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Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra > Test Report by Bob Dorenfeld



Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
Test Series By Bob Dorenfeld
Initial Report    Dec. 1, 2014
Field Report    Feb. 17, 2015
Long Term Report    April 14, 2015
Tester Bio
Name: Bob Dorenfeld

I'm an active hiker, snowshoer, skier, and of course backpacker.  Home base is the Southern Colorado Rockies, ranging from alpine tundra to piņon-juniper scrub and desert at lower altitudes.  Many of my backpack trips are two or three nights (sometimes longer), and I usually shoulder about 30 lb (14 kg).  My style is lightweight but not at the expense of enjoyment, comfort or safety - basic survival gear plus extras like a camera and air mattress make my trips safer and more pleasurable.
Email: geartest(at)sageandspruce(dot)net
Age: 57
Location: Central Colorado, USA
Gender: M
Height: 5' 6" (1.68 m)
Weight: 140 lb (64 kg)

Product Overview

Manufacturer:  Hillsound 
Website:    www.hillsound.com
MSRP:   US$69.99
Stated Weight:  404 g (14.25 oz) per pair, size M as reviewed here
Measured Weight:
  410 g (14.5 oz) per pair size M
Sizes Available:   XS, S, M, L, XL 
(this test: M)
Materials:   420J2 stainless steel spikes and chains, elastomer harness
Carry bag provided:  weighs 28 g (1 oz)

 Main pic

The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra is a non-technical traction aid for shoes and boots used on snow and ice.  Attachment to footwear relies on the stretchy dark blue elastomer harness as it grips around all sides of the boot or shoe (no special boot design is required).  For added security there is a hook-and-loop strap that comes over the top of the harness at the front of the foot, and a small steel bar that grips the front of the toe.  Eighteen spikes at 1.5 cm (0.6 in) long are arranged in two sets at the front and rear of the crampon bottom, attached via welded chains.  With the Trail Crampon Ultra comes a thick waterproof nylon bag for storage.  Five crampon sizes are available, to fit US men's and women's sizes 5 to 15.  Hillsound warranties the Ultra Crampon for two years from time of purchase against "damage due to poor workmanship and/or defective materials excluding normal wear and tear, oxidation, alterations and modifications, damage by mechanical force, improper storage and maintenance and uses for which this product is not designed".

- Initial Report -

First Impressions     

My first job after unpacking the Trail Crampon Ultras was to try them on three different kinds of footwear that I regularly use to hike in snow and ice: a light shoe, a light mid-height boot, and a high-cut heavy mountaineering boot (photos below).  At this time I'll report on how the crampons attach and detach, and how their initial fit while walking on grass.  Since these shoes differ widely in their construction (they also vary in size from 8.5 to 9, US men's), I'll get a good first impression of how well the Ultra's sizing and design adapts to fit them.  The Trail Crampon size M I'm reviewing is recommended for US men's 8-10.

Light Shoe Light Boot Mountaineering Boot
Light Shoe Light Boot Mountaineering Boot


Following Hillsound's instructions from the accompanying User Manual, attaching the crampon to a shoe or boot is pretty simple:  slip the toe into the front the crampon (helpfully labeled "FRONT"), then grab the heel tab at the back to stretch the elastomer harness up on the heel as far as it will go.  Snug the harness up all around the boot and straighten where necessary; the harness has a lot of friction to keep it in place on the shoe's upper.  Make sure the toe bar is secure and straight.  Finally, bring the top foot strap under and back over the opposite side of the harness and using the hook-and-loop attach it to itself.  Removing the crampons is just the reverse: unstick the foot-top strap, grab the heel tab and pull down and away - the crampon drops right off my boot.

There is no designated right or left crampon, but personal preference may dictate which way I prefer, since the top strap pulls from left or right depending on which foot I attach them to.  However, since the straps are easily removed and reattached on the opposite side of the harness, I could also make the crampons identical to each other.  Each crampon displays its size in two places: in my case, an "M" on the foot strap and embossed in the elastomer at the heel tab.

I found the crampons easy to attach, and as expected it took just a bit more stretching to get them onto my heavier mountaineering boots than it did for the lightweight hiking shoes.  But in each case they fit snugly without any obvious slippage while walking in my yard.  At this time I have nothing to dislike about the Ultras.

