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Kahtoola Crampons Traction System
[Originally written for BackpackGearTest.org, this review was current at the time it was written but should now be considered out-of-date. It is likely this product has been improved based on test results such as those reported here and experiences from other users. It is also possible that this product no longer exists or has been superseded by products produced at a later time. This page is included for historical purposes as an example of a gear testing report I had submitted.
Only minor updates such as email addresses, links, and formatting have been made as necessary to accommodate inclusion of an older report into this web site.]
Shoe size: womenís size 13 (menís 12)
(This report satisfies the requirements for both the first and second reports.)
The Kahtoolas came packaged in a very nice, cordura, stuff sack. The sack itself is well made with taped seams and a handy, snap down, belt loop for attaching to the waist/hip belt of a fanny pack or backpack.
The stuff sack contained the Kahtoolas, a feedback card, a warrantee card, and an instruction sheet. The feedback card asks how you use your Kahtoolas, what you like, what you would change, and for any other comments. The warrantee indicates a three year guarantee against breakage during recommended use. The instruction sheet seems complete and clear and includes an "Important Notice" describing the conditions for which Kahtoolas are and are not designed to be used.
The pair weighed in at 17.6 oz or .2 oz more than indicated. The bag weighed it at 2.4 oz. or .1 oz less than indicated.
I, like other testers, was surprised to find the Kahtoolas were not stowed with the teeth facing each other. Even the stowage instructions indicate to stack the Kahtoolas "so the teeth are all facing the same direction (not teeth to teeth)." Given the opportunities for wear and tear on the bag, I wonder why. The Kahtoolas do fit in the sack when they are stacked teeth to teeth.
The stowage instructions also indicate that the Spring Bar is "stopped by the teeth on the front of the Toe Piece." I find the Spring Bar has enough vertical give and pushed through the teeth on the Toe Piece. It rubs against one of the teeth and scratches the red coating at that point. Given that the maintenance instructions indicate that the teeth can be filed after miles of rocky terrain, I do not see this as a problem. Using the Kahtoolas and filing the Kahtoolas would eventually rub the red coating off the teeth anyway.
The instructions for adjusting the toe strap and the Spring Bar are clear and easy to understand. After youíve read them once, the Kahtoolas are simple enough to leave the instructions at home. While I generally have my equipment adjusted properly before leaving home and Kahtoola recommends adjusting them before going out in the cold, the adjustments on the Kahtoolas are simple enough to do easily in the field.
Iíve used full 12-point crampons before but the Kahtoolas are designed for a different type of terrain and different use. Iíve also tried in-step crampons and found them to be rather annoying to use as a normal stride tends to slip, then catch, and then slip again. With in-steps, you must walk flatfooted to maintain traction. The Kahtoolas seem to be an excellent compromise, as a lighter, less technical, crampon that gives full foot coverage to enable you to walk or run with a normal stride.
I was able to very easily adjust the Kahtoolas to fit trail shoes, light hikers, and my heavyweight three season hiking boots. I wear a womenís 13 (or a menís 12) and there was just one longer adjustment point on the Kahtoolas. When I tried to put them on my Sorels (the ones with lug soles good to Ė40f), the Kahtoolas could not be adjusted long enough. Though I would expect to use my full crampons in situations where I am using my plastic boots, I did try the Kahtoolas on those as well but found them too long for the standard Spring Bar as well. I understand there may be an extension bar (longer Spring Bar?) available and will try to get that to test the Kahtoolas on my Sorels.
I expect to field test the Kahtoolas on a variety of footwear this weekend in New Hampshire.
Field Test ReportShoe size: womenís size 13 (menís 12)
Footwear: custom Limmer boots and New Balance 961 trail shoes
Additional Tester: Tom McGinnis
Shoe size: menís 12
Footwear: Hi-Tec boots and New Balance 800 trail runners
Date: April 13, 2001
Region: Boston, MA
On Sunday, April 8, 2001, we climbed Mt. Monadnock, a 3,165í mountain in southern New Hampshire. The day was foggy and wet with wind whipped drops melting off the ice and rime encrusted trees. The weekend before, I had been in the White Mountains and knew the bigger mountains were still too snowy to test the Kahtoolas (17 oz). In the aftermath of the previous nightís ice storm, the conditions on Monadnock were perfect for testing the crampons. Tom and I used crampons, all the way from the parking lot at 1,480í to the summit. I wore the Kahtoolas all the way up the mountain and halfway down the mountain before we switched off so he could try them as well. Tom started out wearing my SMC 12-point, hinged, strap-on, crampons (30 oz). Our feet are essentially the same length so making adjustments on the trail would not be an issue (more for the SMCs which require an allen wrench than the easily adjustable Kahtoolas).
With temperatures ranging from about 40 degrees in the parking lot to just below freezing at the summit, and a well packed trail, we both wore full grain leather, steel-shanked, Nowegian welted, heavy, hiking boots rather than double boots.
The trail conditions ranged from slushy, crusty snow at the bottom, to rough, post-holed soft ice, and to hard ice. There were ice-encrusted rocks with a .25" layer of ice so that when stepped on, the ice just broke off and we found ourselves essentially walking on bare rock. Stepping off the trail, there was an icy crust on top of some softer snow. I would break though and sink up to 1 foot. At the base of the mountain, the snow was probably still 3í thick or more on the ground.
We got a late start so chose the shortest trail to the summit, the White Dot trail. At 2.2 miles and with 1,685í elevation gain, there was plenty of varied terrain to try from near flat to steeply sloped.
The gently sloping trail near the base was soft enough that it seemed we didnít really need the crampons though they obviously helped. I know the trail well enough and knew it wouldnít be long before the slope got steeper and we needed the bite of the crampon teeth.
After 20 minutes or so, we arrived at the spring and had our first chance to walk on bare rock. I found the crampons held well enough on the rock. It was apparent that the teeth were a bit narrower underfoot than a full mountaineering crampon so just a bit of extra attention was needed to make sure I didnít twist an ankle.
Continuing up the mountain, we passed another pair of people on the mountain. They were to be the only other people we would see on the mountain that day. As it happens, I knew one of them so we stopped to chat. One was wearing full crampons and my friend, who had probably leant her friend the full crampons, was wearing in-steps. My friend indicated that the in-steps were not working well given the conditions on the mountain that day. One day earlier, before the ice storm came through, they had been a good choice for the mountain.
So far, the Kahtoolas had performed quite well for me. As we got to steeper sections, I found that I had the think a bit more about where I was putting my feet than when I wore the full crampons but that they were sufficient for the task, even on those more steeply sloped areas.
Approaching the summit, there was more solid ice to contend with and the teeth bit well. Also, we started to hit more ice-encrusted rock. Where the ice was thin, it broke away under our feet and left us essentially walking on bare rock. I had no problems with slippage and found that the shorter teeth helped me feel more stable than when I use the full mountaineering crampons on bare rock.
The summit probably had 40 mph sustained winds with gusts to 60. I really had to use my hiking poles to help stay upright.
Shortly after I started down, my heel slipped out of the side of the crampon even though the ankle strap was still firmly around my ankle. It was only then that I realized that the Kahtoolas were set one notch too long. They had been adjusted for a different pair of boots and I hadnít realized they were adjusted improperly when I put them on and walked up the mountain. Thankful for the easy adjustment, I shortened them one notch and continued. The heel no longer slipped out. Going back uphill, I found no difference in the way they felt than when I had ascended with them one notch too long.
Continuing down, I found that if I let my momentum carry me, took lunge steps, or just trusted the Kahtoolas, the teeth bit fairly well. They did feel like they slipped just a tiny bit compared to the rock solid bite of full crampons though. Given that Iím usually very tentative on the descents because my knees are particularly susceptible to pain and injury when descending, I found the Kahtoolas slipped a bit more for me when I didnít have momentum behind my weight to help sink the teeth into the ice.
Tom pointed out that had I been hiking without hiking poles which were taking a significant portion of my weight, the extra weight I would have put on the Kahtoolas may have been enough to help them bite better. Thatís possible but I wouldnít have been out there without the poles or an ice axe to take some of the weight off my knees anyway.
Halfway down, we switched crampons. Immediately, I found the SMCs gripped so much more securely. They also felt heavier on my feet. For me though, hiking without that tiny bit of disconcerting slippage allowed me to hike significantly faster. Tom, also found the Kahtoolas more liable to slippage but with more confidence (and no knee problems or hiking poles) he would just step confidently and know the Kahtoolas would catch, and they did. He was not at all slowed down by the Kahtoolas.
Given the reduced weight, Tom preferred the Kahtoolas, even on the steeper slopes. Tom also preferred the Kahtoolas in that they had no front points to trip him up. I preferred the SMCs on the steeper slopes. Perhaps because I have more experience with the full crampons, the front points did not give me any particular concern about tripping. On the flatter areas, we both preferred the Kahtoolas. They were so much lighter on our feet.
I believe the conditions on Monadnock pushed the limits of the Kahtoolas which are not designed for mountaineering. They are designed, as the Kahtoola web site says, for the "casual hiker looking for safe passages or a determined outdoor enthusiast who does not want to be limited by snow or icy conditions" and not for conditions so extreme that front pointing is an option.
That being said, we wanted to try the Kahtoolas in conditions where the SMCs would be overkill. So back at the car, Tom, skeptical about wearing crampons with running shoes, changed into his trail runners, New Balance 800s, and put the Kahtoolas on. Immediately, he noticed one design flaw. The ankle strap of the Kahtoolas should have some mechanism to help them stay on the shoe when the ankle is low cut, rather than slipping up to the ankle itself. He just positioned the ankle strap below the knot on his laces and found that worked well enough.
Tom is an ultra trail runner and completed the HUFF 50k last December in slushy conditions where a lot of energy had gone to waste. He took off with the Kahtoolas in the similar conditions at the base of the mountain and came back ten minutes later with a grin on his face. When I asked him "Whatís the verdict?" His response was "MINE!" He did not want to give them back. In conditions like that, he thought the extra pound on his feet would have been worthwhile to prevent the slippage that was happening for the duration of the 17 mile course at the HUFF.
He commented that he wished he had designed them himself. The added weight made his "running" shoes feel more like "trail" shoes. For a quick control run, he took them off to try running without them and while his feet felt lighter, he would slip 6-12" on each stride and promptly slipped off the trail into deep snow when he pushed it. He put the Kahtoolas back on for the remainder of the trip back to the car.
By the time he got back, I was ready to try them on my trail shoes, New Balance 961s. There, the ankle was cut just a bit higher and the strap seemed like it would stay on the tongue. Not being a runner, I took off up the trail at a fast hiking pace and immediately realized thatís exactly what the Kahtoolas were designed for. The Kahtoolas felt light on my feet, flexed appropriately, and gave me traction to walk confidently in slippery snow and ice in low angle situations. They will easily extend my hiking season on the local hilly but not mountainous trails that tend to get packed with snow first and then turn to ice for a month or so before finally melting back to regular three season (dirt, rocks, and roots) conditions.
I will continue to use full 12 point crampons for most of my White Mountains winter hiking. There, conditions tend to be steep, the longer teeth more stable, and the front points useful even when not doing technical climbing.
For local walks in the Boston area where I was repeatedly foiled by icy conditions and where full crampons would have been overkill this spring, I canít wait to use the Kahtoolas next year.
There were a couple of times when the lack of teeth near the instep caused slippage. Due to the design of the crampon, this is obviously more of an issue for us longer footed folks. Also, there was one point when the Kahtoolas were being adjusted that the Spring Bar bent significantly. I just bent it back and continued using them without any apparent problems. In the conditions with rotten ice, neither of us had any problems with snow or ice balling up between our shoes and the Kahtoolas. The only apparent wear and tear on the Kahtoolas was on the tips of the teeth where the red paint had worn off.
I very much appreciated the opportunity to field test the Kahtoolas. I think they are a great product that fills a niche for which I have seen no other products.
The next challenge is to figure out how to market the Kahtoolas to find the people most likely to need such items. In addition to backcountry outfitters who cater to the hiking crowd, these should be marketed at places that cater to trail runners and runners in general.
I had hoped to test the Kahtoolas on a larger variety of footwear including size 12 Sorelís for which the longer Spring Bar was shipped to me by Kahtoola. If I get the chance to do additional testing, I will post to the group and update this file.
Last updated, July 10, 2010.
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