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Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra vs Kahtoola MICROspikes: Winter traction smackdown

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Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra

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From icy sidewalks to climbing 8,000 meter Himalayan peaks, winter slips and falls on ice affect us all. At the low end of the spectrum, people have died. At the high end, total and complete humiliation as witnesses choke back laughter. We’ve all been there.

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Today I’m pitting the Hillsound Trail Crampon ($69.99) against the tried and true Kahtoola MICROspikes ($64.95). Testing ground was the Minneapolis winter of 2014 (arguably the coldest and ugliest on record since 1979).

Disclaimer #1: I’ve been wearing Kahtoola MICROspikes for two years and have set them as the barometer and standard because they have yet to rust or show any signs of rusting.

The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra have eighteen spikes (size small) that deliver excellent traction on ice and hard-packed snow and hills with ice and hard-packed snow. Like the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra, the Kahtoola MICROspikes carry loads of stability and traction on all surfaces and activity and have twelve spikes (size small).

Geared towards winter hiking and backpacking, Hillsound came up with the Trail Crampon Ultra to go for the jugular of the Kahtoola MICROspikes.

Did Hillsound pull it off?

Eighteen spikes or ten spikes, both the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra and Kahtoola MICROspike were 100 percent identical in performance. I even walked with a MICROspike on one foot and a Trail Crampon Ultra on the other and could not tell a difference in performance or traction.

The MICROspikes cleats are officially 3/8 of an inch, as stated on Kahtoola’s website. Hillsound does not provide a length size on their website but when I held the two side by side, they look identical to my naked eye.

Both are made with strong high-grade stainless steel. Hillsound uses high-strength 420J stainless steel; Kahtoola uses heat-treated 400 series stainless steel. The weight and feel of the steel on both are identical. The Kahtoola’s weigh in at a feathery light 12.2 ounces (size small) while the Hillsounds crush the scales at 13.8 ounces (size small).

Something to keep in mind if you plan to carry these in a backpack.

I suspect the Hillsounds weigh more because of the additional cleats and the Velcro strap that wraps over the top of the boot to secure the crampons snugly. In my opinion, the Velcro strap is superfluous because the elastomer harness is not going to come off unless you take it off.

Snowballing at the heel seems to be rampant with winter traction devices. I read some other reviews to see the varying opinions on this but I did not experience any snowballing on the heels of either crampon.

Could have been the makeup of the snow, could have been chance, but on a five-mile hike on snow-packed trail, and the occasional sojourn into the fluffy stuff, both the Kahtoola and the Hillsound did not accumulate snow balls on the heels.

The winner

I tried and tried and tried to come up with a winner between the Kahtoola MICROspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras and I failed. FAILED like the rhythm method in the backseat of a teenager’s car on prom night.

Both are well-made, both perform well; both will keep you upright when walking on icy surfaces and running on snow-packed trails.

One is lighter (Kahtoola) but the difference is negligible. One is priced higher (Hillsound) but only by a few bucks. Both attach to your foot with an elastomer harness, are quick and easy to put on and take off. Though you’ll have one more step with the Hillsounds because of the Velcro strap.

In the end, I have to base my favorite on location. Kahtoola is based in Flagstaff, AZ, home to Northern Arizona University, my undergrad alma mater.

But--Hillsound hails from Vancouver, BC, my second favorite city in the world. Home to Whistler, Kokanee beer, and the Cove Bike Shop.

I give up. It’s your call. Both are awesome. Maybe choose based on the stuff sack? Hillsound includes a stuff sack while Kahtoola sells them as an accessory for $9.95.

Disclaimer #2: I mention the Himalayan peaks at the beginning of the review for poetic purpose only. The four winter traction devices I tested here are not a substitute for proper mountaineering or ice-climbing crampons!

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