HILLSOUND TRAIL CRAMPON PRO
TEST SERIES BY MIKE PEARL
INITIAL REPORT - December 28, 2018
FIELD REPORT - March 12, 2019
LONG TERM REPORT - May 02, 2019
Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
5' 9" (1.75 m)
155 lb (70.30 kg)
I have a great appreciation for the outdoors and get out at every opportunity. I am a three-season, learning to be a four-season backpacker and year-round hiker. Currently, my trips are two to three days long as well as an annual week-long trip. I utilize the abundant trail shelters in my locale and pack a backup tarp-tent. I like to cover big distances while still taking in the views. I have lightweight leanings but function and reliability are the priority. I mostly travel woodland mountain terrain but enjoy hiking beautiful trails anywhere.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2018
Made in Korea
Manufacturer's Website: Hillsound.com
Sizes Available: Regular and Extra Large
Size Tested: Regular
Regular fits shoe sizes US Women's 7 through US Men's 12 or EU 37 - 46
Extra Large fits shoe sizes US Men's 12 though 15 or EU 46 - 50
This is meant to be a guide only actual fit depends on type, style and make of footwear.
Listed Weight: 23.5 oz (667 g) for regular pair and 24.8 oz (704 g) for extra large pair
Measured Weight: 24.6 oz (698 g) regular pair
X-shaped polycarbonate harness
Ratchet buckle bindings
Length adjustable with tool-less spring bar
Four heel spikes
Heat-treated carbon steel spikes
3/4 to 1 in (2 to 2.6 cm) spike height
Ten spikes per crampon
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro's are categorized as "winter hiking traction". They are recommended for use during winter hiking, glacier travel and backcountry hiking. They are not mountaineering crampons and not designed for technical ascents or ice climbing.
Additional guidelines are to avoid use on stairs or indoor surfaces. Only use crampons on icy or snowy terrain. Use with footwear that has a rigid or semi-rigid sole.
Hillsound crampons have a 2-year limited warranty for the original retail buyer, only against damage due to poor workmanship and/or defective materials, excluding normal wear and tear, oxidation, alterations and modifications, damage by mechanical force, improper storage and maintenance, and uses for which the product is designed.
The Pro's arrived inside a cardboard box. The outside of the box listed the features of the crampons in both English and French. Inside the box I found the crampons, alpine stoppers and instruction pamphlet. Taking the crampons out of the box the first thing I notice is how the front plate slides on the length bar. This gives me two thoughts, this should make them more compact for stowing in my pack and this could be a point of stress / fatigue and failure. Next the spikes came into view. They seem well placed to "grab" and hold traction. They have a decent point and appear sturdy. The rear plate is intuitive and easy to adjust. All the hinge points of the bindings freely move and look solidly attached. The buckles are the most attractive feature to me. I am not a big fan of D-ring buckles which I have the most experience with. The ratchet buckles are so easy to use I think I could work them with gloves on. The alpine stoppers are easy to slide onto the straps and prevent the buckles from moving. However I am concerned about the potential of dropping one in the snow. This would negate the benefit of keeping my gloves on when adjusting the straps.
All materials, components and construction of the crampons are of good quality. I can find no flaws or defects in the crampons. All parts appear sturdy and rugged. At first pass I was slightly concerned with the straps and cold temperatures. Then I read in the instruction pamphlet that the crampons have been tested to -50 C (-58 F). At lower temperatures the polycarbonate buckles and metal can become brittle and break. I highly doubt I will ever encounter such an extreme temperature so that concern is dismissed.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
I find the crampons to be fairly intuitive and was able to attach them to my boots without instructions. However there are a few moving parts that reading the instructions helped clarify. The last thing I want on a dicey trail when relying on a traction device is for it to fail due to user error. With that in mind I carefully read the instructions.
The first thing the instructions cover before even putting the crampons on is safety inspection.
Before every use it is recommended to check every component; buckles, straps, fasteners and metal of each crampon for damage; breaks, tears, bends or warping. Test each crampon for proper fit prior to use, I would insert here "at home". Inspection prior to using them when the trail gets icy or even at the trail head is too late. A failing crampon at this point could wreck a hike.
