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Reviews > Snow Gear > Crampons > Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro > Test Report by joe schaffer

Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro

Test Report by Joe Schaffer

INITIAL REPORT - December 28, 2018
FIELD REPORT - March 16, 2019
LONG TERM REPORT - May 9, 2017
NAME: Joe Schaffer
EMAIL: never2muchstuff(at)yahoo(dot)com
AGE: 71
HOME:  Bay Area, California USA

     I enjoy California's central Sierras, camping every month with a goal to match my age in nights out each year. For comfort I lug tent, mattress, chair and such. Typical summer trips run 5-8 days; 40 lb (18 kg), about half food and water related; about 5 miles (8 km) per hiking day. I winter base camp most often at 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 50 lb (23 kg); a mile or so (1.6 km) on snowshoes. Sometimes I tug a sled over packed and/or icy terrain.

Product: Trail Cramponside Pro

Manufacturer:  Hillsound Equipment, Inc.
   Features (excerpted from mfr. website)
    X-shaped polycarbonate harness reduces pressure points found in many conventional crampons
    Anti-balling plates stop snow from balling under the device and affecting traction
    Utilizing simple ratchet buckle bindings, these crampons can be fastened to most footwear effortlessly
    Alpine stoppers (included with product) prevent buckles from loosening in deep snow
    NEW: Length adjustable with tool-less spring bar
    Light and compact to fit in your pack
    4 heel spikes give excellent traction on descents

Tech Specs:
    Spike Material: Heat-treated carbon steel
    Spike Height: 3/4" - 1″(2 cm-2.6 cm)
    Spike Number: 10
    Weight from diagram (pair):  23.5 oz (667 gm) Regular;  24.8 oz (704 gm) X-Large

Recommended for:
    Non-technical Approaches
    Glacier Walking
    Wet/Snowy/Icy Trail
    Ice Sheets
    Deep Snow

Limited warranty: 2 years

MSRP: $79 US
My Specs:  (Regular)
    Weight: L 12 1/4  oz (347 gm)
                 R 12 1/4 oz (349 gm)
                 Clips: 1/2 oz (13 gm)
    Pair: 24 1/2 oz (709 gm)

Received: December 27, 2018

My Description:
    These are moderate-use steel-frame universal crampons that work with almost any hiking footwear. The bindings flex a little but don't have much stretch. The binding straps are 5/8 in (16 mm) wide. The toe and heel harnesses are about 3/32 in (2 mm) thick. The adjusting straps on each side have a ratchet surface to interface with the buckles. The heel binding anchors in two places with rivets, leading up to the heel-cross strap which is riveted to the connectors. The connection from heel to the toe strap is the ratchet-strap, which runs from nearly the crossover at the toe box for 7 1/2 in (19 cm) on each side of the shoe, through the ratchet buckle. The toe harness is a single piece riveted to the frame on each side of the toe box and then crosses at the top of the toe box, where the 'X' is riveted to the ends of each ratchet strap of the harness. The ratchet strap slips through a ratchet buckle and then can be pulled to desired tension. Pulling up on the front end of the ratchet buckle releases the strap so it can be pulled out. A second lever in the back of the ratchet buckle also will swivel up by pulling on it, and to make that a bit easier there is a short cord pull. This is the ratcheting part of the mechanism. After slipping the ratchet binding through the buckle and ratcheting the strap to desired tension, the alpine stopper can then be slipped onto the strap and pushed up to 'lock' the buckle.
    The steel frame sports 10 sharp spikes. The frame is painted black; the stem stamped either left or right. Bright orange plastic anti-balling pads are riveted under the forefoot and heel; five rivets in front and four in the heel. These pads are concave (from the top) to allow clearance for the stem connecting the front and back parts of the crampon. The stem slides freely forward and back in the forefoot, with a stopper to prevent the stem from being extracted. At the heel end a row of a dozen holes in the stem allow fixed adjustment travel of about 3 1/2 in (90 cm) in increments of about 1/4 in (6 mm). The adjuster is a pin mounted to a spring-steel tab. Lifting up the tab far enough pulls the pin out of the stem hole and allows the stem to slide. In use, the tab cannot come up as the user is standing on it. For my size-9 hiking boot, the crampon extends to about 11 1/2 in (29 cm); and then will retract to about 8 1/2 in (22 cm) for packing.
       My first impression was that they are too small and I put them back in the box to return them. The front part of the crampon slides back and forth, and I errantly presumed that to be the adjustment. (Been a while since I've used crampons.) On second thought it occurred to me that the sizing couldn't be that far off, so a little bit of a look caused me to see that the heel end of the crampon also can be made to slide back and forth. Duh. Just like regular crampons. But perhaps a box-printed suggestion to see the video on the Hillsound website for folks who may not be familiar with crampons or who've forgotten how to use them. The clip appears at the bottom of the web page.
    Hillsound makes it abundantly clear these are not for rugged adventure. The product includes a small package of secondary locks (alpine stoppers) to add to the straps after installing the crampons. I shan't speculate nor offer an opinion that might prove wrong, but I can say at this point in the test that my level of skepticism can only be diminished. The product pic on the box does not show the stoppers in place; on the website it does. I'll be able to report on how well my cold arthritic fingers can manipulate the strap through the ratchet and then slip on the alpine stoppers, assuming I'm able to find them. The little note with the little pieces says they are to thwart snow build-up that might otherwise cause the buckle to release.
    The crampons aren't particularly light. They aren't particularly easy to put on, though I've never had any that are and kudos for the initiative to try something maybe easier for non-technical hiking. I see spikes serious enough to gain purchase on almost any slope, and I'll have to remember the admonition to avoid trying much angle if there's any consequence to the harness giving out.
    I might also add that my experience with plastic-type binding material is not altogether positive; being somewhat like me--it gets old, cold and breaks. I'm thinking my impression initially would be substantially positive were the binding nylon webbing and the buckle double-ring.
    The anti-balling pads look terrific. They are super-slick and provide good coverage with almost nothing for snow to grab.
    My take at this point is that the anti-balling pads and the steel frame are all carefully thought out and well designed.


