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Hot Winter Gear: Kahtoola Snow Systems

It’s 50 degrees and sunny in downtown. Yesterday on Pearl Street, I watched people walk around wearing shorts, eating ice cream and window-shopping.  Despite the fact that it may seem like spring, it is December 28th and winter is here. It officially began last week with Winter Solstice and Mother Nature made sure we noticed by pounding Boulder and the surrounding foothills with over a foot of snow in just about 12 hours.

Although the ski resorts may not be reporting record snowfalls quite yet, my last few trips into the hills definitely confirm the fact that winter has arrived. Last week, I hiked Gray’s and Torrey’s in a freezing whiteout. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me and my fingers, toes and nose were frozen as soon as we left the car.  A few days later – amidst howling winds and blowing snow – I slapped on snowshoes and broke trail in the thigh deep powder that recently buried our backyard peaks: Bear and South Boulder.  (I hear it’s pretty rare for peaks this close to town to hold onto this much snow so I had to take advantage of it).

For me, this is what winter is all about. I come alive and head into the thick of the cold dark days to push my body, my mind and my gear to the edge. However, while I like to be out in the cold, I hate actually BEING cold.  So, over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some info about the hiking, snowshoeing & mountaineering gear I rely on to keep me warm and dry no matter what Nature throws my way.

We’ll start from the ground and work our way up. Hope this helps you stay comfy from head to toe while you get out there and embrace all that winter has to offer.

Kahtoola Snow Systems

My love affair with Kahtoola  started 5 winters ago and my fondness for this company and its products has only grown stronger over time.  I’m a hiker and trail runner, but colder temps and snow-covered trails only make cruising through the mountains more enjoyable.  The shift in seasons completely transforms the landscape, changing the familiar trails we’ve run all spring and summer into strange beasts we’ve never even been on. I am chomping at the bit to get out after a snowfall, but only if I know that I can stay standing and not end up falling on my butt every other step.

Because I lived in Alaska for 5 winters, I have tried almost every type of cleat and spike under the sun. The not-so-high-tech system that worked best up there involved drilling holes into the bottom of my sneakers and boots and inserting screws held in place with duct tape.  Although these homemade cleats did keep me from falling on my face, they weren’t exactly comfortable or all that practical (drilling holes in sneakers = rendered useless for other activities).

A few years ago, I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona and discovered Kahtoola – the company that  totally changed the way I get around in winter. Danny Giovale – who grew up in Flag – founded Kahtoola® after he slid down an icy gully, headfirst while descending from Campanile Basso in the Dolomites. He survived because his helmet and his daypack broke his fall and prevented injury. This accident inspired Danny, an accomplished climber, mountaineer and outdoorsman to create a traction system that would keep people safe while traveling over gnarly r terrain. By combining his ingenuity, knowledge of the outdoors and impressive design skills, Danny created an exceptional system of snow travel equipment. Because of its superior product, excellent team and outstanding company ethic (as evidenced by their 1% for the People program and generous donations to organizations like Veterans Expeditions), Kahtoola has thrived since releasing its first product in 2001.

When I head out into the mountains, I never go without at least one, if not a few Kahtoola products. Their versatility and quality can’t be matched. Here’s a quick review of the ones I use  the most: 

Mountain Snowshoes in action. Late winter climb up Hallett Peak. Photo by Chris Kassar

Mountain Snowshoes – Since early October when the first snow fell in the mountains,  I’ve been bringing Kahtoola Mountain Snowshoes with me on almost every hike. That’s because these snowshoes are perfectly suited to handle variable conditions ranging from ice to light snow to deep powder.

How can one snowshoe be so versatile, you ask? Well – it’s because of the incredibly unique and adaptable design that allows you to easily change from a crampon to a full snowshoe and vice versa by just stepping into or out of a durable, but lightweight snowshoe deck. The Mountain Snowshoes have a binding with an 8-point trail crampon that you can use on its own to travel over ice or packed snow when a snowshoe is overkill.  If you encounter deeper snow on a hike, you can grab the snowshoe deck and easily step-into it with just one click.   This system has worked so well over the past few months – especially with such variable and quickly changing snow conditions. On several occasions, I’ve been the envy of those around me because I don’t need to take off my pack or my gloves to mess with a binding ;it’s so adaptable that once the Mountain Snowshoe binding is on all I need to do is step and click and I’m ready to go.

Microspikes – When you don’t need a full crampon, but you still need a reliable and secure form of traction, this is your go-to piece of gear.  They are perfect for running a snowy packed trail up a peak,  hiking an icy path in a shady canyon or walking your pup on slippery streets.  They are more durable and provide more traction than any other gripper I’ve tested.  They are lightweight, compact and easy to get on and off so you can throw them in your pack or jacket pocket and you’ll never find yourself in a jam. On runs in the Front Range or harrowing descents in the Himalaya, Microspikes have always kept me on my feet when I needed it most.

KTS Crampons –
Using a fully adjustable, patented flexible extender bar and easy to use straps, Kahtoola created an ultralight crampon that works in a variety of conditions and fits over almost any kind of footwear from running shoes to hiking boots. Despite being light and comfortable, this crampon is still bomb-proof enough to keep you secure on any adventure.

Depending on the kind of terrain you’re planning to explore, you can choose from the aluminum version (19 ounces) or the steel version which are a bit beefier and have spikes that are a ¼ inch longer than their aluminum counterpart (23 ounces).  Both versions fold up into compact packages saving space in your pack for other essentials.

Last year, I used both types on glaciers in Chilean Patagonia and once again, Kahtoola came through –  they stayed comfortable over the long haul because of their flexibility, but still performed really well on rugged and choppy icy terrain.

KTS Crampons crushed it on glaciers in Chilean Patagonia. Photo by James Q Martin.

No matter which ones you choose, Kahtoola products will keep you on your feet regardless of where your sense of adventure takes you this winter.

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Stay tuned for more hot gear for winter. Next Up:  Boots

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