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, Hillsound Trail Crampons, and Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro.

  • 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 Crampons:
    • 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 ax 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 difficulty 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. 

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and some sellers may contribute a small portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

Most Popular Searches

  • Hillsound Equipment Trail Crampon Ultra reviews
  • Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
  • hillsound flexstep vs freestep

6 comments

  1. Hi,

    I’ve been going back and fourth between Kahtoola MICROspikes vs. Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra and your review on Hillsound products could change my decision to Trail Crampon Pro. You are right Hillsound naming their products are confusing because aren’t their Trail Crampon Ultra and Trail Crampon really what people call spikes? We will try 36 miles continues fast hike in the Catskills Devil’s Path on Feb 5th and a lot of elevation. And I’m wondering if I should purchase Trail Crampon Pro instead of Kahtoola MICROspikes vs. Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra. I apprecaite your opinions. Thank you!

    • I haven’t been in the Devil’s Path for a long time and never in winter. There’s isn’t any huge performance difference between kahtoola microspikes and hillsound ultras. Do you need pros instead? I think your best bet is to find some posted trail conditions and decide based on what they tell you. If it’s packed out which I would expect on such a popular route, I’d go with the ultras. If it’s solid ice, then the Pros. Sometimes you need both. When in doubt carry both. The Pros aren’t something you’ll enjoy jogging in and I wouldn’t really want to wear them continuously for 36 miles.

      • Thank you Philip! I decided to go with Hillsound Pro I can’t find them and they are sold out on amazon.com.

  2. Can you give some trail/mountain examples in NH that each traction device would be useful on? Ex. I’m assuming pros on the ridge of Franconia would be useful?

    • It really depends on the trail conditions. For more dangerous winter hikes like Franconia ridge it pays to carry both. For instance Crampons can be difficult to use on bare rock if you have little experience. But they are fine on packed snow. There’s also the issue of slope angle and the danger of a slide. You need to assess the traction need depending on the trails you plan to use. There are numerous ways up to Franconia and most mountains on the 48 list. Learn about the trails not the mountains. The best way is to experience them with people who have travelled in them before and can advise you. Not the easy answer you were looking for but the truth. This isn’t paint by numbers.

    • Philip makes a really good point here, actually several. First off Franconia Ridge is not a mountain. There are many trails that climb it. It’s normal to carry several forms of traction to climb it including snowshoes, micro spikes, and crampons all on the same hike because different sections of a trail may require switching. Finally, if you’ve never been there in winter, go with someone who has. That’s true of any above tree line 4000 footer in the Whites.

Leave a Reply

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

error: