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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem > Jo Ann Moffi > Test Report by Jo Ann Moffi

KAHTOOLA FLIGHTsystem
INITIAL REPORT: December 11, 2006
FIELD REPORT: February 24, 2007
LONG TERM REPORT: April 26, 2007

Kahtoola FLIGHTdeckKathoola FLIGHTboot

Name Jo Ann Moffi Backpacking Background:
I was introduced to backpacking about 15 years ago when I met my husband. We have been backpacking, canoe camping, car camping, hiking, and participating in all sorts of outdoor activities ever since. We live in a border town (US & Canada), so we spend lots of time in both countries for our outdoor excursions. My most recent foray has been into Adventure Racing. When making a decision on gear, I like to go lightweight and practical. I don't like to carry around extraneous bits and pieces.
Age 33
Gender Female
Height 5'6" (168 cm)
Weight 175 lbs (79 kg)
Email Address jomoffi AT gmail DOT com
City, State, Country Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada

Product Information

Manufacturer:  Kahtoola Snow Inc.
Year of Manufacture:  2006
URL:  www.kahtoola.com
MSRP:  FLIGHTboot: $149, FLIGHTdeck: $185
Warranty:
From the Kahtoola website: Kahtoola, Inc., warrants all traction systems to the original owner for 3 years from the date of purchase, against any defect in materials or workmanship. Any repairs not covered by this warranty will be made at a reasonable rate. 
Color: Standard color: FLIGHTboots: Black, FLIGHTdeck silver aluminum frame, black and blue decking.
Size: S Women's 8-9.5 (Also available in: XXS Women's 5-6, XS Women's 6.5-8, M Men's 8-9.5, L Men's 9.5-11, XL Men's 11-12.5, XXL Men's 12.5-14)

INITIAL REPORT

Date:
December 11, 2006
Item Received: December 5, 2006
Condition of Item:  Perfect condition.
Listed Weight: FLIGHTboot: 640 g (22 oz), FLIGHTdeck Gypsy: 1134 g (2 lb 8 oz)
Actual Weight: FLIGHTboot: 595 g (1 lb 5 oz), FLIGHTdeck Gypsy: 1243 g (2 lb 12 oz)
Made In: FLIGHTboot: China, FLIGHTdeck: N/A
Kahtoola FLIGHTboots Cleats
The Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem is a two component snow travel system composed of the FLIGHTboots and FLIGHTdeck. The FLIGHTboots are worn over top of running shoes or other footwear. The FLIGHTdeck is designed to be used exclusively with the FLIGHTboots, attaching to the FLIGHTboots via a step and click in system on the FLIGHTdeck called the SKYHOOK. There are no bindings, straps or buckles on the FLIGHTdeck. The FLIGHTboots can be used alone as a traction device in packed snow and ice.

When I opened up the box, my first though was 'holy cow, look at those spikes!' The bottom of the FLIGHTboots
sport 10 - 1.3 cm (0.5 in) stainless steel cleats on the bottom of each boot: 4 around the outside perimeter of the heel and 6 around the outside perimeter of the toe box. The sole of the boot is made from a waffle patterned molded rubber.  It covers the sole and about 1.3 to 1.9 cm (0.5 to 0.75 Kahtoola FLIGHTboot Zipperin) up the side of the boot, depending on where you measure on the boot. The heel and the toe box have more coming up the sides than the arch area. The upper portion of the FLIGHTboot is made from 3 mm (0.12 in) waterproof Neoprene reinforced with Hypalon. The Hypalon fabric is stitched onto the boot around the outside edge, up the back of the boot, and around the sides of the heel to form loops that the ratchet buckle attaches to. There is a reflective strip on the top of the toe and the 'FLIGHTboot' logo and 'Kahtoola' logo are also reflective. The zipper is a water-resistant zipper that pulls up to close. A ratchet buckle connects over top of a Velcro closure that runs up the front of the boot from about mid-foot level. The ratchet buckle is actually two buckles: a smaller one for releasing the ratchet, and a larger one for tightening down the buckle. Inside the boot, there is a plastic insole. The FLIGHTboot is not designed to be worn alone and this is evident in the lack of arch support and other comfort features one normally finds in footwear. The bottom of the inside of the boot is completely flat presumably to accommodate a variety of footwear. Kahtoola FLIGHTboot Buckle

Getting the FLIGHTboots on my shoes following the manufacturer's directions:
1.  Release the ratc
het buckle and unzip the zipper all the way to open the FLIGHTboot.
2.  Slide the shoe into the FLIGHTboot and work it all the way forward.
3.  Work the heel of the shoe into the FLIGHTboot without crushing the zipper.

