And now it is time for a tale of two crampons, appropriately time given the abundance of ice and snow Mother Nature has bestowed upon us lo this very season. These two models come courtesy of Hillsound, a Vancouver BC based company with a focus on fine footstuffs. Here at Gearflogger, we consider traction devices mandatory load-out for any trip during winter months, and all our vehicles are equipped with a pair for just-in-case, and the original coil-spring models we used to stock have all been replaced with micro-spikes from Hillsound.
Hillsound actually makes a range of crampons and traction devices, all of which use spikes of varying number and length to provide traction. The FreeSteps6 and Trail Crampon Ultra are the two we reviewed; both models have a nearly identical thick rubber harness that keeps them mated to your feet securely, with front and back clearly marked, and both use stainless steel chains to connect the little platforms with the teeth attached.
The difference between the two is that the TCU is a more aggressive design, with 18 half-inch long teeth versus the 21 quarter-inch teeth on the FS6. The TCU also has a strap across the top, which if you're off-pavement in deeper snow is really mandatory. Otherwise you will lose a crampon, and you won't notice it until it's too late.
Both Hillsound crampons function very well. On ice, they grip securely at any angle and under load, just make sure you use a flat foot and don't consciously try to walk on edge. The FS6 is the better choice for urban and bare ice applications, where quick on/off and shorter teeth make sense for situations as varied as changing a tire on an icy shoulder, trekking up a frozen bare creek bed for some ice climbing, or just walking to work on icy sidewalks. For the reasons cited above, go with the strap-equipped TCU if you're going to be postholing. And bonus: the TCU also comes with a tough little storage bag to keep the feet together and unentangled.
The only caveat to the micro-spike format, and this applies to all of them, is that damp spring conditions will result in snow balling up in the chains. If you don't clear it periodically, you will become destabilized, much like that psychotic first crush in high school who couldn't handle the breakup. Not that any of us were ever that person. No, that's a baseless rumor. Anyway, you should be hiking with trekking poles in those conditions anyway, and a quick thwack – yes, that's the technical term – on the side of your shoe will do nicely. Now get out there, respect Dr. Darwin and maintain a bipedal form of locomotion!