During my Field Testing in the next two months I'll be looking at:
  - how well the harness stays in place on the shoe or boot on both mild and steep slopes
  - traction of the spikes on various kinds of snow and ice, and any extra traction supplied by the chains
  - how very cold temperatures might affect the elastomer harness
  - the durability of the harness, and the crampon as a whole
  - stickiness of snow to the steel points and chains
  - how the crampon set fits into the provided sack, and if the sack protects other gear from the points


- Field Report -

Field Conditions

Since my Initial Report about two months ago, I've tested the Ultra crampons on eight days for an approximate total distance hiked of about 20 mi (32 km).  Temperatures have varied from close to 0 F (-18 C) up to about freezing, and walking surfaces from soft powdery snow, wet and packed snow, and both hard and soft ice.  Also relevant is the steepness of the trail or off-trail slope, and for measuring that I carried a simple clinometer (degree scale with adjustable indicator that I can sight along).  Trail and off-trail slopes varied from 0° to 35°.

Installing the Ultras


Easy!  As I found in my Initial Report, the crampons are simple to install and remove.  Of course, the heavier the boot the more I had to stretch the elastomer frame; but even on my large mountaineering boots it was only a slight extra effort to pull the heel back and up.  The trade-off for easier install on lighter boots and shoes is a looser fit, noticeable when walking steeper terrain (more on this below).  When installing, I always check for alignment of the rubber frame and points: if I get that right at the start it minimizes or eliminates further problems while walking.

As for the foot-top straps, after a couple of uses I forgot to pay attention to the the direction in which they needed to be pulled to attach - it didn't matter to me which crampon went on which foot.  I usually adjusted the strap moderately tight - enough to secure the frame and keep it from moving around, but not so tight that I could feel it on top of my foot.  Occasionally I readjusted the straps during use when wearing my lighter shoes.

I found taking off the crampons slightly easier than putting them on, just because it's less effort to slip them off my heel and let the elastomer frame retract itself. 



Using the Ultras


My favorite times for using the crampons were on hard-packed snow and ice, as that's when the points can really do their job of sticking into the surface and adding friction.  What a pleasure to step confidently and not be constantly paying attention to prevent slips on the trail.  With the exception of the clear-ice frozen lake, I would have previously hiked all of my favorite snow-covered trails with unmodified boots and suffer the numerous slips and occasional falls as just part of the trip.  I especially like the way the crampons keep my heel from slipping on my normal step - it seems minor, but I added up all that saved effort over a 5 mi (8 km) trek and there's a lot of energy saved!


traverse iced lake
The steeper the slope, the better the crampons performed for me, given approximately equal conditions of snow and ice.  And even in loose snow (shallow or deep) I felt some improvement in traction most of the time compared to unshod boots.  I tested this on one particularly steep and knee-deep slope (left) by climbing and descending with the crampons, then repeating the short hike without the crampons.  In this case little or no snow was sticking to my boots so the points dug in well.



stuck snow
My least favorite trail conditions for testing were wet or moderately wet snow, which tended to accumulated on my boot bottoms and the points and which sometimes made walking rather uncomfortable (photo, left).  This snow stuck well to the metal chains and points, along with accumulated leaf/twig debris.  It's possible that a non-stick coating (as I have on my snowshoe points) would have helped, but the Ultra points are uncoated.  In those conditions I was constantly knocking off the snow from boot tread and points, and the Ultras were least helpful for traction.





dry trailOften there will be intermittent trail conditions where snow cover is light or non-existent (photo, right).  Instead of constantly removing the crampons for each stretch of snow-free ground, I'll just step carefully and lightly to avoid too much abrasion on the Ultras' points.  Examining the points now, they look good and I can't see any significant wear so far.  I've even used them to help climb over a couple of large downed trees (nice traction bonus!).

Depending on which boots/shoes I was wearing, I found that if the Ultras were going to slip out of alignment it was going to be the heel end.  The strap and the toe bar keep the toe aligned (especially if I occasionally tightened the strap), but on my light hikers (photo above in Initial Report) the heel moved around quite a bit on steep uneven trails, especially traverses across steep slopes with sloping trail grades.  I found that altering my gait helped keep the harness from slipping, but it was an extra effort to do so.

