Almost two years ago, I went to the Grand Canyon.
Andy and I went there when Spring-like conditions flourished on the canyon bottom. But winter conditions still prevailed on the rim.
Most of my winter activities are typically involving skis and a generous snowpack. Not icy hiking. But Andy cautioned me that microspikes would be a good idea. Also known as “traction devices,” microspikes are a step down from traditional crampons and are traditionally used for icy hiking in non-technical conditions. In other words, when you want something in between trail runner and poles but not boots, crampons, an ice axe, and possibly a rope.
And though we did not use the traction devices frequently, in spots, they came in handy and proved to be useful.
And which microspikes did I go with? The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
Why this particular product over similar products?
- YakTrax are something that I found all over the snowy tracts of Boulder. They seem to slip off easily and best for getting the mail!
- Even two years ago, reviews of the classic Kahtoola microspikes said the quality declined in recent years. Amazon reviews seem to confirm this as well.
- Hillsound’s reputation is very solid. A history of designing and using gear in the Canadian Rockies.
- The Hillsound Trail Crampon is only about five-dollars less but two-ounces heavier vs. the Ultra. Contains fewer, but slightly longer spikes. I prefer the more points of contact versus the slightly longer spikes. And, again, I am looking at icy and packed snow conditions versus wet snow.
- Other versions of Hillsound traction devices are also available. More spikes vs. the Ultra, but the spikes are not as long as the Ultra. I want more traction for where I go but tend to hike at a reasonable clip. The Ultras are a nice compromise for my hiking style.
- I already have strap-on crampons for boots if I need them. I tend to ski more than technical mountaineering pursuits, however.
- And though I am a dirt bagger for such things as fleece and other clothing, and there are Chinese knock-offs available at a lower price even two-years ago, I do not feel comfortable purchasing technical equipment this cheaply. More so where there are no trusted long-term reviews. I think for a piece of gear that I need to trust and will also have for years to come; another ~$45 is not expensive.
And now two years later, I find myself in a similar environment to Grand Canyon on The Colorado Plateau. Meaning I regularly hike and backpack in winter conditions that are more icy than snowy. And where I can easily slip and fall and potentially hurt myself badly.
The Hillsound Ultras have worked quite well. Easy on and off, and with a strap that secures the device in place effectively. Perfect for quickly downclimbing a dicey area, having the crampons on secure, and then immediately placing them in your pack when not needed for the next stretch of trail.
.And though 14 oz may be anathema to your typical three-season ultralight backpacker, I think of how much my winter ski kit (shovel, repair kit, skins, and wax, cable bindings, etc.!) weighs and 14 oz is not much at all. And far better than falling on my ass and seeing how good my insurance might be! 🙂
Overall? The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras are easy to use, reliable, and effective devices for icy conditions that fit my hiking style well.
Update: And, again, this review is for icy and packed snow conditions I typically frequent. As stated in the review. If you want something for wet and heavy snow, but not deep enough for snowshoes, the Hillsound Trail Crampon or the (better choice if heavier) Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro with an anti-balling plate would fit those conditions. Despite the name, these are not technical crampons and should not be used in that manner.
Disclosure: I purchased the Hillsound Ultras with my funds in January 2017.
Two thumbs up for me as well. I will throw them on even when hiking pretty flat packed snow as they take out that little bit of slip in each step that cumulatively eats up leg energy.
Have you used Microspikes as well? In comparison, do the added straps provide added stability and reliability on steeper surfaces and traverses as claimed? I have not found the “rubber” band traction devices to be reliable on traverses or steeper slope. Probably good on well graded trails tho.
Limited use of the classic Microspikes when I borrowed them. Yes, the Hillsound provide support. Otherwise, I’d be on my ass. 🙂 Thes Ultras really aren’t meant for off-trail, mountaineering type activities (Whites in the Winter; Glacier travel in BC). THat’s why I have strap-on crampons.
As an aside, I find the well-graded and well-used trails to be the worse for ice vs off-trail in many ways. Bear Peak up the Fern Canyon Trail in my old haunt of Boulder is a prime example. A luge run in the winter. With spikes, manageable.
Do you think either the Hillsound Trail Crampon or Trail Ultras would also work on icy sidewalks? I can’t decide. They would be mostly for hiking (trails and possibly snowy areas where there could be the slight chance of icy patches or rare occasion steep snowy incline).
Both would certainly work for icy sidewalks, but they’d be very overkill. Additionally, depending on how much you walk on the sidewalks, you’ll blunt the spikes quicker and need to re-sharpen.
If your budget allows it, I’d get some YakTraxx or similar just for icy sidewalks. You’ll keep the spikes in better conditions and the YakTraxx type slip-on quicker, easier, and take up less space by the door. Frankly, that’s their best use, too vs. a backcountry situation. Fewer than $20 on Amazon.
Thanks! Honestly, I’ve only wished I had spikes on sidewalks 2-3 times on my life (covid might change things since I can’t go to the gym and need to move outside). I need them for upcoming hikes (may/may not need scenarios) and was hoping they’d be a middle range so I’ll just focus on hiking.
I considered the Hillsound FreeSteps6 because they seemed most similar to Kahtoolas microspikes, but I want the velcro and Hillsound is cheaper and seems great!