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Reviews > Snow Gear > Snowshoes > Redfeather Explore Snowshoes > Michael Wheiler > Test Report by Michael Wheiler
REDFEATHER EXPLORE SNOWSHOES
Test Series Reports
By Michael Wheiler
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Click Here to Skip To The Initial Report: January 1, 2007
Click Here To Skip To The Field Report: March 6, 2007
Click Here To Skip To The Long Term Report: May 14, 2007
Name: Michael Wheiler
Height: 5'10" (178 cm)
Weight: 175 lbs (79 kg)
Shoe size: 10 US
Location: Southeast Idaho
Email: jmwlaw AT ida DOT net
I have about 39 years experience hiking, camping, and backpacking. I have been active in the Boy Scout program as a youth and as an adult leader. I was a Scoutmaster for seven years with an active monthly outdoor program. Since being retired from that position, I still try to get out monthly. In the last two years I have been able to climb three of Idaho's highest peaks. I own and have used extensively a pair of Redfeather Hike snowshoes.
Product Description And Specifications Per Manufacturer Unless Otherwise Noted:
Field Testing Environment:
Most of my camping, hiking and backpacking occurs in the southeastern Idaho area but spills over into western Wyoming and western Montana. I occasionally get into the mountains of central Idaho as well. The areas I frequent generally range from 5,500 ft (1,600 m) to 8,500 ft (2,600 m). The weather in southeastern Idaho is fairly typical of a high desert plain. Winters are usually cold with temperatures at times reaching -20° F (-29° C). Snow depths vary widely but are generally over 10-12 feet (3-4 m) in the high country. On average snow depths in the lower mountainous areas can be between 4 to 6 feet (1-2 m).
The Redfeather Explore snowshoes arrived on December 12, 2006 carefully packaged and in excellent shape. The snowshoes looked like what I expected after viewing the manufacturer's website. After a quick examination to make sure the snowshoes were undamaged, I read the information contained on the hang-tag. I really liked Redfeather's statement on the hang-tag regarding the Explore snowshoes: "First of all, if everyone could haul a sled full of goods deep into the backcountry in the middle of winter it wouldn't be so dang cool now would it? Second, come to grips with the situation here. If you're going to go way back through some deep snow you need some serious creature comforts. Which means you need snowshoes that will keep you floating under a serious load. These would be them." Also included on the hang-tag was information pertaining to the Explore's specifications noted above and the warranty. Redfeather will repair or replace any defect on the snowshoes for the original purchaser but not any normal wear or damage caused by abuse. Redfeather will otherwise repair snowshoes at a "very reasonable cost."
I then carefully inspected the snowshoes. The decking is attached to the frame by 16 large headed aluminum rivets with washers. I saw no frayed or otherwise damaged decking material. The binding fits through a hole in the decking material and is attached to the Pivot Rod Hinge which, in turn, is secured to the frame by a piece of heavy vinyl type material on each side of the hinge. Each vinyl strip is formed into a loop through the hinge and securely closed with two aluminum rivets. Each loop is also attached to the frame with a single rivet through the material and into the frame. The semi-rigid polyurethane toe and heel frames are secured to the hinge between a solid polymer plate (directly under the ball of the user's foot) and a powder-coated stainless steel plate (underneath the snowshoe) which are bolted together with four bolts. The solid polymer plate contains a Redfeather logo, either an "R" for right or an "L" for left, and raised ridges. The heel plate is also made of solid polymer and is secured to the decking with three bolts. It has a smaller Redfeather logo and raised ridges. The semi-ridged frames wrap around the user's boots and are pulled tight over the boots with two pieces of nylon webbing. There is a single strap across the toe of the boot and a v-shaped strap which crosses the upper portion of the boot. Both straps are secured to be "quick-adjust." A single pull tightens each strap across the boot. A flexible urethane heel strap secures the boot's heel to the binding. This strap is tightened by pulling the strap to the desired length and inserting the point on a rotating metal clip through one of the holes punched in the urethane material. O-rings are placed on all straps through which any excess strap is placed to keep the strap from flapping around during use. See photographs below.
The Explore's crampons are trade marked under the name of Lynx. The front crampons are located directly under the front foot plate. They are approximately 4 1/4" (11 cm) in width with teeth that are approximately 1 1/4" (3 cm) in length. The rear crampons are located directly under the heel plate. The rear crampons are tapered from the front to back beginning at a width of approximately 3 1/2" (9 cm) and ending at a width of approximately 2 1/2" (6 cm). The teeth are approximately 1" (2.5 cm) in length. Redfeather claims that the rear crampons are "aggressive" for "stability when descending a hill." According to Redfeather, the crampons are made of stainless steel which is powder-coated "to shed snow and ice." The crampons are bolted through the decking to the solid foot plates. See photographs below.
