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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem > Jason Boyle > Test Report by Jason Boyle
Last updated May 6, 2007
The FLIGHTboot, referred to from now on as the boot, consists of a neoprene upper with Hypalon (synthetic rubber) reinforcements around the rear zipper, ratcheting buckle, and the rubber sole. The bottom of the boot has 10 stainless steel cleats to provide traction when hiking on compact snow and ice. The boot is not meant to be used alone but to go over trail running shoes or other “flexible footwear.” The inside of the boot has a thin plastic sock liner. The outer sole of the boot is made of a thicker rubber and the cleats are glued into the sole. There is a zipper on the back of the boot that appears to be a waterproof zipper but I cannot find any literature to support this assumption. The boot also has a hook and loop closure, and a ratcheting buckle to securely hold the user’s foot in the boot.
The FLIGHTdeck, referred to from now on as the deck, is a snowshoe specifically designed to work only with the FLIGHTboot. Upon first glance it looks like any other snowshoe deck but it is missing a key component found on other snowshoes, a binding system. The binding system for the deck is unique in that there is an interlocking bar that the boots connect to called: the SKYHOOK. There is basically a hook on a pair of the boot cleats that locks into place on the deck. To release the boot, a small wire cable is pulled and the boots are freed from the deck. The wire is then pulled from the opposite end to reset the binding. The second piece unique to this system is the movable heel block. The rear of the snowshoe deck has a heel block that the back of the boot rests on. This is supposed to keep the rear cleats from making contact and potentially damaging the snowshoe decking. The rest of the deck is similar to other snowshoes. It has 2 front steel horizontal teeth and 6 lateral teeth for traction. The main part of the deck appears to be made of Hypalon with some plastic riveted in higher wear areas.
As stated earlier, the FLIGHTsystem consists of two pieces. I was stoked when I first heard of the system and just as excited once I received it. Everything appears to be well made with no apparent defects. They included instruction on how to use the boots and deck but it is fairly apparent how the system works. The first thing I did was see if they would fit my favorite pair of trail runners, a pair of 9.5 Nike Air Cascades. Following Kahtoola’s instructions they went in easily and took up all of the space in the boot. I will try other pairs of footwear but for now I decided upon these as my test shoes.
I did some dry runs of putting the boot on the deck and removing it. Everything operated as expected. The release wire on the deck has a “T” handle end and a smaller pull end. The “T” hand releases the boot from the deck while the smaller pull resets the binding. Since the decks are not left and right specific, I decided I would like to wear them with the “T” pull on the inside to allow me to release the shoes easier.
The decks are super simple to use as well, especially the step in feature that the decks provide. While my hiking partners are fumbling with straps and gloves, I set the decks down and line up the front cleats with the SKYHOOK binding and step in then I eat a snack while my partners catch up! When I am ready to take the decks off I usually have to just pull the T handle and shake my foot a bit and the decks come off. I say usually because I had one instance where I could not get the boots off of the deck. They had frozen to the deck. This is a serious problem for me because the last thing I want to happen on an overnight or multiday trip is to not be able to take off my snowshoes. I talked to Kahtoola about this problem and they are aware of it and working on a fix. They explained to me that there is a gap on the binding where snow can enter and if enough of it packs into the binding it can freeze and not allow the boot to be released. It has only happened to me once, but it is enough to make me wary about using them on another overnight trip.
Not everything is rosy though. The traction provided by the decks leaves a lot to be desired on the terrain that I find myself on here in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the trails in the Cascades are fairly steep and skirt the side of ridges requiring snowshoes that have good sidehill traction which the FLIGHTdecks do not have. On two of my trips, my hiking partners were easily crossing angled ridges while I was slipping and sliding off of the trail. The floatation was only ok, but it is what I expected based on the size of the deck and the unusually dry, fluffy snow that we received before and during my trips.