Kahtoola FLIGHTboot Although I am normally a women's US size 8 shoe, I find a lot of variability in shoe sizes depending on the manufacturer. My current shoes range from size women's US 7.5 to 8.5. The manufacturer's instructions indicate the fit of the FLIGHTboot to the shoes being worn should be snug. They are not kidding here! It took quite a bit of effort to get the shoes into the FLIGHTboot. I put the FLIGHTboots on a pair of running shoes first, size women's US 7.5. They slide right in easily, which I would expect, since the small FLIGHTboot is for a women's US size 8-9.5 size shoe. I also put them on a pair of hiking boots, also size women's US 7.5. These were more of a challenge, but I was able to work them into the FLIGHTboot. I was also able to get my size women's US 8.5 hiking sandals into the boots easily. I will be trying them in the field with a pair of running shoes in a women's US size 8 as well. Once my shoes were in the FLIGHTboot, my shoes and boots fit me and felt as comfortable as they normally would.

Kahtoola FLIGHTdeck BottomThe FLIGHTdeck is 20.3 cm (8 in) wide at the level of the 
SKYHOOK and 58 cm (23 in) long from center back to center front. There are 4 stainless steel cleats on the bottom of the FLIGHTdeck underneath where the heel and center of the FLIGHTboot would be and 4 cleats that are the bottom portion of the SKYHOOK housing. The stainless steel housing over top of the SKYHOOK is formed from one complete piece of metal and the cleats are cut outs that have been bent around to angle straight downwards from the housing. This metal housing is riveted onto the Hypalon decking.  There is an extra fold in the Hypalon fabric between the SKYHOOK housing and the heel block assembly to accommodate the flexing and bending of the FLIGHTdeck while walking. The cleats further down the FLIGHTdeck are riveted through the Hypalon fabric and onto a piece of blue Pebax plastic on the top of the FLIGHTdeck with two rivets in each cleat.

Getting the FLIGHTdeck on the FLIGHTboots following the manufacturer's directions:
The FLIGHTdeck has a heel block that is adjusted according to the size of FLIGHTboot being used. Mine are size small, and according to the literature supplied with the FLIGHTsystem, the heel block needs to be in the center position to accommodate a small FLIGHTboot. The FLIGHTdeck came with the heel block in the center position so no adjustment was needed, but for the sake of the test, I decided to move the heel block to see how this was accomplished and how easy it was to do so. 

The instructions are as follows:
1. Lift up on the heel block and slide into the appropriate position.
2. To click into the FLIGHTdeck, pull the reset tab and the retractable bar will be visible.
3. Line up the 'V' on the FLIGHTboot with the 'V' on the FLIGHTdeck and step down on the FLIGHTdeck until the SKYHOOKs click into position.
4. Pull on the 'T' shaped portion of the ripcord until it clicks into the open position to remove the FLIGHTdeck.
Kahtoola FLIGHTboot 'V'Kahtoola FLIGHTdeck 'V'
FLIGHTdeck Heel Block Lifting the heel block proved to be way more challenging than simply just lifting it up off the FLIGHTdeck.  There is a little plastic protrusion on the bottom of each side of the heel block that slips into one of the three slots available on the FLIGHTdeck for the various sizes of FLIGHTboots.  After many frustrating minutes of lifting the heel block off the FLIGHTdeck and coordinating the lifting with a sliding motion, I finally got the heel block to move. I repeated the frustrating process again to get the heel block back into the center position to accommodate the size small FLIGHTboots. Technically, one should never have to move the heel block again once it is set up for the FLIGHTboots. I wonder though if this would be something that will either a) be easier after the FLIGHTsystem has been 'broken in', or b) be easier once I have got the coordination down with the lifting and sliding of the heel block.Kathoola FLIGHTdeck Skyhook

