Spring hiking with crampons

Hiking across a frozen lake in a pair of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras.

Yours truly in his Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras hiking across a frozen lake mid-March in the Purcell Range foothills.

With the onset of spring, most well-travelled winter trails turn into skating rinks with the daily freeze-thaw cycle. That’s why I decided to store my skis and snowshoes and try a well-reviewed pair of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras.

For serious hiking on snowpacked and icy trail, particularly over mixed terrain (occasional mud and rock), I found two brands that fit the bill—the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras and Kahtoola Microspikes. Both are made of lightweight stainless steel, easy to put on, and fit a variety of footwear. In fact, winter runners are fond of both brands.

If you look closely at the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras and Kahtoola Microspikes, you’d have trouble telling the difference. You do get 18 spikes on the Hillsound Ultras compared to 12 spikes on the Kahtoolas, and the Ultra spikes are a tad-bit longer.

The other difference is the Velcro strap on Hillsound models that runs over the top of your shoe or boot for added security. Without this strap, a few people have had one of their Microspikes slip off and get lost in the snow.

Availability of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras is a bit of an issue. Though Hillsound is a Vancouver-based company, MEC only carries the Arizona-based Kahtoola brand, including the Microspikes model. While a variety of Canadian retailers, like Valhalla Pure and Altitude Sports, do carry Hillsound crampons, the Ultra model isn’t always in stock.

Beyond favourable reviews from other winter hikers and runners, I can’t vouch for Microspikes. And my personal experience with the Ultras is limited to crossing frozen, windblown lakes and climbing snowpacked trails with moderate grades. I found them to have excellent traction on both surfaces, no strap slippage or loosening, and so light you don’t even know you’re wearing them.  I hope to report back next winter with a more complete update.

And as I look forward to next winter, I suspect I will do more hiking in my crampons than I will skiing or snowshoeing. Unlike the good old days, you encounter few trails these days that aren’t packed out all winter long by hikers, snowshoers and skiers. And if I’m in doubt, I can always strap snowshoes onto my pack to continue beyond well-trodden tracks. (While my crampons come with a nice, nylon carry bag, they can be easily clipped to my pack with a carabiner when I’m not wearing them.)

While I obtained my trail crampons the good-old-fashioned way (I paid for them), here is a Hillsound  video that gives you an idea of the Ultra crampons and how easy they are to use.