Since taking on Fresh Air Fort Collins eight months ago, I’ve amassed more outdoor gear than ever before. I was never a gear junkie…until we started prepping for our elk hunt last fall. Now we’re always looking at new gear to get us out more often or to make us more comfortable. I’ve also been looking at gear for outdoor adventures I’ve never attempted before 2014/2015, like snowshoeing, spring snow hiking, and backpacking.
As I’ve been gathering items and reading gear reviews – which I find incredibly helpful – I’ve decided to add gear reviews to Fresh Air Fort Collins. It’s not so much of a stretch considering my 6 years of experience as a restaurant critic on Feasting Fort Collins. Gear is different than food, but protocols are pretty similar – tested it out more than once, test it at length, and be honest.
I also have years of experience in biophysics and personal training. So I know when certain gear is going to jack your joints up.
First, we don’t spend a lot of money on gear. In fact, we will almost never pay retail on anything we buy. So you won’t find me reviewing god awful expensive gear that you won’t be able to afford. We buy most everything that I review out of our own pocket if the blog doesn’t have advertising sponsors (which it doesn’t, but I’d love to change that!). Somehow I’ve also been added to PR pitch lists and I receive a shocking amount of gear review requests. 99% of them get trashed, but there are those 1% that are worthwhile. Either way, I’ll alway let you know where we got gear that’s being reviewed.
Spring snow hiking as been a new endeavor for me this season as I’ve previous avoided the snow like the plague before this winter, thus there was a need for some new gear as I soon discovered on some hikes. Here’s an item that I’ve found to be essential in this transitional spring season.
If you catch the twitter updates from Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll noticed spring trail reports will often relay that it’s icy up there and you need traction devices. On Valentine’s Day I attempted to hike Fern Lake with just boots and had to call it quits at The Pool as the snow got deeper and I started postholing. While the trail was alright up to that point, some traction devices would have been nice. That same week I hiked Arthur’s Rock in Lory State Park and nearly busted my ass on some thick ice that covered the whole bottom half of the trail (there was a warning sign from the rangers – I ignored it).
Between these two events, I was starting to realize I needed spikes of some sort.
When I was snowshoeing on the Gould Loop, my snowshoes were giving me blisters and the trail was hard-packed, so Becky let me borrow a pair or her Kathoola microspikes. I liked them as they were easy to put on and I felt nice and stable on the trail. I was about to pick up a pair for myself when I received an email to review the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra.
These crampons were intriguing because they’re a little more hardcore. They aren’t mountaineering crampons (which is way above my skill level at this point), but they are good for trail running, and backcountry snow hiking. They have longer, more durable stainless steel spikes, a top strap to keep them more secure on your boot, and a carry case to store them in. I especially liked the ultralight aspect.
I took them up to Pingree on Tom Bennet road for an initial test drive. The road wasn’t in any condition to drive on as I saw tire tracks from people getting stuck in their attempts. Great place to try out the spikes! They were perfect for keeping me stable, but I found that you have to make sure they are on evenly. It’s easy to get excited, throw on the crampons and start going gung-ho on the trail. That’s exactly what I did. And when I did, my left set wasn’t on evenly causing some weird gait issues and muscle pulling. It was only a short hike, but I was getting sore spots at the end when I shouldn’t have.
I tested them out again on a hike up to Odessa Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This time I made sure to secure them evenly and didn’t have any issues at all. In fact, this is where I fell in love with them.
The trail was hard-packed from Bear Lake all the way up the mountain. As usual, there were plenty of underprepared tourists slipping and sliding around in tennis shoes, not expecting that much snow at that elevation in the spring (surprise! It’s going to be there for possibly another 2 months). It felt pretty kick-ass to strap on the crampons and go without worry of injury.
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra’s were like suction cups underneath my feet. I felt very solid on the trail and confident in every step (plus, I felt like a badass with spikes on my boots, but I would have felt that way with any crampon). I passed an older couple on snowshoes and asked them about the trail conditions above. They didn’t go all the way, saying that they turned around on the narrow sections that seemed a little sketchy.
I was SO HAPPY to be wearing crampons (and carrying trekking poles – but that’s a different review in the works). I was able to get across the narrow section just fine, but I might not have been able to so easily with snowshoes. Because of the combination of crampons and poles, I felt like I was hiking at a faster pace too. It was AWESOME and one of the best hikes I’ve had in a while.
On a different adventure, I brought them with me on my hike up Sandbeach Lake trail on the Wild Basin side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the trail was dry until the halfway point. Once I saw that the whole trail was covered in snow, I sat down, easily strapped them on and got ready to continue up. But, the snow wasn’t hard packed because people hardly hike this side in the winter, thus I postholed for a bit before calling it quits. I needed snowshoes from that point up. So, I’m not exactly sure how these are supposed to help you on backcountry snow hikes when nothing is going to be hard packed off trail. Maybe for bridge crossing? Maybe people posthole often and I’m just not that into it? Seriously, doing that all the way up Zimmerman Lake in Cameron Pass last summer was enough for me.
Either way, I’ve found that you either need crampons or you need snowshoes – or both – for spring hiking at 10,000 feet elevation and above. Crampons are damn handy to have in your pack when the icy occasion arises. I’ve enjoyed my hikes with the Hillsound crampons and haven’t had any problems (when I put them on correctly – imagine that).
Now that I’ve been hiking with them, traction devices are on the necessity list for Colorado spring hikes.
Feel free to share your experiences with your spikes and crampons for Fresh Air Fort Collins readers to consider!
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.