If you are one of those outdoor adventurists that refuses to let winter weather stop you from getting out on the trails, then there are two essential traction devices you’re going to need to have in your gear closet:
I do not recommend trying to tackle knee-deep snow without snowshoes, or work on sticking an icy section of sloped trail without microspikes. It can be a recipe for disaster if you end up twisting an ankle. Postholing and slip-n-sliding do not make fun outdoor experiences. I’ve made attempts to try hiking without any traction devices in previous years and have had to call it quits and turn back around. It’s a bummer, because when you have the right gear, winter outdoor adventures in Colorado are absolutely awesome! You get to experience familiar trails in a new way, off-season hikes will have less trail crowding providing you with a more peaceful break, and the challenge with navigating snow can provide you with a killer workout.
I did some gear testing and wrote up a gear review last year for Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Ultra – their microspike product line. No matter if you have Hillsound’s product line or Kahtoola’s, you’re going to need a set of spikes like this. They are perfect for trail runners at Lory State Park, and general trail hiking on hard-packed trails in Poudre Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park. With Colorado spring conditions, trails can remain icy as we go through the snow dump/ice-over cycle, and I feel like spikes are going to keep you going longer than Yaktrax.
This year I was given the chance to do some gear testing for Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Pro, which is a more heavy duty crampon than the Ultra’s, yet still not a technical mountaineering crampon.
At first I wondered “what on earth am I going to do to need these?” I was pretty stoked with the trails I could hike on microspikes and didn’t exactly expect that I needed something more robust for anything else. Well, well, well – Rocky Mountain National Park proved me wrong. I DO need these and I’m super thrilled that they’re part of my winter gear list!
Here are a few benefits of the Trail Crampon Pro that I particularly loved:
- Easy ratchet binding systems! Getting these on and off your boots is a snap. Literally. You can straight up grab and go, hitting the trail within less than 30 seconds.
- Anti-balling plates! This is an issue with the Trail Crampon Ultra’s and my snowshoes. It can be a pain in the ass knocking the snowballs off from the bottom of your feet. You don’t have to worry about that happening at all with the Crampon Pro.
My first trip with these Crampon Pros was on the Bierstadt trail starting from Bear Lake in February. Early-season snow conditions were better suited for snowshoes, so I feel like crampons are the best option for late winter and spring conditions.
It was a lovely bluebird day with a bunch of people on the mountains. The trails were already packed and smooth, and there was the warm weather causing certain sections to slush, making snowshoes totally unnecessary.
The trail to Bierstadt isn’t exactly challenging. There’s not a whole lot of elevation gains or any remarkable inclines to tackle. The Crampon Pro’s were overkill on this trail, even though I enjoyed using them. I was able to hike faster than I do on snowshoes, and the snowdrifts around the lake had been wind-blown enough that they had a hard icy crust ideal for lighter crampons.
I tried them on the Mills Lake trail last week, which is more difficult than Bierstadt. As usual, there were a good number of people unprepared for the trail conditions, hiking in either athletic shoes or snow boots and slipping around the whole time to Alberta Falls. I felt like I was straight up power hiking with the level of stability and grip I had from the 2.5 centimeter spikes (which is double the length of the spikes on the Ultra’s). I was stopped multiple times by other hikers asking where I got the crampons and that they wished they would have had something similar.
Now again, Mills Lake trail to Alberta Falls is nothing. I totally could have been perfectly fine with any microspikes on my feet, even Yaktrax. It wasn’t until I started climbing higher that I thought, “WHOA. I NEED THESE.”
Winter trail conditions can get a little tricky at RMNP because people tend to make their own routes along the way. It can be easy to get off trail just by following the path that others accidentally created before you. Once Mills Lake trail started to climb steeper, I noticed that people had made the route going straight up the damn mountain over a boulder field. But, I didn’t realize this until I had already started the ascent. This is where the Crampon Pro came in handy. They were perfectly suited for the steep incline and deep stair-steps that had been made by postholers trying to make their way up. I felt capable in my climb when other people were turning around.
I got back on the trail (where it was supposed to be) and things were easy peasy, and once again, super speedy. I really did feel that the extra length in spikes made for more momentum in each step. Not only that, I felt like a total badass with them on.
Once you get to the Loch trail fork and the bridges that take you to Mills, the trail flattens out before the steeper incline to the lake. This is also where you can get off track and miss going over the bridge to Mills. And, with the steeper incline, these crampons were AWESOME. There were more people carefully trying to stay on trail and not slide right down the mountain side (which looked pretty damn sketchy). I didn’t have one bit of trouble at all.
The biggest benefit these crampons gave me was on a significant slope that climbed just before getting to Mills Lake. I’m particularly bad at spacial analysis, and photos really don’t do it justice, but I’d wager this slope was 30 degrees or greater considering the evidence of small avalanches that had happened around it.
It seemed people didn’t have too much difficulty getting up, it was coming down where they struggled. Many ended up sitting on their coats and sledding down. I was able to side step my way with the Trail Crampon Pro keeping me perfectly stuck to the side of the slope. I loved it!!! I don’t think I could have done the same with microspikes. In fact, I know I couldn’t have.
So, that’s the differentiating factor between the need for microspikes and a heavier duty crampon. If you’re keeping it simple on easy trail systems without much elevation gain, then stick with microspikes. You honestly don’t need anything more than that. However, if you’re getting into the backcountry a little more and are non-technical climbing significant slopes, then the Trail Crampon Pro is where it’s at. These are now a staple in my winter gear bag for those high alpine lake hikes!
If this is a gear item that you’d like to purchase for yourself, please consider using the gear links on Fresh Air Fort Collins sidebar! A portion of your purchase goes back to this blog helping to pay for gas money to get through canyon adventures. Here are some deals available through the gear companies working with me on Fresh Air that also carry Hillsound products:
- Campsaver – free shipping on orders over $50
- REI -REI Members Save 20% Off One Full Priced Item. Plus Save an Extra 20% Off One Outlet Item
Use coupon code: MEMREWARD16
- Gear Co-Op – Save 10% on Full Priced Items at Gear Co-op! Climbing Gear & Outdoor Apparel. Free Returns & Free 2-Day Shipping! Coupon Code: AVANT10
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Trail Crampon Ultra for free from Hillsound as coordinated by Groundswell PR in consideration for review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.