Next is fastening and removing the crampons to the footwear. The instructions mention this is easiest while seated. First is adjusting the crampon for correct length. This is done by pulling the front plate forward until it stops. Then lifting the tab on the rear plate raising a pin allows the length of the crampon to be adjusted. There are twelve holes along the bar to fit the pin to optimize proper fit to footwear. This is the tool-less spring bar length adjustment.
Now the crampon can be fastened to the footwear. Place toe on front plate so the two front straps sit flush with the front of footwear. Wrap the X-shaped straps around the foot and pass straps through ratchet buckles. Tighten buckles until the crampon does not move on footwear. Check that front and rear plates sit square under forefoot and heel. The heel strap should fit snug against the back of footwear.
If wearing the crampons in deep snow the alpine stoppers can be used to prevent the ratchet buckles from loosening. Snow can build up between the X-strap and ratchet buckles, lifting the buckle and loosening the crampon. The alpine stoppers are directional the end with the wider opening is labeled "in / lock". The end of the strap is inserted into this end. The stopper is then slid up the strap until it rest behind the buckle. To remove squeeze the plastic tabs on the sides of the stopper and slid down the strap.
To remove the crampons, with alpine stoppers removed pull up on the front tab of the ratchet buckle. Slid the straps out of the buckle and remove foot from crampon.
The crampons having pointy metal parts require proper care and transportation when not in use. After each use, clean with fresh water, dry with clean cloth and store is cool dry place. To prevent rust apply a thin coat of oil on the steel plates, hinges and spikes by wiping with a oil soaked cloth. The use of a sturdy bag is suggested to protect both the spikes and personal belongings when the crampons are not is use.
TRYING IT OUT
I adjusted the length of the crampons with my boot removed. I found it easier to manipulate the boot and the crampon to inspect proper fit. It took me three moves of the rear plate pin to achieve the correct length. Then with my boots on I attached the crampons while sitting. I did this on a bench outside on the crusty snow covered ground. The crampons are a breeze to put on. I lifted both toe and heel straps opening the binding and making positioning my foot easy. Then folding the straps onto my boot I feed the straps into the buckles and a few ratchet clicks had the crampons snugly on my feet.
The crampons dug into the snow with each step. While I noticed the bite into the snow with each step I did not feel any other mentionable difference. The length bar has a fair amount of flex to it allowing for a pretty natural stride.
Removing the crampons are even easier than putting them on. Just lifting the buckle and pulling the strap out does it. The straps fold down, the length bar slides into the front plate and placing spikes to spikes they are compact and easy to carry. My winter day pack has a few external attachment points and the crampons fit there securely. My winter overnight pack has external pocket for traction devices and the crampons fit with room to spare.
I think I am going to like the Trail Crampon Pro's. The level of traction and ease of use combine to make this a great winter hiking traction device. They seem to strike a great balance between aggressive and user friendly.
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro's are a smartly designed and well made winter traction device. They are aggressive without be intimidating to use. I like that they are adjustable and compatible with a variety of footwear. I think the tool-less adjustment is key here to easy and reliable use. I have only two concerns at this point. The wear and tear related to the movement between the front plate and length bar. And the possibility of loosing one or more of the alpine stoppers to a drop in the snow. As I write this we are experience an unwelcome thaw and freeze cycle. The silver lining here is the Trail Crampon Pro's are perfect for such conditions and I am eager to crunch some ice with them.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Balch Hill - Hanover, New Hampshire
Distance and Elevation - 3 mi (4.8 km) from 525 to 950 ft (160 to 290 m)
Pack weight - 15 lbs (6.8 kg)
Temperature and Conditions - 10 F (-12 C) and sunny, snow pack frozen solid after a thaw
Burnt Mountain - Lebanon, New Hampshire
Distance and Elevation - 8 mi (13 km) from 520 to 1000 ft (158 to 300 m)
Pack weight - 15 lb (6.8 kg)
Temperature and Conditions - 20 F (-7 C) and cloudy, still frozen solid with areas of ice
Girl Brook - Hanover, New Hampshire
Distance and Elevation - 6 mi (9.5 km) from 530 to 390 ft (162 to 120 m)
Pack weight - 15 lbs (6.8 kg)
Temperature and Conditions - -10 F (-23 C) calm and crisp, light dry snow over hard packed snow
Velvet Rocks - Hanover, New Hampshire
Distance and Elevation - 8 mi (13 km) from 525 to 1300 ft (160 to 400 m)
Pack weight - 15 lbs (6.8 kg)
Temperature and Conditions - 15 F (-9 C) and windy, some fresh snow over old hard stuff
Mt Cube - Lyme, New Hampshire
Distance and Elevation - 5 mi (8 km) from 1400 to 2909 ft (437 to 887 m)
Pack Weight - 20 lbs (9 kg)
Temperature and Conditions - 25 to 10 F (-4 to -12 C) calm and clear, soft snow over consolidated trail
with ice on steeper sections
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Conditions as this season got underway were heavy on the need for traction. The nice base of snow we had was turned "boiler plate" after a thaw, freeze cycle. After several days of that it was followed by a rain, freeze event so bare boots were less than optimal. Lucky for me the Trail Crampons ate these conditions right up.