Field Conditions:
1. Dec 29-Jan 2. Dodge Ridge, California. Backpacking four nights; four mi (6 km) towing sled. 6,600-7,100 ft (2,000-2,200 m). 20-45 F (-7 to 7 C). Sunny, no wind. Very hard snow; icy-slick start.
2. Jan 23-26: Dodge Ridge, California. Backpacking three nights; four mi (6 km) towing sled. 6,600-7,100 ft (2,000-2,200 m). 25-50 F (-4 to 10 C). Sunny, no wind. Soft, sticky snow several feet (one meter) deep.

    1. Dec 29- Jan 2:  I was able to sit on my sled and fit the crampons very easily. I'd thought they were adjusted well at home, but I'd set them too long. Turns out the crampons are actually pretty easy to get on and off, leaving one strap loose but in the buckle and the other strap pulled free of the buckle. I do have to fumble a little bit to get the binding slipped into the buckle, though in fairness probably not any more than trying to feed a floppy piece of nylon webbing through a double-ring. The Right-Left markings could be a little more evident, but I overcame any issue by deciding that I'd always leave the inside binding strap in the buckles and pull the outside binding straps completely out of the buckles. Turns out that doing so makes the crampons very easy to remove, and not really that difficult to get on. Icy ground at the car made wearing the crampons a great idea from the start. The car was parked on a bit of slope. Even struggling to get stuff out of the trunk I never slipped under the car.

    The very start of the hike was on snow beaten down to ice. I would have struggled mightily to get the sled up that first 200 yards (200 m) or so where the road was packed rock-hard and snowshoes wouldn't have offered suitable traction. Even the crampons didn't sink all the way in, though they provided perfect traction. Once past the high traffic part of the path the snow was crusty and frozen through to the ground, being generally probably six in (12 cm) deep. It had melted and frozen so many times it was as much ice as snow. The crampons were quite the right choice for these conditions. I did not use the alpine stoppers.

    I'm still going to whine about the material for the bindings, and the ratchet surface on them. I have no faith in how long they will last, though I started feeling better when I figured out how to fix them if/when they break. These only cost about half of conventional crampons, but still enough that I would want them to last 10 years or so. I don't believe the plastic binding will survive that long (though neither will I, so it likely doesn't matter).

    For this outing I had no issues with the crampons at all. I started off with a backpack of about 25 lb (11 kg) and towing a sled of about 70 lb (30 kg) uphill. The bindings were exposed to frequent amounts of all the strain I could put on them. The crampons worked splendidly. One quickly noted advantage is the front teeth. They don't protrude nearly as far as technical crampons, making it easier to walk about without stsled pullabbing holes in things like a tent fly or backpack belt; but offer plenty of bite where needed.

    2. Jan 23-26: New wet, fine, sticky snow changed the dynamic on this outing. The 70 lb (30 kg) sled plowed snow into a wedge; snow froze to the bottom of the sled; and warm temperatures had softened the base enough to cause an annoying frequency of post holing. Three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) in with one-quarter mile (0.4 km) from the desired camp location I could no longer overwhelm the devil's intrusion into my fun. I off-loaded half the weight to get to the campsite. Returning to the off-loaded gear I switched to snow shoes, frustrated with the post holing, occasionally up to the hip. But the sled was so hard to pull it seems the brain part in charge of keeping the feet appropriately spaced was not getting enough blood and the snow shoes kept landing on each other. That proved worse than post holing, and that was the end of snow shoeing. Given the nature of feet having somewhat of a non-disciplined mind of their own in the duress of exhaustion, I nearly marveled at not once snagging a spike into gaiters, backpack, tent, etc.; making me even more appreciative of the less aggressively extended front spikes.

