. The problem with the Trail Crampon (and why I prefer the Pro over it) is that the rear spikes have a tendency to slip off the boot and up the boot’s side when braking on a decline with the heel spikes.

  5. Thanks for the comparison. I’m planning for a trip up Mt. Whitney. You say the Trail Crampon Pro is best used with boots. I’m currently looking for a trail runner that suits me. Would the Pro not work well with, say, the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor?

  6. I see you include trail runners in your Hillsound Cypress 6 review. Would you consider this a poor choice for hiking Mt. Whitney in June?

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