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  1. #1
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    Default Snow/Ice traction: Kahtoola Microspikes or Hillsound Trail Crampons?

    Hey guys;
    Yes, I know it's still early to be talking about ice traction devices, but unless I buy mine now, winter will come up on me unexpectedly, and I'll stay home (again).
    I own a pair of Kahtoola Nanospikes, which work very well for light ice or packed snow conditions, and even for running (they fit my road and trail running shoes), but I am going to be pushing myself a bit harder this winter on the A.T. and the Catskills in NY this year, so I want to be ready.
    I also have a pair of full 12 point climbing crampons, but these only fit my plastic winter boots - and I'm not even sure I can get my (runner's enlarged) feet into those anymore. When I tried last winter, my foot hurt so much I had to abandon the boots.

    I will be wearing my spikes on my Lowa Camino boots.

    So I'm doing some shopping online today, and find that I can buy the Kahtoola Microspikes at REI, Amazon, or directly from Kahtoola. The price is the same at all 3 ($69.95) but Kahtoola does not offer free shipping (the other two do).
    Problem is, I'm a bit put off by the bad reviews I am reading on Amazon. Overall the Microspikes get 5 stars, but when I open the reviews, the first 3-4 of them are bad. People are saying that the materials being used are not up to the standards of 'yesteryear' and that the country of manufacture has also changed.
    Honestly, I don't care where the product is manufactured; I care about quality and service.
    If my Kahtoola Nanospikes (purchased in Jan 2018) are any indication of the quality, then I will be happy with the Microspikes.
    But after doing a search in this forum, I see another product - Hillsound Trail Crampons recommended. Cost appears to be identical to Microspikes, so which ones I choose will be based on quality, function, and customer service.

    I came here because I know that I will get honest reviews from people who actually use the product; not those who are trying to sell a product or a competitor trying to sell a different one.
    So, what do you recommend?

    Thanks
    Arden

  2. #2

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    IMHO , Hillsound Trail Crampons are superior to the Kahtoola due to the spike plates and the instep strap which keeps them snugger. I have a backup pair of Kahtoolas and retrofitted the Hillsound instep strap to it. Loose hanging spikes leads to snow balling and its quite easy to step out of Kahtoola

    Note Hillsound makes a "Ultra" which is an exact copy of the Kahtoola. No better no worse, many folks get confused and buy these and wish they had bought the Trail Crampon.

    The comparison to me is Kahtoolas are like good snow tires while the Trail Crampons are like studded snow tires. I will mess with minor ice flows with my Hillsounds that I would not go near with my Kahtoolas

  3. #3
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    Thanks peakbagger;
    I will go with the Hillsound Trail Crampons. Can I assume that the sizing runs the same as Kahtoola Microspikes?
    A while back I inquired with Kahtoola about sizing, and was advised to purchase size L for my size 11-1/2 W boots.

  4. #4

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    FWIW - I have been winter hiking a significant amount of time. As a result I have acquired several types of traction gear for winter use and the varying conditions winter often presents. First off, I would avoid using anything short of micro spikes, like nano-spikes or Trak-Yaks, which are designed more for urban or "errand" level use like shoveling snow, walking the dog, or getting mail when conditions are slick. They typically do not withstand even minor trail irregularities like exposed rock, roots, and clumping ice/snow that will either break them, or render the traction feature useless through deformation from trail conditions.

    As far as selection goes, It really depends on where I will be going and weather conditions that can be reasonably expected. After first measurable snow I will drop a pair of Kahtoola's into the pack. I have to say, these devices have served me well over the years and are my first choice for trails that have both packed snow and ice with exposed mud, sand, or loose gravel treadway where taking them off to cross each one gets tiresome or is impractical. I find the Kahtoolas will survive these kinds of exposed conditions with snow and ice between them rather well for a few seasons or longer if one wants to take the time to sharpen the spikes. So the Kahtoola spikes for me are pretty much perfect for southern New England conditions most of the winter. I also apply silicone to the spikes and chain works under the boot to reduce clumping of melting snow that can gather under the forefoot or heel, which can be uncomfortable to dangerous with respect to twisting an ankle.

    The Hillsounds I will use when going into areas with cold temperature ice and frozen snow that can withstand spike entry, as their spikes are slightly longer and sharper than the Kahtoola's making them a little more suitable for those conditions. Having experienced accelerated spike wear with Hillsound's walking through exposed soil surface conditions mixed with ice and snow, I try to avoid open soil with these traction devices. I also treat these with silicone to reduce clumping. If I am unsure of what conditions exist at altitude I will throw these into the pack and wear the Kahtoola's until conditions force the change.