Front Crampon and Hinge System Rear Crampon
The Explores on the back side of Bear Gulch
Since my last report, I have use the Explores several times.
I first used the Explores on January 16, 2007 on a day hike near Soda Mountain (elevation 5,750 ft/1,753 m). Temperatures during the day stayed at around 0° F (-18° C) for most of the day. Snow depths varied between 4 inches (10 cm) and 2 feet (61 cm) depending upon where I was on the mountain. The sun was shinning most of the day and the snow changed from hard and crusty to soft as the sun loosened the ice crystals. I was carrying a day pack which weighed approximately 15 pounds (7 kg). Given the variations in the snow levels, at times it would have been easier to take off the snowshoes but within minutes, I was back into snow that was knee deep. Overall, the Explores functioned very well. The crampons provided excellent traction while climbing and descending. I also had good traction while side-hilling.
I next used the Explores during a hike up Guardsman Pass (near Park City, Utah)(elevation 7,800 ft/2,377 m) on February 1, 2007. I was carrying an 18 pound (8 kg) day pack containing all of my winter survival gear. There was 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of very dry, new, untracked powder. Because the snow was so dry, I discovered that there was not a good solid base in places and I literally sunk up to thighs in places while using the Explores. Climbing to the top of the ridge was difficult work at times. I often encountered very steep off trail walking to the top of the ridge and found myself using kick-steps to get over the steeper sections of the climb. It wasn't all steep. Fortunately for this old, out-of-shape body, there were a lot of relatively flat sections throughout the climb. I found that I had better flotation on the flat traverses than when going up or down hill. While traveling uphill, I experienced good grasp and release with the crampons although I did find a little slipping on the steeper sections of the climb and descent. I also experienced some slipping on the steeper side hill traverses. During my descent, I noticed some obvious differences in flotation when I traveled over more packed snow versus deep powder. When it came to deep, dry powder with little to no compacted base, I found myself thigh deep in snow. When there was any type of base, I was able to maintain better flotation.
I last used the snowshoes near Bear Gulch (elevation 5,662 ft/1,700 m) on March 3. 2007. I donned the Explores in the parking lot and hiked over the fairly steep snowbank to the trail leading down to the Snake River. It is approximately a 2 mile (3 km) round trip hike to Snake River from the parking lot. There was about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) of light snow on a fairly compact base of about 4 feet (122 cm). In several places, I was able to sink my walking sticks in snow up past handle set at 44 inches (112 cm) (see photographs below) and still didn't hit anything solid. On this trip, I was able to maintain good flotation the entire time I was on the trail. I was consistently only sinking approximately 3-4 inches (8-10 cm). I decided to test just how easy it was to take the Explores off and put them back on while on the trail. It was very easy. The Explore's bindings are, in my opinion, very easy to adjust even on the trail. I was able to loosen, remove, reattach and tighten the bindings while in fairly deep snow with gloved hands.
I then got adventurous and went off trail on my way back to the parking lot. I chose a very steep uphill climb and had to use kick-steps to get up the first portion of the hill. I then took a fairly steep side hill traverse at an angle toward the ridge. See photograph below. I experienced good traction with some minor slippage but found that if I took the time to make sure of my footing before taking the next step, the Explores were able to provide me with better traction and I experienced less slippage.
The Explores provided good flotation The Explores handled well even off trail
Based upon these three outings, I can say that it is easy to attach the binding to my heavy winter boots and the bindings stay attached to the boots during use. I have not experienced any problems with the bindings thus far. I am very impressed with the stability these bindings provide in various snow conditions and while using the snowshoes on and off trail. Although I have only intentionally loosened a binding while on the trail, it was easy to reattach the binding to the boot in fairly deep snow. The Beaver tail design of these snowshoes still makes them a little more difficult to use in terms of walking with a normal gait as compared to the more streamlined V-tail models. However, I haven't found the Explores to be more difficult to use than any other snowshoe of the same style.
I have had first hand experience and can attest that the drier the snow, the larger the surface area the snowshoe needs to have to maintain good flotation. My older Redfeather snowshoes are not as long as the Explores and unquestionably do not provide the same flotation the Explores did in deep, dry powder. Even then, I was struggling through some places up to my thighs in snow. Considering that the nearby ski resort was reporting 10 feet (305 cm) of snow, I couldn't really complain since I was able to walk several miles with only a few areas of difficulty.