Clicking the FLIGHTboot into the FLIGHTdeck was very simple and clicked right in. Two of the cleats on the FLIGHTboots that are the attachment points for the FLIGHTdeck have small cut outs in them that form a hook for the SKYHOOK. Once I stepped onto the the FLIGHTdeck, the FLIGHTboot was firmly attached to the FLIGHTdeck, and no amount of my wiggling and shaking of the FLIGHTdeck/FLIGHTboot assembly made it budge. Removing the FLIGHTboot from the FLIGHTdeck was also very easy. The wire ripcord is simply pulled on via the 'T' side and the FLIGHTboot is simply lifted off the FLIGHTdeck. Hopefully taking the FLIGHTdeck on and off in the field will be just as simple.

Thank you to BackpackGearTest for and to Kahtoola Snow Travel Systems for the opportunity to test the Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem.

This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.

FIELD REPORT
Date: February 24, 2007

FIELD INFORMATION
Some of the plans I had for the Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem have been foiled by nature as we didn't get snow until mid January. I have still managed to get out many times and have more planned during the long term testing stage.

I have gone out with the Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem on weekly excursions in my area. The hikes varied in distance, from 4-10 km (2.5-6.2 mi) in length, mostly through the Voyageur Trail System just north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The temperature has ranged from -1 to -17 C (30 to 1 F). The snow conditions varied from packed powder on well-broken trails, light fluffy 'virgin' powder, heavy powder, ice and very hard packed snow, to crud that other cross country skiers and hikers have travelled on. I have yet to encounter crusty snow, wet snow, and slushy snow, as the weather has not been warm enough yet to create these conditions.Kahtoola FLIGHTsystem Voyageur Trail

Performance of the FLIGHTsystem:

I have logged close to 80 km (50 mi) using either the FLIGHTboots alone or with the FLIGHTdeck thus far. Most of the hikes were uneventful and the snowshoes performed exceptionally well. There were a couple of issues of note and I outline those here.


The weekend after receiving the FLIGHTboots we had our second significant snowfall. Although there wasn't enough snow to warrant using snowshoes, there was enough ice and packed snow on one of the trails I frequent that I decided to tryout the FLIGHTboots. We hiked about 9 km (5.6 mi) on a side trail of the Saulteaux Section of the Voyageur Trail. This trail crosses through a cedar swamp, and along a creek that empties into a marsh, going along the higher ground that cuts through the middle of the marsh. Once past the marsh, the trail climbs through a hilly area into a maple forest. The temperature was -1 C (30 F) without a cloud in the sky. The FLIGHTboots were fantastic on the ice and hard packed snow. My husband was wearing a large pair of snow boots and was having difficulty on some of the icier low-lying areas. I was able to tromp along without slipping. I wore the FLIGHTboots over my Asics running shoes. Normally I don't get blisters from these shoes, but the FLIGHTboots pressed the shoes into my feet and ankles. This resulted in blisters on the back of both my heels. I was about 6 km (3.7 mi) into the hike before I started to really feel painful pressure and rubbing. It was a welcome relief to remove the FLIGHTboots when I got back to the car. Since this incident, I haven't worn the running shoes in the flight boots.