    The snow was loose and sticky, enough to clog up snow baskets and grip the sled. There was no balling underfoot, however, and the spikes were free to do their best work. At times I was leaning into the pull and straining with all the might I could muster, daring the bindings to slip or a ratchet to break. Much of the stress of this action transfers to the frame uprights where the bindings attach, so I now realize the bindings don't have to suffer the full brunt of applied pressure.

    I did not install the alpine stoppers. With so much snow sticking to my shoes I was expecting the vendor-described issue of the release lever being pushed up by snow clots. That never happened. However, the first time I tried to release the bindings at camp I was sorely troubled by snow clots in the outside ratchet on each crampon. The levers were stuck slightly up and would not let the binding release. I had to warm the ratchets enough with my fingers to melt the snow out before I could remove the crampons. I was already spent from the hike in and found little amusement in this aspect of the test. Fortunately that bit of unwelcome surprise did not repeat.

    Overall I was duly impressed with the crampons' performance. I changed boots at the last minute at home and the insulated pair that I brought with me were too big to match the setting I'd applied. Making an on-the-spot adjustment proved no issue. The crampons installed easily and stayed put through the most difficult conditions I have yet encountered in my sled-pulling endeavors. Even though crampons can't prevent post holing, I discovered that snow shoes were too clumsy when having to pull so hard in soft, deep snow. A few times when I was leaning too far forward into the pull the crampons lost purchase, but for the most part the traction they provided worked very well.

Field Conditions:
3. Mar 29: Loon Lake, El Dorado National Forest, CA. Soft, deep snow in 50 F (10 C) sunshine; 30 lb (14 kg) backpack; 40 lb (18 kg) sled; 1 mi (1.5 km). Sloppy snow too wet to be sticky.
    4. April 17-20, 2019: Tahoe National Forest, three nights backpacking 1 1/2 mi (2.5 km) on snow. 55 lb (25 kg) lv weight. 6,400 ft (1,950 m); 32-65 F (0-18 C); mostly clear and warm.

    3. Loon: This was a three-night outing, but the snow was so rotten I used the crampons only on the hike in. With the previous day's foot (30 cm) of snowfall I was the first hiker to make tracks. The surface was smooth though soupy in the tee shirt temperature. Every step I sunk nearly to knee or deeper. The crampons kept me steady on my feet pulling the sled, (which actually floated well enough). I didn't slip and my ankles did not turn. The post holing for a mile tuckered me out. The alpine stoppers--not lost yet--were not used. The bindings stayed put during the hike and I had no difficulty getting them to release.

      Soldiering my way through the slop for this test I kept thinking how much more appropriate snow shoes should be. Perhaps they might have had advantage on the 'clean' way in, though not so much on the way out. The snow would not pack. Weekend traffic beat the trail to deep divots, ruts and post holes. The surface was so rough as to cause much struggle keeping balance, especially since snow shoes make sled pulling not a particularly attractive dance. The shoes had trouble finding purchase in the loose slop and the unevenness of the surface played havoc. When I ventured toward untrodden snow, the 30-inch shoes (76 cm) sank enough that snow kept grabbing the tips. I believe the only device that would have made travel fun would be a mass of extended polar air.

    4. Tahoe: Another three-nighter to one close-in camp. Very high temps have melted the snow pack to its typically very un-level spring surface; sunken sunny spots; mounded shady spots; and expanded tree wells making narrow ridges. I left my snow shoes in the car, which proved a good decision. I was heavy on the way in and out, and snow shoes would not have had enough bite to feel stable on the ups and downs in slushy surface of late afternoon when I started in. Now and then the crampons would slip a little bit in slushy declivity, but for the most part I was able to negotiate ridges between tree wells without difficulty. In shady mornings the crampons were perfect on crusted snow. Later in the day and worst in sunny spots the snow was covered in slush and rotten sometimes nearly mid-shin-deep. I had occasion to make a day hike out to Lake Tahoe one morning and found the going rather fun as the crampons provided solid traction in the crust that had frozen overnight.  Crampons were much easier to walk in than snow shoes.

    The snow is now ice pellets and I did get a slight bit of buildup on the binding releases. I didn't have to melt the ice out, though, and just tugging back and forth a couple times got the binding to release. I did not use the alpine stoppers and no accidental releases occurred. Nothing got stabbed, once again demonstrating the utility of the front spikes not sticking out like regular crampons. In 11 times of putting the crampons on and off in the snow, (probably 4-5 times at home getting fitted) the bindings show no sign of stress or weakening; and they worked as intended. The bindings are incredibly easy to tighten; they stayed tight; and they came loose with little or no ado.

Total hiking in crampons: 10 1/2 mi (17 km)

Quick shots:
a) strong frame
    b) simple binding
    c) aggressive points
    d) effective anti-balling
Thank you Hillsound and for the opportunity to test these crampons. The test reporting is complete.

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