Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra Gear Review

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra Gear Review

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    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member


    Companion forum thread to: Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra Gear Review

    Introduction Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras are mid-weight, mid-traction crampons designed for improving traction on unstable footing due to rain, mud

    Paula U
    BPL Member


    I echo your recommendation of the Hillsound microspikes. Not only are the spikes a bit longer than the competition, and the hook and loop instep strap unique, Hillsound customer service is wonderful. After almost 2 years of using my pair, a link broke in exactly the same spot on both. I emailed Hillsound with pictures and asked if the company could suggest any way to repair them. Hillsound responded the next day and said that while I was out of (the then 1 year) warranty, it had recognized this failure as a design flaw since corrected. What size did I need for a free replacement pair? Wow. THAT is service!

    I believe the spikes now are sold with a small storage bag, which is very handy, especially when you may need to switch between spikes and snowshoes but don’t want to poke holes in your gear.

    A friend gave me some aviation wire that I used to require the old pair back together into a perfectly serviceable backup set. The new ones have been tested hard and keep rockin’.

    Walter O


    I also have used Hillsound Trail Crampons for two years. Unlike the previous commentator, I have had no breakages and they are still in use although the points have rounded somewhat. They are, by far, the best traction aides I have found for hard ice on a sloping surface. My only problem is when the snow warms, there is some balling. Under these conditions, I have take them off and break up the ball about once a mile. I highly recommend the crampons, particarly for hard ice and hard snow pack.

    Tom K
    BPL Member


    They’re the best by far that I have tried so far, for all the reasons given by the reviewer.  Excellent review, and on the mark.

    John K
    BPL Member


    I like my Hillsound Trail Crampons a lot. It looks like in this new version they eliminated the plate system and also went to stainless. It will be interesting to see how the stainless stands up to exposed granite.

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    I have the Hillsound FreeSteps6 and the Trail crampons. They work well and are a decent price compared to other manufacturers in this category (though not compared to cheap knockoffs). I’ve broken mine a few times.

    Much is made of the ‘welded chain’ links in this review. I count 66 links in my Hillsound Trail crampons (the components that aren’t either the elastomer upper or the spike plates), only 18 (27%) of which are welded loops. The rest are all just bent loops of wire in one shape or other. On my Kahtoolas, there are 70 total links in the crampon, 44 (62%) of which are welded links.

    In my experience the bent loops where the chain meets the elastomer upper is where failure most often happens, either by the loop bending open or simply tearing through the elastomer eyelet (not strictly the loop’s fault, I suppose). Grit gets into the interface between the loop and the elastomer eyelet and abrades the rubber, eventually causing it to crack and fail. Kahtoola seems to have addressed this with their plastic grommet inserts molded into the elastomer upper. I don’t have enough miles on my newer Kahtoolas with the plastic inserts to see if this makes a real practical difference yet.

    I’m not sure how this is a real ‘review’ after 4 or 5 day hikes and with no field experience with competing products. I don’t disagree substantively with the conclusions, they just seem very thinly sourced.

    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member


    Hi there all,

    I will clarify now I have worn other crampons (including climbing crampons.) I’ve never had much use for keeping them till my boots failed. (Probably the over confidence of youth.) I normally wear a full boot, with full tread. (or ski’s, snowshoes or ice skates as the case may be.) I’ve traded and swapped out crampons for years and never kept a pair longer than a season. Most often they were rattling around the bottom of my pack and forgotten. I have no intention of giving up my Ultras till they die.

    The Ultras do, in fact, come with a wonderful little carry bag which save Ultralight fabrics from being shredded. A freezer bag might be lighter but also more risky.

    I tested and examined all the current models on the shelf. The other models didn’t suit conditions as well. At this point, the product has six months of heavy use and I stand by initial testing results. I would say the other users quoting two years or more of use have also come to similar conclusions. I haven’t experienced any point dulling yet but given as I have been leaving them on to cross talus fields I expect I will at some point.

    For reviews, authors have a limited scope of time (I had a week on this one.) I also a style guide to follow, which means picking a specific testing ground and period of time. I have to rely on research and previous product experience (many of which are no longer in production and not worth mentioning or I don’t remember product details years later.)

    I will also point out, the Hillsound Trail and the Hillsound Trail Ultra are two different products and have different features.