The first hike out on Balch Hill the terrain is not very steep. This was a comfortable place to get acquainted with the crampons. The surface was quite hard and with bare boots difficult to hold any footing. Putting the crampons on I easily cruised up and back down the hill. My boots held snug in the crampons and all I really noticed was the distinct crunching sound of the spikes biting into the snow. The Burnt Mountain hike stepped it up a notch as the terrain was steeper and I encountered a few spots of ice. I found in both situations I had to slightly adjust my footsteps to engage the spikes to fully gain secure footing. This is not really something true of only the Trail Crampons but all crampons. The more spikes in contact the better the traction is true of all crampons. The nice thing with the Trail Crampons however is they are fairly flexible making it easier to engage the spikes than a stiffer crampon.
My third hike with the Trail Crampons was an overnight and we pleasantly received 3 in (8 cm) of fresh snow. This made a big difference making the moderate sections of trail much more enjoyable. It was easier to hike and the Styrofoam sound made by the frozen snow was muted. However on the steep and rocky section this new snow just slid off and collected down below. I still encountered serious challenges here and each step in the crampons required thoughtful placement. I was really impressed with the traction here and safely climbed through each section without a slip. I left the crampons outside my tent overnight. I was not looking forward to handling cold metal and plastic parts in the morning to start my hike back down. However my fingers stayed toasty as I was able to put the crampons on while wearing gloves with no problems. The hike back down was made just as easy as the way up. The only difference was a slower pace. I had to concentrate and remind myself to use a crossover or side step which I had learned on a recent mountaineering course. This as the name suggest involves stepping sideways downhill with the leading leg. Then taking the trailing leg and crossing it in front of the leading as one steps down. The leading now trailing leg swings behind the crossover leg and steps down. This happens in sequence until reaching easier terrain. The same technique can be used to travel uphill. This step makes steep sections more manageable but being new to it requires me to focus. I also realized that it is much easier to do this step in a crampon with a small spike. The less the spike the less chance of snagging a gaiter or boot.
The only negative of the hike occurred on the drive home. At the car I removed the Trail Crampons and tossed them on the floor of the car. My pack shifted and fell on top of the crampons. I didn't worry about the pack because it is made of thick material for just this type of thing. The crampons having carried a much great weight than my pack I didn't think twice about. However while at home putting away my gear I noticed one of the straps on a crampon was bent. I tried to bend it back but it just returned to the bent position. Not wanting to stress the material from repeated bending I left if bent. I then tried feeding the strap through the buckle and it worked fine. While it doesn't look so slick bent it still works as intended.
After that I made it out on two more day hikes. The next hike was a cold one. I was most interested in how the plastic straps, especially the bent one would handle the cold. The lower temp called for my warmer winter boots. Reaching the trail head after a short road walk I realized the warm boot is also bigger. This required an in field adjustment to the spring bar. This was super fast and easy even with gloves on. After the length matched the boots the crampons went on without a problem. I looped together the steep gullies finding some ice along the way. Back at the trail head the plastic strap buckle system work just as it had before, even the bent one. The last hike also required a length adjustment. I forgot to reset the crampon for the smaller boot and this hike I of course used the smaller boot. The spring bar length is so easy to change it was no trouble at all. At Velvet Rocks the trail travels through a big rock fissure. It goes down one side across the bottom and back up the other side. Both up and down are very steep and the middle is strewn with rocks. This is a great place for crampons as it's almost impossible without in winter conditions. I did the up and down twice as it was so fun to gain secure steps in the Trail Crampons.
