Up here in Anchorage, Alaska, Kahtoola Microspikes -- small metal spikes slung on chains, with a flexible rubber collar to hold them on your boots -- enjoy near-legendary status. They're pretty much the perfect ice gripper for hikers: Burly enough to handle dangerously slippery slopes, but flexible enough to walk in -- and store -- easily. (As opposed to most full-on crampons, which require fairly rigid boots that can be a real pain to walk in.)
There's pretty much nothing the Microspikes can't do. Just slip them on and you're ready to trek on everything from hard-packed snow and slick ice to spring mud. So when I was invited to review Hillsound's Trail Crampon Ultra -- which looks about the same, but costs a little bit more ($69.99 retail versus $64.95 for the Kahtoolas, as of Jan. 2014) and is a bit heavier (374g each, versus 340g each for the Kahtoolas, according to my scale) -- I was dubious.
Now that I've tried them both, I prefer the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra. They do everything the Kahtoola Microspikes do, but fit my boots better (thanks to a hook-and-loop strap across your midfoot, which helps keep the spikes from shifting beneath you).
The chain that crosses beneath the instep of your foot is also a little smaller on the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra than on the Kahtoola Microspikes. Combined with the more secure spikes, the end result is a more natural feel than I get with the Kahtoolas; I hardly feel anything underfoot and my boots retain their natural flat-sole feel, whereas with the Kahtoolas I feel like the soles have become every so slightly rounded beneath me. The reduced play in the Hillsound model's spikes also saves you a tiny bit of energy with every step.
Last but not least, the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra comes with a carry pouch (which keeps them from accidentally spiking anything fragile in your pack). If you'll actually use it, that's a plus. If you don't really see the need, the pouch is more or less irrelevant.
The Final Word
Short of going for a jog on a glacier, I wasn't able to push either set of trail spikes far enough for them to lose traction. That said, after testing both ice grippers on several types of boots and shoes, I definitely prefer the way the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras fit.
Still, the way your ice grippers of choice fit on your boots is going to be the ultimate test for you. I think you have better odds with the Hillsound version, but would encourage you to try both before buying if possible -- then go for the one that fits the most stably and securely to your footwear.
Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.