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Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra > Test Report by Richard Lyon

HILLSOUND TRAIL CRAMPON ULTRA
Test Report by Richard Lyon
Hillsound-top

Initial Report November 29, 2014
Field Report February 18, 2015
Long Term Report April 8, 2015

PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

Male, 68 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Shoe size: US 13
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA

I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies.  I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp.  Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences.  I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Outdoor activities in winter often include telemark or touring skis.

INITIAL REPORT - November 29, 2014

THE PRODUCT

Hillsound cleats The Hillsound Trail Crampons Ultra reflect their purpose - to maintain traction on snow and ice. To distinguish them from what big-time mountain climbers use to cross a glacier or climb straight up I've always referred to the less complicated hiker-oriented version as "cleats." These slip over a boot or hiking shoe and may be tightened by means of a Velcro strap. (I discuss this process under "Trying Them Out" below.) The metal parts are stainless steel, the uppers heavy but flexible elastomer (rubber). The stainless portions are permanently affixed to the rubber at eight points, as may be seen in the photo. Interlocking chain links are attached to five larger stainless pieces containing the spikes (or cleats or crampons, if you prefer). Eighteen spikes all-told, listed and measured at 1.5 cm (0.6 in). The Ultras are not left- and right-specific.

Hillsound promotes the Ultras as suitable for running and walking on snow and ice, bringing traction "to those needing to travel lighter and faster." A brochure that accompanied the products lists winter hiking, trail running, glacier traveling, and backcountry hiking as "proper applications."

Manufacturer: Hillsound Equipment Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Website: www.hillsound.com  [Note: A consumer cannot order products directly from Hillsound through this website, but each product page includes links to online retailers that carry it.]
Size: XL, also available in XS, S, M, L. There's a helpful sizing chart on Hillsound's website.
Weight: listed, 462 g (16.3 oz); measured 468 g (16.5 oz), for the pair
MSRP: $69.95 [I think this is US dollars, as that's the price on the US online retailers linked on the Ultras' product page, with a slightly higher price in Canadian dollars on the Canadian retailer pages.]
Includes a carrying case (see photo), which weighs 35 g (1.2 oz)
Limited lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship or material. "Limited" as the user must make a claim within ninety days of discovering the defect, and remedy is limited to Hillsound's choice of repair, replacement, or refund.

TRYING THEM OUT

Mother Nature cooperated, dropping eight inches (20 cm) of snow the day before the Ultras were delivered. This gave me an opportunity to test them around home, on both hard-packed snow on my driveway and home street (neither is paved) and the softer drifted snow in my backyard. On a late morning walk the temperature was about 40 F/4 C; at 6 am the following morning it was 25 F/-4 C. On both walks I wore the Ultras over Oboz Tamarack low-cut hikers, shown in the photos, and walked up the street I live on and back, about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) each way. At a couple of spots the grade is fairly steep, maybe ten per cent. The following day I walked down to the mailboxes at the end of the road (about one-half mile/1 km each way) with the Ultras on my boots. In the new snow the temperature was about 10 F/-13 C.

On and off.  These go on the same way most other hiking crampons I've tried do, by fitting the front of the crampon over the front of the boot and then stretching the elastomer to slip the back over the boot heel. In addition to its intended purpose of providing greater stability at the heel, the larger single crampon at the rear makes it easy to tell which end is which; there's also a toe guide wire in the front. After hand adjustments to ensure that the links and crampons are properly placed, including a check that the toe guide wire sits in front and not underneath, I then pull the Velcro strap under the elastomer opposite and back over, fastening it across the top of the boot. Removal is even easier - just pull down on the heel rubber tab after unfastening the strap.

In addition to the Tamaracks I tried stretching them over much more substantial Sorel boots. This took a bit more horsepower but was fairly easily accomplished. With the bigger boots the Velcro strap came only about halfway back but its hook-and-loop connection held firm.

It was much easier to attach the Ultras before donning the boots. I endorse Hillsound's advice to put these on while seated.

Hillsound packed The carrying case is large enough so that the Ultras fit easily into it with a single fold on each crampon. Once the two got tangled when I extracted them but it was an easy matter to separate them.

Fit.  According to Hillsound's chart, XL is sized to fit US Men's sizes 11-14, European 46-50. It's the right size for me. The back of the crampons hugged the Sorel boots' soles but I got a proper fit, with all chains underfoot and the toe guide wire aligned squarely. With the Oboz hikers there was a small bit of slack at the heel crampons, something that in no way hindered my walking or the spikes' gripping.