On a weekend in late January, we hiked on the packed trail of the Voyager Trail System
just outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It was a clear sunny day with the temperature around -11 C (12 F). The trail we were travelling on was packed from previous snowshoers. We also detoured around into some untravelled areas on the same trail system. The snow depth was about 30 cm (12 in) of powdery snow off the trail, and about 15 cm (6 in) of packed snow on the well travelled trails. On this outing, I had my first (and hopefully only!) real problem with the FLIGHTsystem. After hiking for a few kilometers, I decided that the trail we were on was packed enough to use the FLIGHTboots on their own. When I pulled the cord to remove the FLIGHTdeck, it clicked like it should, but the FLIGHTboot would not come off the FLIGHTdeck. I even had my husband try to help me get them off, but they would not budge. I left them on for the remainder of the hike and tried again once we got back to the car to get the FLIGHTdeck to come off. I took off the FLIGHTboots with the FLIGHTdeck still attached so that I could have a better look at what was going on. There didn't seem to be any packed snow in the mechanism housing the SKYHOOK, but it is hard to tell with the FLIGHTboot on there. After a few more attempts by both my husband and myself, I put them in the car and decided I'd let them warm up at home before attempting it again. The temperature was -11 C (12 F), so it is possible the SKYHOOK was frozen into place. After an hour or so of sitting in the house, I was able to get the SKYHOOK to let go of the FLIGHTboot almost immediately. There wasn't any significant amount of moisture that would indicate there was ice lodged in the SKYHOOK mechanism. I clicked the FLIGHTboot on and off the FLIGHTdeck a few times to make sure that it was functioning properly, and it was fine. Since this trip, I have taken the FLIGHTsystem out on several treks and have not had any further problems getting the FLIGHTdeck off the FLIGHTboots, even in colder -17 C (1 F) temperatures. The malfunction in the field remains a mystery. 

On a trip in mid January, my husband and I hiked into Lake Gamitagama in Lake Superior Provincial Park for an overnight trip. The temperature was -14 C (6.8 F) during the afternoon of first day. The next day the temperature was -6 C (21.2 F) when we crawled out of the tent. The terrain in this area of Lake Superior Provincial Park is somewhat flat. The trails were snow covered, a few centimeters (a couple of inches) in some spots to about 20 cm (8 in) in other areas. Buried under the snow on the trail were tree roots, rocks jutting out from the hillside, and other such obstacles. Once we reached Lake Gamitagama, there was 5 cm (2 in) to about 15 cm (6 in) of snow on the ice. The ice was quite thick, close to 25 cm (10 in).

On the hike into this lake, I wore the FLIGHTboots alone on the packed trail made by the tires of 4x4 vehicles and on the trail through the bush to the lake. Once on the lake, I wore the FLIGHTboots alone on the hike in, hiking around looking for firewood and campsites, and around camp. On the next day, I wore the FLIGHTboots around camp, and then put the FLIGHTdeck on for hiking across the lake to the trailhead. Once at the trailhead, I removed the FLIGHTdeck and hiked the remainder of the trail with just the FLIGHTboots.

The FLIGHTboots are fabulous for hiking on hard packed trails! The trail was hilly, both up and down hill sections. Same with the trail going through the bush to the lake. My husband was slipping a bit, but the cleats on the bottom of the FLIGHTboots make it nearly impossible to slide. They are also great for traction on the bush trail. There were times when I was uncertain as to what I was walking on, but the FLIGHTboots make it inconsequential. Once we reached the frozen lake, the FLIGHTboots also performed exceedingly well. Where my husband was slipping when his boot cut through the snow to the ice, I was reaching the ice and able to push off more effectively. There were also some areas where the snow covering the ice had a slushy layer before reaching solid ice. The FLIGHTboots cut easily through the slush to grip onto the ice.

The next day I wore the FLIGHTdeck over the same section of the lake that I had worn the FLIGHTboots on alone the day before. The snow was crusted in some areas and light and fluffy in others. Putting the FLIGHTdeck on the next morning made me wish I had done so for the hike in the day before. The FLIGHTdeck floated me on top of the snow, preventing me from reaching the ice surface at all in the deeper snow, yet the cleats on the bottom of the FLIGHTdeck would grip the ice in areas where the wind had blown the ice clear of snow.