The boots and decks appear to be pretty durable. The boot cleats are definitely showing signs of wear, but no more than I expected based on the harsh conditions that I have put them through. As I mentioned earlier in my Field Conditions, I walked for a total of 3 miles on a muddy gravelly trail that had some bigger rocks. Not the ideal situation for the boots, but it is all I had and I knew the snow would get deep as I gained elevation. Though not the main purpose of the boots they performed fair in the mud and gravel. I knew I was wearing a different boot than a normal hiking boot, but when the ground was soft the cleat would dig in and provide good traction. It was more tricky when the trail was rocky, since I was only getting the cleats for support instead of the entire footprint of the boot. I was concerned that this would affect my ability to step into the decks, but I did not have any problems.
The deck is showing some signs of wear near the heel block from the rear cleats on the boots contacting the protective plastic surrounding the heel block. So far I have not pierced the plastic, which is good, but I will be watching this area over the long term report. I have not noticed any wear or problems with the flexible Hypalon where the binding connects to the deck.
Another area where the FLIGHTboot excelled is warmth. I never had any cold issues with the boots while snowshoeing. If anything my feet were too warm and the boots caused my feet to sweat. They did a good job shedding snow and did not seem to get wet during stream crossings or breaking trail. The only time I soaked the boots was my slog on the snow free trail in the pouring rain. Everything I had wet out that day.
I have had problems with footwear freezing in the winter and becoming very difficult to put on and to warm up. Not these boots. On one of my trips, I built an igloo for my shelter. It was a balmy 28 F (-2 C) inside of the igloo compared to the 8 F (-13 C) that it was outside. I left my trail runners in the boots inside the igloo overnight in anticipation of what I would find the next morning. The boots did not freeze solid like I expected, but where a little bit difficult to get on the next morning. However, after just a few minutes of walking around getting breakfast ready my feet had warmed up and stayed warm the entire morning!
I have noticed some foot fatigue on long days while using the system. On a prolonged three hour downhill slog, my trail runners slid to the front of the boot and started to cause a hot spot on the balls of my feet. I have never had blisters wearing these trail runners, so I can only attribute it to my trail runners moving inside of the boots.
The weather illuminated an issue that I had not experienced before; wet socks and shoes. The FLIGHTboots do a good job fending off snow, but they do nothing for rain so they quickly became soaked. I had also switched to a different pair of shoes for this trip, a pair of Brooks Adrenaline shoes that had a lot of mesh. Even with wet socks and wet shoes I was never super cold, but I was certainly uncomfortable. The wet shoes and socks moving around inside of the FLIGHTboot also caused a blister on the inside of my right heel. I didn’t notice it until I was almost back to the truck but I was uncomfortable for the next few days from the blister.
I did go one trip where I wished I had the Kahtoolas with me, Mt. St. Helens. I did a spring climb to the summit where most of the trip consisted of kicking steps up the side of the mountain. It was a beautiful day and as the sun came out and softened the snow it became harder to kick stable steps in my mountaineering boots. Additionally as I got closer to the top there were icy areas. Crampons would have helped but would have been overkill for the conditions. I think the cleats on the FLIGHTboot would have been perfect for the conditions I experienced, but they had not made the trip with me. I know better for next time!
I did not take the Kahtoolas with me on several other trips this year because I had to hike in a mile (2 km) of more to actually reach the snow and knew I would have steep ascents and descents to reach my destinations. I could have hiked in my trail runners and carried the FLIGHTboots and FLIGHTdeck, but the boots are bulky and not easily placed in my pack and I would have to remove my footwear, put them in the boots and then put everything back on. I was also uncomfortable with the traction of the FLIGHTdecks on some of the terrain that I knew I would be covering. My experiences mentioned in my Field Report outlined the troubles that I had with side hilling and steep terrain.
I think the FLIGHTsystem is a great idea and with a little tweaking could be even better. I would like to have the ability to easily switch between my trail runners and the FLIGHTboots. Additionally for me to be able to use these on the steep terrain here in the Pacific Northwest I need more traction. As I suggested earlier I think some more teeth added to the decks would be very helpful as well as moving the traction teeth further to the outside on the decks would help.
Overall I am very pleased to have participated in the test and appreciate the thought that Kahtoola has put into the FLIGHTsystem. I think it is perfect for winter hikes on logging roads and moderate terrain.
Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem > Jason Boyle > Test Report by Jason Boyle
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