Staying in place. This wasn't a problem. On both hikes the Ultras didn't slip or slide at all, despite the minor slack noted above.

Gripping ability. Ice traction aids don't do much good if they don't get a good grip, and it was here that the Ultras really shone. I could almost feel the spikes grap the hardpack. At first it was more like walking with expedition crampons than with hiking cleats. The early morning walk took place in classic thaw-and-freeze conditions, the prior day's sunshine and warmer temperatures having melted some of the snow which then froze overnight.


WHAT I LIKE

The Velcro band. It can be adjusted to fit different sizes of footgear by its length and also by moving it along its track.

The spikes. Great grip!

The toe guide wire. Helps center the boot in the cleat.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR

My biggest issue with winter cleats has always been durability. If a chain breaks the cleat usually becomes useless. Hillsound's welds and materials appear sound and strurdy, but only heavy use will tell.  I have planned some serious walking with the Ultras over the four-month testing period. I hope that you will check back in a couple of months for my Field Report to see how they fare. My thanks to Hillsound and BackpackGearTest.org for this timely testing opportunity.

FIELD REPORT - February 18, 2015
So far the performance of the Hillsound Ultras has borne out my initial impressions.  They have kept me upright in a variety of winter conditions - and some non-winter conditions too. Read on for details.

FIELD CONDITIONS

Freakish weather the past six weeks has in fact increased the Ultras' usage, though often in circumstances I surely didn't expect back in November. 

winter fishingSince mid-January the Northern Rockies (at least the part where I live) experienced weather more appropriate for April or May than midwinter.  I don't recall the mercury dropping below 25 F (-4 C), even just before dawn, and snow has been scarcer than rain.  Daytime highs in nearby Bozeman have several times exceeded 60 F (16 C). I had more snow in my yard last May than I did before winter returned briefly earlier this week.  This has, needless to say, modified my outdoor activities considerably.  It has also led to an unexpected use of the Ultras – extra traction for my fishing boots.  With temperatures in the 40s F (4-7 C) I have traded ski and touring gear for waders and headed for the local rivers and spring creeks.  Winter fishing on such days can be fun, but ice and snow along the banks are a constant hazard.  (If you look hard, you'll see some in the photo. That's part of the problem - can't always see the ice.) The water is COLD and the early spring weather unsuited for swimming.  The Ultras fit over my wading boots in the same manner as hiking boots, and have enough stretch to accommodate the larger toes on the boots.  They were a Godsend.  Casting on the Yellowstone spring creeks is an art that calls for complete concentration.  In consequence I tend to spend less time checking my footing than when hiking, not a safe habit when ice is present. With the Ultras I didn't slip once, and the grip was as solid on wet ground as on black ice. 

Most of my driveway, particularly the portion just outside my garage, faces north and rarely sees the sun between December and March.  The warmer temperatures meant classic freeze and thaw, a phenomenon great for spring skiing at a resort but leaving me a moderately sized hockey rink for a driveway most of the time. As I have to cross this to get to my wood supply or to walk down to my mailbox at the end of the street, the Ultras were put to much extra use, in fact almost daily duty, these past few weeks.

Another consequence of our early spring was my ability to use the Ultras instead of skis (and so avoid having to bring ski boots) on two three-day weekend hikes to rented Forest Service cabins around Bozeman and the Gallatin National Forest.  Weather on these hikes, one about one mile (2 km) and the other about four miles (6.5 km) each way, was clear and between 30-40 F (-1 to 4 C).  A bit was over fresh snow but most of it was walking on a combination of ice and hardpacked snow not unlike my driveway.  On each of these I carried about forty pounds (18 kg) in my pack and hiked with ski poles.

I've also had the Ultras on my boots or in my pack on eight day hikes of between two and twelve miles (3-19 km) in the neighborhood, at temperatures from -5 to 45 F (-20 to 8 C), in clear weather except for a few snow showers.  As on the overnights I hiked with ski poles, though my pack weight was no more than twenty pounds (9 kg) and often much less.

PERFORMANCE

Ease of Use.  Wearing different boots meant frequently stretching the Ultras over my boots. I prefer to do this seated, and after all that practice I think I've got the system down. It's simple – be sure the toe piece is firmly fitted over the boot toe and properly aligned laterally, then stretch the rubber to seat the heel.  Once in a while I have to re-stretch to adjust the Ultras a bit to ensure that the side chain isn't tucked slightly onto the sole.

Once properly seated the Ultras stay that way.  I've noticed no deterioration of the stretch or strength of the rubber.