Performance of the FLIGHTsystem on different types of snow conditions:
  • Packed Powder on Broken Trails: The FLIGHTsystem handles this with ease, allowing me to float effortlessly over the trail. The packed trails were about 46-61 cm (18-24 in) of packed snow on the trail itself, with the snow along the edges of the trail being about 15-20 cm (6-8 in) above the track.
  • Light 'Virgin' Powder: In about 15 cm (6 in) of light, fluffy powder, I sink through the light powder to the layer of snow underneath. In some areas it was the packed powder of broken trails and in others it was heavier powder from previous snowfalls. In areas where it was the light stuff on top of the heavier powder, I would sink through the light powder and a further 5-10 cm (2-4 in) into the heavier stuff, depending on the terrain under the snow. I have only had one opportunity to get out in the really fluffy stuff. It was easy to travel through, the front of the FLIGHTdeck cutting easily through this type of snow.
  • Heavy Powder: In about 30.5 cm (12 in) of heavy powder, I sink about 15 cm (6 in). Although it took more effort to snowshoe through the heavier powder than light powder, it was still easy to snowshoe in. I found more snow would kick up the back of my legs in heavy powder than in any other type of snow I have snowshoed in so far. I wear gaiters with the FLIGHTboots to avoid any snow soaking into my pants.
  • Ice and Hard Packed Snow: I have worn both the FLIGHTdeck and the FLIGHTboots in these conditions. I feel as though the FLIGHTdeck is overkill when the snow is hard enough to walk on, so in those situations I have removed the FLIGHTdeck. The FLIGHTboots really excel on ice and hard packed snow. I feel secure and have not slipped once. I have even run up hard packed hills and across icy sections to test out the cleats on the bottom.
FLIGHTboots Ease of Use:
Getting the FLIGHTboots on and off my various footwear can be a bit of a challenge. They fit very snugly over all the footwear I've used. The easiest way I have found to get them on over my hiking boots is to jam my toe as far as I can while holding my foot up and then bounce the toe of the FLIGHTboot on the ground to get the FLIGHTboot to slide further onto my boot. Once it is in far enough, I reach around to the heel and straighten out the zipper so that I can give a final yank or two to pull the FLIGHTboot over the back of my boot. I zip up the FLIGHTboot first and then do up the Velcro in the front.  The final step is to ratchet down the buckle on the front. Over my hiking boots, getting the Velcro done up over top of the ankle area is difficult as my hiking boots are a bit bulky around the ankle.

To get the FLIGHTboots off, I reverse the process, loosening the ratchet, undoing the Velcro and then unzipping the back. Then I grasp the FLIGHTboot and wiggle and yank until it releases its hold on my boots. It is easier to take the FLIGHTboot off my footwear if I make sure that my boots or shoes are snugly laced up. If my boots or shoes are not tied tight enough, some of the effort in wiggling and yanking acts to try and remove the boot from my foot. I have done this too, unlaced the footwear and removed everything on my feet. Then I just take the boot or shoe out of the FLIGHTboot once it is off my foot. It is easier to get the FLIGHTboot off my footwear if my foot is out of the equation.

I am hoping that as the neoprene gets more stretched, it will become easier to get them on and off. It takes me longer to get ready for snowshoeing, but the effort is worth it with the performance of the FLIGHTboots.

FLIGHTdeck Ease of Use:
Attaching the FLIGHTboots to the FLIGHTdeck is a very simple procedure, much easier than getting the FLIGHTboots on over my footwear! With the SKYHOOK pulled into the proper position, I just line up the 'V' on the FLIGHTboots to the 'V' on the FLIGHTdeck and step down. The clip in attachment is easy to pull for removal as well. Except for the one incident outlined above, getting the FLIGHTdeck off is a breeze. When my husband is still undoing his snowshoe buckles, I already have the FLIGHTdeck off both feet and am ready for action! 

LONG TERM REPORT

Date: April 26, 2007

FIELD INFORMATION

I have continued to wear the FLIGHTsystem in much of the same areas as in my Field Report, logging an additional 30 km (18.6 km) on trails. The hikes varied in distance, from 4-8 km (2.5 - 5 mi) in length, mostly through the Voyageur Trail System just north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. I also took the FLIGHTsystem with me on a trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park, although they did not get much use there, which I expand on below. I have also worn them to hike in and out of our cottage on Lake Superior. The temperature has ranged from 8 to -16 C (46 to 3 F). The snow conditions varied from packed powder on well-broken trails, heavy powder, ice and very hard packed snow, deep heavy powder, crusty snow, and slushy snow.

