Monday, November 25, 2013

Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra Gear Review

The Trail Effect's UltraChris at the top of Hollyburn Mountain
Whiskey Jacks at the top of Hollyburn
This weekend The Trail Effect's J.B.Running and I took our new Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras out for a test hike up to Hollyburn Peak. It was a fantastically sunny and warm day and we were able to wear just tights and long-sleeves. It took just over an hour to reach the peak via the winding snowy trail that others had made. The trip down was slightly quicker. The highlight of the hike had to be the birds and the view at the top! There were some very tame Whiskey Jacks and a somewhat less-friendly Raven all searching for food.

This is my first gear review so bear with me; I promise they'll get better! First, the trail we were on had a mix of packed snow, icy sections and a few exposed roots. Since this is a gear review for crampons I figure it should be broken down into a couple categories: Traction, Fit & Feel, Cost, and Final Conclusions

The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras feature a number of clusters of stainless steel spikes that are about a half inch long (see photo below). You'd think these would provide unbelievable grip, and you'd be right. In terms of traction, these stood up to everything we could throw at them. I tried running in them, I tried sliding on a sheet of ice and I even tried placing my foot on an icy, near vertical section of the trail and stepping up - they didn't budge! Full marks in this category.

Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra, pic from Hillsound website

Fit & Feel
Fit and Feel are at the opposite ends of the spectrum on this one. We'll start with the positive: the feel. The feel is great! I couldn't even tell they were there they're so light! Plus, the spikes aren't so long as to make it feel like they're pushing up into your foot. Those things, combined with the excellent traction, make for a phenomenal ride. The negative, however, is that they didn't stay on my shoes like they were supposed to, though J.B.Running's stayed in place for the most part. As you can see in the bottom photo, mine kept slipping to the side, and if I tried to over-correct and place them medially, that little metal bar would dig in to the top of my big toe! I think the issue stems from the fact that my Altras aren't as pointy as J.B.Running's Salomon Speedcross. I realize that most shoes come to more of a point than the Altras, but the Altras aren't that oddly shaped! And to be fair, the crampons did still work in lateral position, but I wouldn't trust them like that for a steep descent. Another thing that I wasn't totally thrilled about was the way the velcro strap attaches on top. It wraps around the rubber upper and, when tightened, it causes the rubber to roll upwards slightly. This isn't a huge problem, but I do think it could be designed slightly better.

Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra on Altra LonePeak shoe
Something isn't quite right here...
If we didn't win our Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras as draw prizes at the recent Phantom Trail Race, I'm not sure we would have forked out the money for them. They are regularly $69.99 which, compared to some of the other models, is a bit pricier, and would definitely be quite the investment for a casual runner/hiker. If someone does a significant amount of winter running on snowy and icy conditions I could definitely see the benefit of these, but otherwise the cost is somewhat prohibitive.

Final Thoughts
They did what they were supposed to; they gave unbelievable traction on ice and snow! The downside is they didn't accommodate my non-standard, albeit anatomically correct, shoe, so I'll have to do some altering to make them perfect. If you can get a pair of these for a reduced price I would very much encourage you to do so, or if you have a stack of cash burning a hole in your pocket then feel free to grab a pair. Just remember to make sure they fit and stay on your shoes! Also, for the next month or so, Hillsound is giving away 100 pairs of these Trail Crampon Ultras. The caveat is that you have to submit a picture of you wearing a pair of Hillsound crampons. Maybe you could borrow a friend's for a photo shoot...

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