Grip.  The Ultras' firm hold on ice and snow is as reliable as that of any hiking cleats I've ever worn.  This product is aptly named; their grip is more like that of full-on mountaineering crampons than of those designed for hiking boots. This I attribute to what I consider longer spikes than I'm used to and the firm, non-slip grab of the rubber on my boots. With no sliding around the Ultras hold their grip even when I'm descending the steep trails of the two closest day hikes, something I did twice in the dark. 

Storage.  I really like the storage pouch included with the Ultras, which allows compact and safe [no punctured or torn items] storage when I have removed them for a ski run or snowshoe or when the trail is clear of snow or ice.  A few times the spikes have caught on the chains, mandating taking off my mittens to untangle the Ultras, but usually it's just simple extraction.

Durability.  I figure that the extra use I've given the Ultras because of the odd weather has put an extra strain on them because of odd surfaces underfoot. I've mentioned the wet ground near the spring creeks.  Increased use on the driveway has involved strapping them on in an anteroom, then walking across the cement floor of the garage to get outside, a process repeated in reverse when I'm done with my chores.  None of this yeoman service appears to have diminished the spikes' bite on snow and ice. As the spikes and chains are stainless steel there has been no rust. None of the chains has loosened or lost a link – not an uncommon problem with frequently used cleats. As noted the rubber works as well as it did out of the box.  Very high marks here.

WHAT I LIKE

A reliably great grip

Storage pouch

No loss of stretch

WHAT I DON'T

Haven't found anything yet

LONG TERM REPORT - April 8, 2015

FIELD CONDITIONS

With a brief exception in early March our weather over the last two months here in the Northern Rockies has continued to resemble spring more than winter. Most of my hiking has taken place at freezing or above. Of course there's been more hiking than usual for this time of year as the warmer weather and sketchy snowpack have made ski touring less enticing and snowshoeing less necessary. I've worn the Ultras on ten more day hikes and one more overnight at a Forest Service cabin, all in the vicinity of Bozeman or Yellowstone National Park. Trip length has varied from two to twelve miles (3-19 km) and from one to eight hours. Most of the hikes were in the forest and therefore shady areas, meaning that most of the trails were very hard-packed with snow or ice. The Ultras came in very handy!

Home use was less than during the Field Test period, however, as my driveway and street have turned from rink ice to muddy slop. I did take the Ultras with me on another fishing day on a Livingston spring creek but found their use unnecessary.

Hillsound5 PERFORMANCE

I have not much new to report, and that's a good thing. Performance during the Field Testing period was excellent; performance during the Long Term testing period has been excellent. Though I haven't changed footwear as frequently as during the Field Testing phase when that has become necessary I have each time easily extracted the Ultras from pair A and quickly stretched them over pair B.  As before, the rubber has retained its grip on the shoes.

Grip continues to impress. On a short but relatively steep local hike - the College M, to those who know Bozeman - I did not slip or slide even once on the descent even though I had left my hiking poles at home and the late afternoon sun (the hiking route faces west) had turned hardpacked snow to slick ice. Bravo, Ultras!

Our weird spring weather meant patchy snow on many trails, with shady sections snow and exposed sections dirt - sometimes hardpacked, often damp or downright muddy. With occasional gravel and rocks exposed as well. Accordingly the Ultras hit more than their fair share of non-snowy surfaces over the past two months. The picture at left, blurry from the rain, was taken on an overlook in a meadow - no snow there but plenty on the trail up.  The Ultras have come through without any detectable loss of performance, whether it's weathering the rocks or grabbing the ice when the trail returns to the woods.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Durability remains the Ultras' most noteworthy - and praiseworthy - trait. Since moving to Montana in 2012 I've considered hiking cleats a necessity, and not only because I live on a country lane. I keep a pair in the emergency kit in my car and often have another pair semi-permanently attached to a pair of boots in the garage for local walks or outdoor chores through the winter. Only a single pair dedicated to daily use has lasted much longer than a single winter, and several have become dysfunctional after only a few weeks due to a broken chain or rubber that lost its stretch. The Ultras' four months of continuously splendid performance is already an excellent run in my opinion, and I could not discern any deterioration in performance during this time. They performed as well on my most recent hike as on my first hike. I look forward to keeping the streak going on a few high-altitude hikes later this spring and a return to regular use when the snow begins to fly next fall.

The Ultras truly performed as crampons, overall the best pair of hiking spikes I've ever worn. Should one eventually fail I'll quickly and happily buy a new pair.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

This concludes my Test Report. Many thanks to Hillsound and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test these wonderful hiking crampons.

 







 



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