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Reviews > Snow Gear > Crampons > Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro > Test Report by Richard Lyon
HILLSOUND TRAIL CRAMPON PRO
Test Series by Richard Lyon
Initial Report January 1, 2019
Field Report March 11, 2019
Long Term May 7, 2019
PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 72 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 210 lb (93 kg)
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Outside Bozeman, Montana USA, in the Bridger Mountains
Shoe size: 13 US / 47 EUR
I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Though always looking for ways to reduce my pack weight, I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences. I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Winter activities are often on skis or snowshoes.
INITIAL REPORT - January 1, 2019
The name says it all. The Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro is a set of cleats "designed for hiking," as the manufacturer states in the first sentence of the User Manual that accompanies the product. The next sentence is equally direct and clear - "These are not mountaineering crampons and are not made for technical climbing."
Manufacturer: Hillsound Equipment, Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Product: Trail Crampon Pro
Related products: Hillsound offers four other models of non-technical hiking crampons.
Size: XL [for boot sizes 12-15 US/46-50 EUR]; also available in Regular
Weight, listed: 704 g / 24.8 oz per pair
Weight, measured: 25.2 oz / 714 g, without Alpine Stoppers
Number of spikes: Ten, six on the forefoot and four on the heel.
Spike height, listed and measured: 2 to 2.6 cm / 0.75 to 1 in
Spike material: Heat-treated carbon steel
Warranty: Two years from date of purchase, to the original buyer, for defects in workmanship or material; wear and tear are excluded. Hillsound recommends repair and warranty service through the retailer from which the product was purchased.
MSRP: $79 US
Includes: Two crampons, left- and right-specific; four Alpine Stoppers [see below]; Users Manual with information in English and French
Each crampon has two steel plates and each plate has an anti-balling plate [orange] riveted on its underside. As more fully described below each crampon has two adjustment mechanisms: a steel lever on the rear plate to adjust overall length, and a ratchet on the strap buckles to adjust for height and girth of different footwear. The connecting bar has "Left" or "Right" engraved on it.
The spikes are held in place by an X-shaped polycarbonate harness that sits atop the boot. A rivet at the axis of the X allows some flexibility. This design is new to me. My other cleats have either fabric hook-and-loop straps that cross the front and top of the boot or a rubber or metal connector that runs from front to back along the boot's sides. Hillsound asserts that the Crampons' design reduces pressure points.
TRYING THEM ON
I tried the Crampons on four pairs of boots: OBOZ Bridger 8" Insulated [tested on this site]; another 8" OBOZ model, probably Wind River; OBOZ Bridger Low; and Sorel apres-ski boots. After adjustment the Crampons fit the first three easily but could not be extended long enough to fit the Sorels. This was expected; Sorels are bulky boots not intended [and not used by this writer] for extended hiking.
Adjusting the length is easy. I simply raised the lever on the heel piece and inserted the mold into the penultimate forward slot for the over-the-ankle boots, and the antepenultimate slot for the low-cuts.
Fitting to specific boots is also easy. After setting the proper length I place the boot's toe between the two toe straps, aiming for a flush fit with the attachment point of the straps at the middle of the boot, just under the bottom of the laces. Fit the heel into its place, then run the ridged straps through the ratchet buckles on each side, tightening each so that there's no movement of the Crampon.
I heartily endorse Hillsound's understated suggestion that it's much easier to complete this operation while seated. I'll add another one, to attach the Crampons before donning one's boots.
The right-hand Crampon on the Wind River boot, on the right below, has the Alpine Stoppers attached. These are also easy to install by pressing in on the small nubs on each side of the Stopper and moving the Stopper as far as it will go, up against the Crampon buckle. Hillsound recommends using these pieces whenever snow deeper than five inches [12.5 cm] is expected. They are designed to eliminate movement of the ratchet caused by pressure from the snow.
All adjustment and installation instructions are laid out in non-technical, easy-to-understand English [or French, if you prefer] in the User Guide and the small instruction sheet that accompanies the Stoppers. I found the entire operation intuitive as well.
To begin with the most obvious, these are stout cleats, with each spike considerably longer than those on many other traction aids that I own or have owned. The toe spikes, set diagonally on the front of each Crampon, are a first for me outside of the few times that I have donned true mountaineering crampons. I plan to concentrate testing on steeper and deeper terrain, as much off-trail as possible.
I like Hillsound's use of polycarbonate rather than chainlink metal for the straps. I've had considerable trouble with linked spikes' breaking from use, which thanks to Murphy's Law has usually happened at very inopportune times and places.