Based upon my experiences thus far, the bindings pivot sufficiently to allow the tail of the snowshoes to fall away enough to shed snow build up during use. To date, I have not noticed that the crampons/cleats allow snow build up and, as such, have not had to remove snow from the crampons. Additionally, I have not had to clean or maintain the Explores but I will continue to monitor and report on any cleaning or maintenance issues. I have not had to pack the Explores but will try to take a trip or two in the next couple of months where that may be necessary and will report on how easy/safe it is to pack the Explores. What follows is a report of my continued use of the Explores over the next two months.
LONG TERM REPORT
(May 14, 2007)
On March 10, 2007, I planned to climb Lightening Peak or Peaked Peak in the Teton Range. However, due to unfavorable weather conditions, I drove to the Kelley Canyon Ski area and climbed the designated snowshoe trail to Upper Cole's Ridge (elevation 6,323 ft/1,927 m). The temperature was 32º F (0º C) when I began the climb. There was fairly dense fog and approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) of new, wet snow. The snow was barely covering the dirt in places but the new snow was also covering an icy base of several feet in other places. The trail to Upper Cole's Ridge was very steep in spots. I had good flotation while on the trail but when I ventured off trail, I experienced some flotation difficulty especially while trying to climb a steep ridge line (see photograph below). The Explore's crampons provided good bite up and down hill even on the exposed icy base. I felt very stable while ascending and descending. I did notice some tendency for pronation (in toeing of left foot) despite repeated efforts to adjust the binding but I must admit that I have a natural tendency to pronate slightly anyway when tired. The pronation did not create serious problems for me walking in the snowshoes. This was approximately a 2 mile (3 km) hike with 12 pound (5.4 kg) day pack. I used my lighter insulated hiking boots on this trek with no problems.
Flotation was not as good in some places off trail. Snowshoe tracks up a steep ridge line to Coles Ridge.
I next used the Explores on March16-17, 2007 at Island Park (elevation 6,549 ft/1,996 m). This was an overnight snowshoe hike. The temperatures during the day were very warm. Due to the soft snow, I found myself floundering in sometimes waist deep snow without the snowshoes on so I wore the Explores while pitching my tent and arranging my gear inside the tent. The next morning, after breakfast, I took down my camp and stowed my gear in the vehicle. I then went on a 1 1/2 mile (2.4 km) snowshoe hike. Island Park is an old caldera with high walls and a generally flat interior. The terrain over which I was using the Explores was mostly flat with some gently rolling hills covered with Lodge Pole Pines. There were no really steep climbs. By the time I started hiking, the temperature was up to 36º F (2º C) and the snow was beginning to soften quite a bit but there was a fairly good, compact base. The Explores handled the softening snow and gentle terrain without difficulty. Flotation was perfect as I was only sinking a few inches. When I attempted to walk on the snow without the snowshoes, I again would sink up to my thighs in places.
I attempted to use the Explores on an overnight backpack trip into Aldous Lake in the Centennial Mountains on April 7, 2007. I was looking for deep snow and cold temperatures but we were having unusually warm temperatures which had drastically reduced the snow pack in the mountains. I believed my best chance to find good snow was to travel north. The trail head to Aldous Lake is approximately 100 miles (161 km) north of Idaho Falls, Idaho. However, road conditions quickly deteriorated within about 4 miles (6 km) of the trail head. Water running down the dirt road had created seriously muddy and slick road surfaces. I was unable to drive further. I then drove back to Porcupine Pass, parked my vehicle and hiked up the ridge a short distance (elevation 7,219 ft/2,200 m). By this time, it was near dark. There was no snow at this elevation. Since my pack does not have ties on the exterior to hold large items like snowshoes, I had the Explores strapped the the back of my backpack with elastic tie down straps. See photograph below. This worked well and the snowshoes did not interfere with my movements at all. Unfortunately, the lack of snow resulted in no further use of the snowshoes on this occasion.
The Explores strapped to the back of my pack
I again attempted to use the Explores on April 20, 2007 during an overnight trip near Table Rock campground just east of Idaho Falls (elevation 6,126 ft/1,895 m). When I arrived at the place where I had planned to leave my vehicle and begin hiking, I found 1 to 4 inches (2.5 to 10 cm) of snow on the ground. While it was snowing lightly at the time, there clearly was not enough snow to use the Explores.
Conclusion: Unfortunately, we experienced an early spring and I didn't get to use the Explores as much as I would have liked but my impressions after five different treks with the Explores are as follows:
This concludes my reports on the RedFeather Explore snowshoes. I would like to thank RedFeather and BackpackGearTest for giving me the opportunity to test the Explore snowshoes.
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