    Crampons are serious mountaineering gear that in my view should be used with extreme caution. Having seen some fairly serious problems in their use by inexperienced people, including a few rim rocked hikers who needed help. Crampons have the ability to tear outerwear, poke holes in boots, and cause a nasty injury if there are missteps along the way. But more importantly, crampons can take one into an area that cannot be easily retreat from without additional climbing gear, which on balance is not a good place to be. In my view, if you have crampons you should also have an ice axe as well. A length of climbing rope to work one's way down slope is not a bad idea as well. Crampons are made to accommodate both stiff mountaineering boots and come in a flexible type that are designed for use with more flexible fabric boots. I would avoid using crampons on boots not specifically designed for winter use. I have seen people use them in running shoes, though for the life of me I cannot fathom why.

    Snowshoes I added snowshoes to the list of traction devices with your reference to the Catskills and other NY locations which require snowshoes on selected trails. I wish more States required snowshoes at the higher elevations, there are few things more annoying than an idiot who postholes their way up/down a trail where the 4' deep hole acts as a gravity well that pulls snowshoes into them. I find snow shoes far more comfortable to wear on groomed hiking trails to avoid the sudden unexpected plunge into weak snow and the constant slight back-slide of each step when on packed snow trails that even micro-spikes tend to experience on steep trail sections. I have several different types of snowshoes for different conditions and use a pair of lightweight MSR trail snowshoes for use on groomed hiking trails.

    So much for the Thesis dissertation for what would appear to be a simple question. In my opinion based on decades of doing this and somehow managing to survive mistakes along the way, if you can only fund one type of traction device, I would opt for the Kahtoola's given their performance on most average snow/ice trails and not having to worry much about exposed soil surfaces. With these, one can develop the experience necessary to determine if more aggressive traction is needed and what to get with (these things make super xmas gifts!).

    Do this long enough and you will collect many different traction devices for winter, which over time will result in more stable hiking over more difficult terrain. You will probably find having a modest selection of traction devices will broaden the number of places to hike during the winter season.

    Good luck!

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arden View Post
    . . . I came here because I know that I will get honest reviews from people who actually use the product . . .
    Yes, and you will also get reviews from people who have used only one product or the other a little bit and then parrot the information they read about what matters and why their choice was the right one regardless. You seem savvy enough to appreciate the flaws of community reviews.

    I know nothing about any recent manufacturing or quality changes with Kahtoola. I do know that my Kahtoola Microspikes are from about 2013 or 2014. I've beat the crap out of them for years and used them in places other people insisted that full-on crampons were the only way to go. They have worked well for me on all kinds of trails and steep hiking/climbing routes on the NH 4000 footers in winter and many other places. I have not had problems with them coming off my feet and I've not broken or damaged them. I think I sharpened them once a few years ago.

    Working at an outdoor outfitter, I have also seen a number of Kahtoola Microspikes and Hillsound trail crampons boken by people pulling hard to force them onto their shoes and not thinking that pulling as hard as you can instead of adjusting and rearranging things to get them to fit might have a down side. Nothing is indestructible in the hands of an idiot.

    If you get the right size for your particular shoes, I suspect you will be delighted with either the Kahtoolas or the Hillsounds. I personally shy away from the generic copies for something as important as my mountain traction even though some may be perfectly good.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  6. #6

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    I do have both Kahtoolas and Hillsounds plus Grivel G10 flexible crampons. The Kahtoolas get used for easy stuff on known trails. Since I live in the whites and hike year round, the Hillsounds are my normal gear. I have accidentally done Washington and Jefferson in March with only Hillsound's (left the Grivels on the kitchen table. Conditions were good and I had a pair or MSR Lightning snow shoes with aggressive crampons built into the binding so worse case, switch to the snowshoes. The Grivels have their use but I rarely intentionally go on hikes that need to traction as I am probably in Ice Ax and self arrest territory. No need for that in 95% of the trails in the whites.

    As for breakage, the killer of both Kahtoolas and Hillsounds are pinching the rubber between the side of the sole of the boot and a rock. If the rubber is in that location the spikes are the wrong size. The rubber should set above the widest part of the boot as it curves up towards the top of the boot. I have multiple winter boots and need two sizes. Many folks do not bring their boots with them to buy them, they should. The instep strap on the Hillsounds will help snug up a loose set but nothing fixes a set that are two small. Ideally the chains should stay up under the boot when you lift the boot, if they are sagging with a gap that is an invite to losing a pair. I have stepped out of Kahtoolas several times over the years and usually its takes several steps to realize one is not on my feet. I have also picked up several singles along the trail. I usually catch up with the owner once he figures it out. If can be PITA when glissading or butt sliding to lose one. Its rare on a group hike for someone in the group not to step out of one on a hike.