I am very happy with the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros performance during this portion of the test series. They are easy to put on, take off and make adjustments to while in use. The ratchet buckle system is so easy that I can work them while wearing a midweight fleece glove. This remains true even with the bend in one of the ratchet straps. As reference I have a very hard time tying shoelaces wearing these gloves. The traction has been very adequate providing solid and confident footing under all conditions met. The Trail Crampons have worked well with both pairs of my winter boots. The crampons fit each boot well and attach securely without any movement. One boot is slightly larger and required an in field adjust to the crampon length. I was able to increase and then decrease the size to the respective boot all while wearing the before mentioned gloves. The anti-ball plates have shed snow just fine although they haven't been too challenged. All snow conditions thus far have been dry or frozen solid. But no worries there as spring is here and the snow will get wet and sticky. I cannot comment on the alpine stoppers. I have not used them because if the snow is deep enough to require them I am using snowshoes.
These crampons do exactly what I need them to do. They provide the traction to keep me up right and moving forward on the trail. The only one minor ding is the one bent strap but it has not interfered with use or function at all. I am looking forward to using the Trail Crampons in the warmer weather and softer snow conditions.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Moose Mountain - Hanover, New Hampshire
Distance and Elevation - 10 mi (16 km) from 1350 to 2300 ft (410 to 700 m)
Temperature and Conditions - 40 F (4 C) calm and gray
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
While the winter provided a fair amount of snow this spring brought abundant rain early on. This washed away the snow quicker than I was able to keep up with. I was able to get out on one more long hike with the Trail Crampons before conditions made them unnecessary.
It was prime maple sugaring with above freezing days and below freezing nights. While this makes the sweet sap run it makes the snow sour. Early and mid-morning on the trail I found hard, crunchy snow. By afternoon and early evening the snow was soft, mushy and wet. The transition between these two conditions was unsettling at first. The crampons have hard, firm bites under the first condition. Then as I cruised along absorbed in the moment I noticed a sloshing and slip feeling underfoot. This required me to adjust my gait and pressure applied underfoot to get the crampons to hold in the different textured snow. The Trail Crampons did quite nicely in both conditions. I never fell, felt at risk of falling or slipped more than a step or two. I took the crampons off when I took a break to snack. Then just for a point of reference I hiked a few minutes without them. I had to expend more energy and focus as the snow really pushed my feet around. Putting the crampons back on made a very obvious difference allowing me to hike much faster and feel more secure on the trail. I did not experience any balling of snow as the anti-balling plates did a fine job shedding the wet, sticky snow. The strap with the bend in it remains as it was in the previous report. The ratchet system still works fine on this strap as well as the others. The snow softened late in the day. Several times I sank in the snow with it covering the crampons. I still didn't use the Alpine Stoppers and never had my boot slip in the crampons. However I noticed when I stopped for a snack and again back at the car the strap was not as tight as I had initially set it. I wish I had brought as least one pair with me to test. Next season I will definitely compare with and without the Stoppers. The Trail Crampons made hiking in variable spring conditions much more manageable and enjoyable.
It was a great winter and the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro's definitely played their part. They provided excellent traction in all conditions all the while being comfortable on my boots. They allowed me to use two different size boots with the adjustment being quick and easy. As easy goes putting them on and taking them off is as easy as it gets. I never had cold fingers when using these crampons because I never had to take my gloves off to put the crampons on. Additionally I could dial in the amount of pressure I wanted at each ratchet point making the crampons fit secure and reliable. Other than the small bend on one strap and the minor scratches on the points from rock and ice the Trail Crampons remain in excellent condition. I look forward to using them for many winters to come.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.
This concludes my Long-Term Report. I extend my appreciation to both Hillsound and BackpackGearTest.org for making this test series possible.
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