TAYLOR: Winter running, especially after five months, can get pretty old. There’s a lot to love about it, don’t get me wrong, but most of us just want to run free of extra layers and snowdrifts.
Gear is the great equalizer come winter. Getting some goods to make running a little more motivating, easier, and more comfortable can make a world of difference. When true winter rears its cold and snowy head, I almost always reach for a pair of traction devices. I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry in this case. Let me tell you about a time I bounced the back of my head off the frozen trail after slipping on ice — well, maybe later.
Hillsound sent over a pair of their revised FreeSteps6 Crampons. They’re one of the few metal crampons with sizable spikes that actually advertise products for running. Of course, these aren’t the traditional running traction that you grab on a whim next to the register. One issue with traction devices is that the rubber snaps after just a few runs — been there, done that.
Not here. It would take something serious to bust any aspect of these, like take your foot off serious. Durability isn’t even a question with these crampons.
ALEX: The Hillsound FreeSteps6 crampons were a welcome mid-winter delivery. This is a versatile, pull-on traction device that is easy to use with a stiff running shoe or hiking boot.
They’re constructed with a tear-resistant, reinforced-elastomer that maintains flexibility in subfreezing temperatures. The 21 steel spikes are a quarter-inch long for great grip on ice and snow, and the spike plate on the heel provides traction for your descents.
TAYLOR: The Hillsound FreeSteps6 has a thick rubber upper that molds around the foot and comes up over the top of the forefoot and heel. Underneath, a steel web holds 21 quarter-inch spikes. For comparison, my favorite running crampon, the Black Diamond Distance Spike, only has 14 spikes. These spikes are concentrated in six small, strategically placed plates. I appreciated having them segmented around the forefoot for a versatile grip. I could feel them underfoot digging into the frozen earth, whether I was going on the steep ups and downs or along my snow-laden gravel road.
A small bar runs across the toe bumper to provide a little bit of structure. This also keeps the forefoot rubber from really squeezing down on your toes — a typical complaint of many strictly hiking-focused crampons. I tried these with various shoes, and my one suggestion is to wear a shoe with a decently stout toe bumper.
Obviously, this combo isn’t for the light-hearted jog down the gravel path that might have some ice. This is for pure snow-packed or icy trails with something extra to dig into.
The last thing I love about the FreeSteps6 Crampons is they’re decently light (5.8 oz. each) and packable. Lately, I’ve been mixing up my long runs to include a variety of surfaces. Of course, icy and snow-packed singletrack is almost always in that mix, so throwing these crampons in my running pack is really easy. It takes a minute to take them out, slip them on or off, and get on with the run.
ALEX: While the traction is superb, I find that unless I am pairing these with a really stiff shoe, the design of the thick elastomer harness tends to bend my shoe into what feels like a ballet slipper. They can also cause pressure points if you’re putting these over a shoe with a soft upper. I find these work best on a hiking boot with a rigid outsole. I tested them on the Topo Trailventure 2 WP Mid, and they paired perfectly. For a lightweight traction device that won’t compromise the fit or form of your running shoe, I’d recommend the Black Diamond Distance Spike.
The easiest way to put these on is to first position your toe in the front (which is labeled) and then pull them back over your heel. The FreeSteps6 crampons have a very similar design to the Kahtoola MICROspikes. They have advantages over Kahtoola: they’re $20 cheaper (just $55 vs $75), and the FreeSteps6 has 21 spikes vs Kahtoola’s 12. I’ve tested the latter out while descending the long couloir snow climb that is the trough on the west ridge of Long’s Peak, and they provided all of the traction that I needed to feel confident on that steep descent. In fact, I’ve yet to summit a 14-er without them.
The only other advice I have is to clean the bottoms off periodically. I’ve had a lot of ice and snow build up into a big ball underfoot when wearing for an extended period.Shop Hillsound FreeSteps6
TAYLOR: If anybody in Boulder is reading this, ice season is coming. You might want to check into these to ensure that you stay upright. If you do, be careful with sizing as they are particular about fitting around boots or running shoes. $55 is a fairly average price for a pair of crampons like these.
ALEX: This is a great piece of gear to acquire and have in your pack on your mountain adventures or for your daily runs throughout the upcoming freeze-thaw period that is spring in the midwest.
You can pick up the at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Hillsound FreeSteps6