Further performance of the FLIGHTsystem on different types of snow conditions:

I have worn the FLIGHTsystem on a couple more types of snow conditions in addition to the ones already mentioned in the Field Report:

  • Crusty Snow: The crust of the snow was thick enough that I was able to walk on it without the FLIGHTdeck. I tried both the FLIGHTdeck and the FLIGHTboots. The cleats would sink into the crust and provide me with traction up small hills and on the flats.
  • Wet Melting Snow: The FLIGHTdeck provides adequate flotation on 15 - 20 cm (6 - 8 in) of wet, slushy snow. The underlying snow was the remainder of the crust I experienced from the week before.

This system is not suitable for backcountry snowshoeing. This may seem like an obvious remark given the size of the FLIGHTdeck, but it bears mentioning anyway. I tried using these snowshoes in deep snow on a sledge trip in Lake Superior Park in early March. There were other issues that prevented us from going to far at all on that trip, but I was able to try out the FLIGHTsystem in the snow conditions present at the time. I was disappointed to find that the FLIGHTsystem was unable to provide me with any flotation on the snow, even without a pack or without pulling my pulk. The snow was about 91 cm (36 in) deep, the top 30 cm (12 in) or so was heavy powder and the underlying snow was somewhat packed from the weight of the snow on top. I was following behind my husband who was creating a packed trail with his snowshoes and pulk. He was sinking 15 - 20 cm (6 - 8 in). I was sinking a further 30 - 46 cm (12 - 18 in) on his trail. I tried with and without pulling the pulk, and with and without carrying a small daypack. There was no significant difference in the flotation provided by the FLIGHTsystem.

Another problem that arose once the weather warmed up is my feet getting blisters while in the FLIGHTboots. Previously when I wore my Merrell hiking boots, I did not have any problems with blisters. Early in the testing period, I wore a pair of Asics running shoes in the FLIGHTboots. I attributed the blisters that I received on that day to the shoes I was wearing in the FLIGHTboots. Since then, I have also gotten blisters while wearing my Merrell hiking boots and Blundstone boots. The common denominator in all of these instances has been the temperature outside and how much my feet sweat in my footwear. I do not normally get blisters from sweaty feet in my footwear. The snugness of the FLIGHTboots must push my footwear into my feet enough to cause blisters and hot spots when my feet are sweating. I'm not sure if there is a solution to this issue, as the insulating factor of the neoprene in colder weather far outweighs the sweaty feet issue in warmer weather. The temperature being above about -2 C (28 F) seems to be the point at which I start getting blisters.
Kahtoola FLIGHTdeck Heelblock DamageDurability of the FLIGHTsystem:
Both the FLIGHTdeck and the FLIGHTboots held up very well for the duration of the test. The FLIGHTdeck has some wear marks from the cleats of the FLIGHTboots around the outside border of the heel block, but this is very minimal given the mileage they were used. I can see more occurring if I was hiking in areas or steep terrain as that is when I noticed the wear marks, after a hilly hike. There are also some small scratches in the aluminum tubing around the outside perimeter of the FLIGHTdeck, most likely from travelling in some tight spaces in brush, being attached to a pack and sled, or possibly from being stored in the back of my car. These are just observations and do not affect the performance of the FLIGHTsystem.


Most Desirable Features:
* Versatile use in many snow conditions
* Lightweight FLIGHTdeck

Least Desirable Features:
* The FLIGHTboots can cause blisters if my feet are sweaty
* Small size of the FLIGHTdeck does not allow for deep snow travel

Room For Improvement?
Given the issues with the small FLIGHTdeck and deep snow, I would like to see Kahtoola offer a wider range of sizes in the FLIGHTdeck. This would allow the user to choose the best size for the anticipated snow conditions.

Thank you again to Kahtoola and BackpackGearTest for the privilege of testing the FLIGHTsystem.



Read more reviews of Kahtoola gear
Read more gear reviews by Jo Ann Moffi

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