    These products are frequently updated when failures are reported to the manufacturer. Older models will not necessarily be the same or fail in the same manner. Individual use and conditions will also impact failure rates and circumstances.

    At 5’1 and 110lbs, I’m probably going to die before the Ultras wear out from use. They may fail due to material age degradation. However, I doubt my size is going to test the long term stress limits of any of the materials.

    Jay Bruins
    BPL Member


    If we’re going to look at one of the heaviest pairs of spikes on the market, why not compare them to full crampons? Your small Ultras are 422g. The Petzl Leopard FL, which is hiking/approach shoe compatible, is only 384g (claimed)! As a current Microspikes owner, I’d love to know if there is something better than what I have (and specifically if Petzl’s claims are accurate). Right now, all this review tells me is that Hillsound makes a good product that is different from what I own. Useful, but not enlightening.


    If this review truly follows the style guides, I’m disappointed. It’s clear and articulate, but is also full of lawyer words.

    “Of the crampons I considered”: can we maybe instead take *more* than a week and actually state, with confidence, that the comparison is true for all you could find? I know you need to draw a line somewhere, but excluding a lighter product from a name brand manufacturer doesn’t seem the ideal place.

    ”Perceived longevity”: why does perception matter? If your analysis was like @phillip-ak’s, then yes, I care. Experiencing failure and suggesting what might be expected matters. Saying, essentially, that the chains are burlier doesn’t convey much. Why do you expect the chains to be the part that fails? (You might both be right.) Retitling this section as “observed differences” (Ie as contrasted with competitors) would be more transparent.

    ”these products are frequently updated due to failures”: hold on. If this is true, what version did you test? What changes were made recently? Can you at least tell us what year these came from and guess as to which years stock it came from?



    If we’re going to review a product that is heavier because of three features (hook-and-loop, longer teeth, and burlier chain), I think it can be expected to show that *in actual practice* the design trade off made by the manufacturer was a wise one that justifies the weight penalty. If something is hard to test (Ie durability) at least stating that it was not tested for this (and ideally giving previous failure analysis as above) is reasonable. If we can’t, I don’t think we should say it’s *highly* recommended, at least not for audience that emphasizes weight so much.

    (FWIW, I’ve seen Hillsounds rotate under a partner’s foot and have not had that experience with Kathoola. I don’t know if this is common, but it gives me pause that the main selling point is not necessarily effective.)


    Sorry for picking on this one review as many of these are editorial concerns, but I am genuinely curious about this space so it’s easier to highlight what I’d like to see and maybe we can fill in the holes.

    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member


    As I backpacker, I would say the Leopards would be more a hinderance than a help on varied terrain like roots to boulder gardens to creek crossings. I did, in fact, check out the Leopards (and a dozen or so others of the Ice crampon variety) but they were not the same classification of crampon at all. We do have to compare apples to apples. To do a comparison with the Leopards I would have to take a sample of ice climbing crampons and write an entirely different article. (Which isn’t off the table but that’s a next winter project.) I didn’t give them a weigh scale test but the Leopards and their carry case will be more than that and about twice the bulk of ‘mini crampons.’

    In my experience, manufacturers change their product slightly every year (color, shape, features etc). I used the 2018 version.

    As far as durability, I have two other readers saying they’ve used their Hillsounds for two years with no failures and one guy showing a different brand and/or style of crampon with a elastomer failure. I’ve now used mine for eight months solid and they barely show wear chains or elastomer.

    Weight is important but not paramount to fit or function. If I buy the lightest pair of runners on the market but they don’t fit and are too slippery to be useful I’m shooting myself in the foot as an backcountry traveler. Weight is one factor.


    It’s the same with packs, one of the easiest places to cut weight is with a pack. I have a spinal injury, how much do I factor weight over fit? The answer is I don’t. I choose the best fit and lightest weight possible. What I choose may not be the lightest product but it will be the lightest product which best fits my intended use. Your intended use may be different and you would pick a different product.

    I’ve worn the Katoolas, they are fine. But I found them hard to get on, had more potential failure points, less traction and more expensive on top of it. I didn’t keep the Katoolas. I can’t directly use that experience in the article because they have changed the product. I tried them on again this time around and put them back for the same reason I traded them off a few years ago.