The Stoppers seem to me to be well-intended, as I have encountered slippage of ratchet-controlled straps on various products. Use of plastic worries me a bit as it can turn brittle in colder temperatures. But Hillsound claims that the Stoppers [and the rest of the product] have been tested successfully down to -50 C [-58 F], a range that I consider devoutly to be avoided.
The Bridger Range, where I live, had a decent blizzard a few days ago, leaving about eight inches [20 cm] of fresh snow. With the Crampons on my Insulated OBOZ Bridgers I took a thirty-minute hike through the draw behind my house this morning. Sunny, windless, and a brisk 4 F [-15 C]. Good, firm grip throughout; I had no need of ski poles even on the steepest inclines. A very promising start.
Simple yet functional design and very easy to adjust, put on, or take off.
Use of plastic in the Alpine Stoppers
I'm afraid I'll misplace the Stoppers. They are small and must be removed each time I take off the boots.
The second of my Concerns would be ameliorated had Hillsound included a storage pouch, which of course would also be useful in keeping the spikes back-to-back when in my pack. I plan to purchase one [MSRP $10 US] as soon as possible.
FIELD REPORT - March 11, 2019
Let me begin by thanking Hillsound's PR representative, whom I met at the Outdoor Retailer Show, for sending me a Spikeeper, which has removed the one Dislike from my Initial Report. Spikeeper is the name of the company's crampon bag/sac de crampon. It is a pouch made of lightweight [2.75 oz/78 g] heavy-duty fabric with a toggle-controlled closure at the top and a large hook-and-loop connector for threading a belt or pack strap through. Strictly speaking the Spikeeper is not intended for the Trail Crampon Pros, at least according to Hillsound's website. But at 8 x 9 inches/20 x 23 centimeters it's large enough to store the Crampons spike-to-spike with a bit exposed at the top. Because of the connector it need not be stored inside my pack. The connector [called "Rip-and-Stick" by Hillsound] can be opened and closed, so I don't need to undo a pack strap or my belt to attach it. In my opinion a thoroughly well-designed and functional accessory, well worth its $10 US MSRP, and perfectly adequate for the Trail Crampon Pros.
Last month set a record for snow in February here in the Bozeman area. Many roads and trails, when not covered in powder snow, are hard-packed ice, and therefore ideal terrain for the Trail Crampon Pros. I have worn them, almost always with my Oboz Insulated Bridger boots [pictured in my Initial Report], on a number of day hikes and occasionally on dog walks. From habit or laziness I only wore gaiters once, trusting to the built-in powder cuffs on my trousers to keep the powder out. Temperatures have ranged from 25 to -20 F [-4 to -29 C], with the warmer temperatures in January and the colder ones in February. [In addition to all the snow, it was the coldest February here in several decades, with the mercury below 0 F/-17 C for a solid week.] For reasons that I explain in the following section the Crampons' use was usually reserved for hikes with significant off-trail travel or trail-breaking expected, and in steeper terrain. About ten day hikes and another ten dog walks. So far the snow has been mostly Northern Rockies cold smoke, the feathery powder with little moisture that skiers love but which gives a hiker very little traction.
Field use has confirmed my first impression - these are stout cleats. Their grip is firm, whether biting into ice, hardpack, or whatever sits below the powder. I've had no slippage, even on fairly steep sidehill descents. The grip has been a lifesaver or at least a knee-saver on beaten-down hardpack in popular spots such as trailhead parking lots, the much-travelled Middle Cottonwood Canyon or College M Trails, and icy roads, including the dirt roads in the subdivision where I live.
The grip and the long front spikes scared me a bit at first. I feared overgripping and catching a spike too tightly in the snow and consequently losing balance. This is the reason that I began my testing on steeper and icier slopes, where that risk was worth taking to avoid a skid or total loss of traction. The risk never materialized, however, and I began using the Crampons on flatter terrain as well.
I have used the Stoppers on all hikes but one, and all are intact and safely stowed. They do their job of holding the straps in place and haven't seemed to suffer from the extreme cold. Between hikes I stow them in a small ziplock bag that first was stored in one of my boots or in a pack pocket but now lives in the Spikeeper.
The Crampons' design seems to reduce balled snow to a minimum, as I have yet to have to do anything but gently tap my boots to remove accumulated snow. Of course the cold smoke isn't the toughest testing medium for that. I am interested to see how they handle the heavier stuff that will come as spring arrives. Stay tuned for results.