  7. #7

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    As Traveler briefly mentions---the worst aspect is using Kahtoolas in wet snow as they will ball up alot of snow underneath and you will be walking on 5 lb clumps of snow under each foot thereby falling---and stopping every 3 feet to knock off the snow irks. Btw, we get wet heavy snow in the Southern Appalachians. I never tried the silicone spray test as I don't want to carry a can of spray in my pack plus I hear the silicone wears off fast.

    But microspikes go with me on every winter trip as they inspire confidence when going up or down an icy mountain with an 85 lb pack. And when temps are 0F or 10F they work great in powdery slick snow.

    TRIP 172 113-XL.jpg

  8. #8

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    Some folks swear by Silicon spray to cut down on ice balls, some like me have not seen a difference. Smearing with dielectric grease might work but would be messy in the pack.

  9. #9
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    I guess I really need to see both the Kahtoola Micro Spikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons in person before I buy either one. I believe REI does sell the Kahtoola in stores, but I'm not sure whether they sell the Hillsounds in the stores. As we all know, many of the less popular products are only available online.
    I forgot to mention that I also own a pair of Tubbs snowshoes, which I purchased about 20 years ago. They're in good shape, as I have sharpened the crampons at least once. Same goes for my Grivels.
    I did have the misfortune of ripping my leg gators while descending from Algonquin one winter. I was tired and getting sloppy. Otherwise I have no problems keeping my feet where they belong.
    I do use the snowshoes more than the crampons, as most of my winter hiking has been in Harriman Park. I enjoy snowshoeing in the deep powdery snow. The only issue with the snowshoes is that in a few locations on the A.T. in Harriman (think Lemon Squeezer) snowshoes can be quite clumsy. Of course I take the 'bypass' up the step when I'm wearing them.
    I also own an ice axe, and yes, when I hike in winter I usually carry about 50ft of climbing rope and several biners. I once thought I was going to need the rope to hoist my backpack up a short rock step in the Catskills, but after assessing the situation decided to keep the pack on my back, and didn't have a problem. This is where having a buddy is really important, but I almost always hike solo.
    I have never taken any classes in ice climbing; everything I know about how to self-arrest and to use an ice axe was learned from the Mountaineering Handbook and on YouTube.
    I have never needed to use my ice axe to perform a self-arrest, but have used it as a hiking pole and found it to be quite effective. Most poles don't have sharp points, and would probably break if one were to put his or her entire weight onto it. Also, I normally use two poles but only one ice axe.

    When I bought my crampons, I think it was more for the 'fun' of trying them out than anything else. I have used them in the Catskills - on the WS trail from Woodland Valley to Slide Mountain. I used them once in Harriman Park on the Major Welch trail when there was a lot of ice on the steeper sections near the top. Funny thing was that as I reached Bear Mountain summit, another hiker wearing the same crampons was on his way down. I certainly think that Microspikes would have sufficed in that situation.

    While I did purchase my Nanospikes for running, I have worn them on my Lowa boots while hiking in Harriman Park, and found them to be quite useful. I didn't have any issues with snow balling up, but then the trail was well packed.

  10. #10
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    I forgot to mention one other thing in my post (and unfortunately I am not a paying member at this time, so cannot edit my posts):
    Silicone lubricant to prevent snow from sticking to crampons.
    Maybe try ski wax?
    There are a number of ski waxes available as spray-on. This type of wax will never last as long as a stick of wax applied to the edges of the ski (or the crampon points) but it's so much faster to apply.
    When I was a kid and just learning to ski, it was a warm day with very wet snow, and I had forgotten to wax my skis before heading out the door. My skis became very 'grippy' on the wet snow. I didn't want to take the time (or spend the cash) to have them waxed by a pro in the ski shop, so I went to my car (parked not far from the slopes) and pulled out a can of WD-40. I applied a liberal amount to the bottoms of the skis and headed back to the slopes. The oil lasted all of one very short run. So much for WD-40 as a ski wax. i would never do that today, knowing what I do about lubrication, and the environmental impact of such products.

  11. #11
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    I have the Kahtoola microspikes and have had them for about 5 years or so.
    I have used them for trail running(with waterproof Altra Lone Peaks), but did not like running with them.
    For hiking, they work great, I am confident on ice, and they can handle the occasional "dry patch" without any problems. I do not hike in deep snow, so I can't comment on how well they work, but in the conditions I've used them (3-12 inches), I haven't had any issues with snow accumulation. I've used them with the Altra Lone Peak mid shoes, and will hopefully try them this winter with the Altra Tushar hiking boots.

    Good luck finding the best solution for you.

  12. #12
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    The Hillsound have the additional velcro strap and they see to stay in place better than the Kathoola. The spies are a bit more depressive and sharper on the Hillsounds too.

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