    As far as the rotation goes it means the Crampon was not sized properly. It has nothing to do with the crampon itself. A medium would rotate on my foot, a small would not. Proper sizing is paramount with any crampon but it’s not necessarily something I can show in an article. I advocate for test before you buy if at all possible. I am certain any ‘mini’ crampon will rotate if not the right fit.

    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member


    In answer to your more editorial questions, I would go to the Editors Round table with those. The style guide changes frequently and is available for anyone to see.

    My personal thoughts are this:

    Every article requires authors to rely on their personal experience analysis and perception. Sections will have my personal opinion and sections will have information only.

    As far as ‘in actual practice,’ how far down a rabbit hole do we go and to what end?

    I could go and solicit every company making mid-grade crampons and request break and load strength tests on their materials. I’ll be waiting for the information for weeks or months (if I get it at all.) Not conducive for publishing a reasonably quality article in an appropriate time frame.

    I could also do load/break tests on all the products on the market and report back. However, who is buying me a bunch of crampons to destroy? Who is paying for my time to do it? Don’t get me wrong, I like wrecking stuff, especially if it’s because I wore it out.  However, it’s not fiscally feasible (or responsible) to destroy a bunch of products to go beyond perceived longevity. Some things are obvious without getting too in depth. Also, I believe this falls more into the MYOG information. If I was building crampons it would have more intrinsic value.

    Thicker chains are going to have less pressure per square inch on the elastomer binding and therefore will be less subject to binding failure but add weight. Double welded chains will have higher break/load strength. Bigger teeth will have more traction but add weight. More teeth will have more traction and add weight. Seems relatively obvious without me intentionally destroying gear or spending months of research for curiosity sake

    The bonus of being able to engage with authors, is you can ask more questions. Even a decade or more later you can find out updated information about a product. If you look back in 2005 there is a review on MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes. In 2019, I can provide an updated look at the product and provide information on their female specific Lightning Ascent. No one has asked, but it could be done.

    When or if these crampons fail, I will post an update. Eight months of heavy use in and I probably have an even higher opinion of them than the week snapshot of their use. No significant wear, no failures. I don’t stop using a product I highly recommend when the review is over. They stay in my inventory for years. The only time I highly recommend a product is when I have decided to keep it for an extended period of time.

    The beauty of a reader/author forum is If you already have a pair of similar crampons you can add your personal experience with those specific crampons and your individual use. If you have this exact pair of crampons you can add your experience with them based on your individual use. Having a different experience doesn’t make my experiences invalid. Preference, conditions, experience, and individuality in using gear all play a role in gear selection. The reviews are very transparent, I have to articulate my experience and my rational for the gear I pick. I don’t have to do that for anyone else. Different purpose and terrain will always lead to a different item selection. I can tell you right now, someone will have a use for each of the products compared. The compared products didn’t jive with my uses and terrain.

    I have many years in Ultralight backpacking in and I do not always put the highest value on the lightest option for the simple reason is it is not the most appropriate option when I factor in everything else. I don’t know any long term ultralighter who does blind ounce racing for long. The ounce race is fun for a while, but it wears off. At some point dollar value, product quality and longevity, health and safety considerations, comfort factors, weight and individual preference comes back to a more balanced and wholistic approach.

    For instance, I used to use plastic sporks. They are the lightest  and cheapest available options but they also break at inconvenient times a few times a season. Now I have a titanium long handled Snowpeak spork. It’s heavier, and more expensive on first blush. It’s cheaper when I factor in a) how much waste breaking plastic items creates b) how often I was replacing my plastic spork c) extra repair materials I carry because the lightest, cheapest option could be counted on to fail at any time. My Snowpeak was also lighter when compared with the chunk of duct tape and stick I carried after I would patch my plastic spork when it failed. Still a nice light option? Yup. Better quality item? Yup. Worth the weight and money? Likely, I haven’t replaced a spork in 5 years. I was buying about 1 plastic spork a month or two. Same thing with every other piece of gear, factor the weight but always take your brain with you.

    In this case, the dollar value of the product with the product quality were more important than the weight. A couple of oz’s either way are not going to off set the positive features of the product. I can wear lighter shoes or lower the weight on some other item if I compulsively need to gram weenie. An integral part of safety on an icy headwall is not where I ever choose to gram weenie. Bigger teeth, more stable bindings, and a lower price point for a couple ounces is acceptable. I would love to see this product in a titanium, would be cool but might not be worth the price point either.

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