All of my testing so far has been on day hikes with a day pack at about 16 lb (7 kg).  Since I was unable to get out on an overnight backpack for the Field Test, I loaded up a pack with my usual backpack weight of about 28 lb (13 kg) to test the crampon's effectiveness under a heavier load for a 5 mi (8 km) round-trip on a hard-packed snow route along established trail. I found that the Ultras performed just as effectively with the extra weight on my back.



Storage Bag

seam sealingI like the included storage bag from Hillsound.  It's sized just right to take the pair of crampons easily without having to force them in.  I prefer to face the crampons with the points together, then with the bag opened all the way just slide them in and pull the cord to close off the top.  The bag is made of a moderately heavy and waterproofed durable nylon, which so far has protected my other pack gear from the sharp points. 

I had one incidence of water (melted snow) leaking out of the storage bag after my first outing with the crampons, when I noticed that the bag's seams were not sealed.  Turning the bag inside out (photo), I applied McNett Seam Grip to all of the seams.  Now the bag no longer leaks, even with as much as a half-inch (1.3 cm) of accumulated water at the bottom.




Field Report Summary

I've been pleased with the performance of the Trail Crampon Ultra, especially on my heavier hiking boots.  There they stayed in place once attached.  The foot-top strap helps keep the elastomer harness in place on the front end.  The points were long enough to give me a good grip in both hard-packed snow and ice for most trail conditions that I have in Colorado.  Even in deeper snow (when I wished for my snowshoes) I felt that the crampons helped with traction.  I like the storage bag - it's strong enough to keep the points from poking the rest of my gear inside the pack, and once the seams were sealed, it kept melted snow and ice contained in the bag. 



- Long Term Report -

Since reporting my field test, I've used the Crampon Ultras on five additional hikes, for about 3 mi (5 km) total with crampons on the ground.  As in the field test, conditions varied from cold, packed, snow and ice, to warm, almost slushy snow — sometimes on the same trail.

spring trailI can do no better here than to reprise my field test comments.  The Ultras are easy to put on and take off, and they fit better on my medium and heavy hiking boots than they do on my light boots and trail shoes (all sized at U.S. men's 8.5).  But since I like to wear the bigger boots in snow anyway, that's not a problem for me.  I found that at the beginning of this test, as long as I ensure that the Ultras are attached straight and squared up with the boot soles, then they'll stay in place even on the most demanding slopes.  As an experiment, on one hike I left the foot-top strap unattached, which caused the elastomer crampon harness to become misaligned on my boot twice on a steep traverse.  I'm convinced that the strap is a good design and I'll continue to attach it whenever using the Ultras.

I don't see any significant wear on any part of the Ultras.  I've been careful to keep them on snow and ice, or when that's absent I try for soft dirt or tree duff; so far the metal points are about as sharp as when new.  The elastomer harness is also in great shape - no cracks or other signs of failure.  The hook-and-loop straps appear to have many more cycles of use before they lose their stickiness.

The storage bag has remained waterproof since I added seam sealer near the beginning of my test.  The only change I've made since then is to attach a lightweight carabiner to the drawcord so I can conveniently hang the bag from my belt or pack and keep the crampons handy when trails alternate between dry and icy.

SUMMARY
 
All in all, I found the Hillsound Crampon Ultras to be an excellent aid for hiking in snow and ice.  They are quick to put on and take off, they stay in place on my boots, and the points are especially effective in harder-packed snow and on ice.  I've been throwing the Ultras into my daypack all winter, and at less than a pound (less than half a kilo) packing a bit of extra weight is well worth it for when those slippery trail conditions are encountered.

Pros

  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Foot strap helps keep front centered
  • Points arranged well for traction
  • Storage bag easy to use and waterproof (after seams are sealed)

Cons

  • Size M (this test) slightly too large for my hiking shoes and light boots (US Men's 8.5)
  • Wet snow tends to accumulate on uncoated metal of points and chains

 

Acknowledgments    

A big thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and to Hillsound for the chance to test the Trail Crampon Ultra.


Reviewed By
Bob Dorenfeld
Central Colorado Mountains




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