The Crampons are easy to adjust. I haven't done too much of this, as most of the time I simply attach them to my boots at home, wear moccasins while driving to the trailhead, and don the spiked-up boots upon arrival at the trailhead. A few times though I've removed them to walk on a solid surface - such as the smooth cement floor in my garage - and a couple of times I switched them over to lighter and smaller footwear. After a struggle or two at first I've become adept at getting them on and off. On one occasion I had some trouble with ice on the threads, probably caused by a sunny hiking stretch followed by a spell in the woods, but a minute or so of harm hands melted the ice, allowing removal.
I have little cause for complaint. I remain worried about losing a Stopper, but it hasn't happened yet. and I must be careful when walking on a solid surface while wearing the Crampons. Neither of these is any fault of the manufacturer and the latter is due to placing a few minutes' convenience over proper care. Overall I'm very pleased with the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros.
LONG TERM REPORT - May 7, 2019
The early part of the past two months provided hiking conditions quite different from those described in my Field Report. It was warmer, with daytime temperatures usually between 25-40 F [-4 to 4 C], a happy respite from a thoroughly frozen February. Days were longer, something I notice especially at the beginning of spring. This combination meant much denser snow, both on the accumulated snowpack and in the new snowfall. The former, thanks to a banner snow year, was substantial. We had plenty of the latter, including a genuine blizzard last week. My hiking conditions changed from Bridger Bowl cold smoke to wet, heavy slop that approached the consistency of damp cement at times. Good for testing, less fun for hiking, and definitely more exertion when outdoors.
I wore the Crampons for six or so day hikes on established trails, two wildlife tracking morning expeditions, four or five short hikes in the woods near my house on another sort of tracking described below, and a few dog walks. Almost all of this except the dog walks was done in fair weather though I did encounter a couple of brief snow or sleet squalls. I wore my OBOZ Insulated Bridger boots on all occasions.
As expected, spring snow conditions put the anti-balling capabilities of the Crampons to the test. They passed that test admirably. On particularly sloppy snow [perhaps more accurately called slush] I would occasionally have to stop to knock off a ball of junk with a trekking pole, but this didn't happen very often and never got to the point - as it has with other traction aids I have worn - when every other step required a cleaning. The few times I had to clean the cleats occurred when breaking trail in the woods, a day or two after an accumulation of fresh snow, which meant 2-5 inches [5-13 cm] of heavy snow atop earlier untouched slop that was denser than the fresh, often mixed with underbrush and downed tree branches. This hiking was done after discovering mountain lion tracks around my home in an effort to see if there was a den nearby or we only had a tourist visit. The draw behind my house is fairly steep and seldom hiked; the only trails are a few made by families of deer. So this was full-on bushwhacking in conditions in which, in hindsight, I'd probably have been better off on snowshoes. The Crampons gripped firmly at all times, however, and gave no cause for major complaint.
Hiking on established trails revealed the only limitation on the Crampons' use that I discovered during this Test. They worked well in hardpacked snow but less well in thin cover or frozen ground. The long front spikes sometimes dug deeply into the dirt, requiring attention to avoid falling forward. Mixed hardpack and open ground are regular features of many of the trails around here when temperatures start melting the snow, and in those conditions these Crampons are too grabby. It is for that reason that after warmer weather, with its freeze-and-thaw mornings, arrived I stopped using them on dog walks. I see this as a limitation, not a flaw. I look at the Trail Crampon Pros as a cross between full crampons, for mountaineering or glacier crossings, and trail spikes, for hardpacked trails and sidewalk use. Their niche - and it's a broad one - suits most of my winter hiking just fine.
Perhaps because the Crampons are left-and-right-specific, I've noticed no lateral slippage during my hiking. I've left the Crampons on one pair of boots for most of the past two months, but I did remove them on two day hikes on which the snow cover was erratic. Each time I had no difficulty replacing them on the boots before starting my next hike. These are easy to adjust, attach, and remove.
I have carefully toweled off the Crampons after each use and always stored them somewhere dry. The cleats have a few nicks, but no deformities or anything that has affected performance. The plastic straps remain flexible, and my fear of losing a Stopper or two has proven unfounded. I've used the Stoppers on every hike and still have all four. Based on this Test I expect several more winters of good use.
The Trail Crampon Pros are a terrific product, as effective a non-technical traction aid as I have ever used. I have only two bits of advice to prospective buyers. First, be aware that these are not for casual use; they're for hiking. Second, it's worth the small additional investment to acquire a storage pouch. Unless one's pack is tightly stuffed the long sharp spikes can rend even heavy canvas.
My Test Report ends here. My thanks to Hillsound and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.
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