Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ULA Axis Crampon review

I’m giving the ULA Axis Crampons a thumbs up. I carried them for over two hundred and fifty miles this summer, hiking through the Sierra in late June and early July. To be honest, I only actually put them on three times but to me that was their intended use. A lightweight crampon for those “just in case” occasions.

Walking up steep slopes was easy with the Axis’. They don’t hinder walking like full crampons do. They also don’t provide nearly as much holding power but I was quite satisfied regardless. On only one occasion was the snow anywhere near the realm of ice; the points sunk in nicely and I was a very happy hiker.

The crampons show almost no signs of wear so far. I walked with them on rock or dirt for a total of about ten feet. The points are still straight and like new. The straps look new as well. The only negative thing that I can think of relates to the straps. Twice, I noticed the back of my foot twisting a little on the crampon. This happened because the plastic straps can stretch a little under stress. That’s a very bad thing! Foot movement was reduced by further tightening of the straps, to the point where they were uncomfortable. Crampons should fit very snugly and the Axis are lacking here.

I’m happy with my purchase and will continue to carry them on all trips where snow might be encountered.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

ULA Axis Crampon initial review

ULA Aixs 8-point instep crampons.
Manufacturer's weight: ~10 oz. (straps uncut)
Tested weight: a smudge under 10 oz.

First a little about myself and the anticipated conditions I'll be using these in. Primarily, I bought them to use on a long distance hike this spring where I will be using either running shoes or trail runners. We've gotten a lot of late season snow in the Sierra this year and I anticipate a fair amount of snow on the trial this year. I will also likely have these in my pack on future backcountry snowboarding, snowshoe and hiking trips where I will encounter significant snow and ice. I've been looking for a lighter instep variety of crampon as an alternative to my twelve point steel hinged crampons that weigh 32 oz.

The ULA Axis compared to 12 point crampons are a very different animal. The points aren't anywhere near as aggressive, nor as sharp. I don't think that i'll sharpen the ULA points either. While my 12 points are great for light mountaineering (30-50 degrees) the ULAs aren't meant for high angle slopes in my mind. I anticipate the ULAs will be far and away easier to walk in but not nearly as secure in tough conditions. I figure that people who will purchase these will know how they fit with their own risk acceptance levels. I see them as a small help and not something I'd want to trust my health to.

I've tried fitting the crampons with three different types of boots. The straps are plenty long enough for the biggest boots in my opinion as I fitted them to my high volume snowboard boots. On sneakers (which I'll be wearing through the Sierra this year) I would want to cut off 7-8 inches off the front orange strap and around 5 inches from the back orange strap. However, by cutting off that much I wouldn't be able to use them in the future on my snowboard boots. These big boots would allow only perhaps 2-3 inches to be cut off the back strap. I'm not sure how much strap I'll end up cutting off. Probably just enough so that they don't get in the way when using them with running shoes.

The ULA website says that the crampon can be fitted at multiple positions underfoot. Positioned either to the front or to the back, a hiker would be putting their weight down unevenly. Still I tried it. Positioned towards the back of the shoe makes you walk on your heels. This may be good for stepping down steep slopes but when they're back there you have little choice but to be walking on your heels. Towards the front of the shoe is a tempting idea for kicking steps. Like towards the back, the crampons fit solidly on to all of my tested shoes. Yet towards the front there is about a half an inch gap between the crampon and the shoe because of the upturn of shoes. I suspect that snow would accumulate in this area, possibly making walking difficult. Still, I'm sure when going over passes I will indeed move the crampons to the front if I'm going to be "front pointing" up. I suspect that with the exception of short steep passes I'll keep the crampon in the middle neutral position.

I like the light weight, the straps are great and the positioning of the points seems logical. The price was decent $62 (after shipping) but I'd like to see it even lower. Honestly, there really isn't much to these things. A piece of solid metal and some straps. I'd think that materials, even made in the USA, cost $5-10. I don't see a better item on the market however. I considered making my own but I bet that it'd cost me at least $30 in materials, plus a lot of headache to end up with a lesser quality item.

Thanks goes out to Brian Frankle for his great ULA products. If anyone has any questions I'd be glad to help.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Dear Readers,

It looks like I don't have the time to maintain an active blog. I'm graduating college, looking for a job, and playing outdoors too much to devote time to this venture. I'm also taking off for twenty days sea kayaking in Baja on which I'll be blissfully unplugged. While I'd love to keep this up, I'm not sure I'm ready to do it. I might keep up the occasional posts but don't expect much.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Doing the Duty

I recently wrote a paper explaining how to properly defecate in the woods. It's not comprehensive but I think that it's practical, readable and a good introduction. I've posted it in the comments (see below) because it is quite long.

Fun Underground

Last Sunday I spent the day crawling around in mud. My brother and I joined the a handful of other members of the Diablo Grotto of the National Speleological Society for a day in Hell Hole cave. This cave is fairly popular as it virtually located on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

While it's an activity that isn't suitable for people with fear of tight spaces, caving is a ton of fun. The feeling of passing through a "squeeze" provides one of the most calming forms of adrenaline I've ever experienced. This particular cave doesn't have many formations partly due to it's small size but largely due to the fact that so many people pass through it. It trends down and away from the entrance to, I was told, six or so feet from the other side of the mountain. There are some 20-25 foot sections of slithering on your belly or back and some small drops. There are also some really cool things that people have left behind but I won't reveal what they are.

As a hiker, I was particularly astounded by the power of caving headlamps. Some of the fellows on this trip had headlamps with 20+ LEDs. One guy even smelled and looked a little like a mole...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Wild Commodification

The Outdoor Industry Association released what I consider a somewhat gloomy report detailing retail sales during the spring/summer season. Their data shows that equipment sales continue to decline while apparel sales grow. This reflects poorly on the state of outdoor recreation. Fewer people are actually participating in outdoor sports but more people are buying the "image". Companies are starting to rely more and more on image apparel and less on equipment sales.
According to OIA's report, sales in the Outdoor Specialty and Outdoor Chain channels increased 3.5% during the spring / summer season compared to the same period in 2004. The majority of growth was driven by increased sales in the apparel category (up 3.1% in Outdoor Specialty and 16% in Outdoor Chain) and footwear categories (up 16.5% in Outdoor Specialty and 6.7% in Outdoor Chain). At the same time, equipment sales fell 12.3% in Outdoor Specialty stores and 7% in Outdoor Chain stores.
This trend is also seen in the declining use of National Parks and other public lands.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Wilderness Medicine Lecture

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending the last in a two part lecture series by wilderness medicine legend and guidebook author Ben Schiffrin. The three and a half hour free presentation hosted by Outdoor Adventures, UC Davis covered heat illnesses, snake bites and lightning strikes. Two weeks before the topics included hypothermia, frostbite and altitude sicknesses. Schiffrin's a great lecturer and it was a good call to focus on a few of the most important topics and do it in detail.

Just a few of the more interesting (not necessarily the most useful) things I learned:
When sweating from your forehead, you're losing about 1 liter per hour. People who are acclimatized to hot temperatures actually sweat more. Up to 4 liters per hour! Marrathon runners lose on average 9 liters of water. You brain reacts primarily to skin temperature when deciding whether it's hot. This has huge implications such as placing ice on a hyperthermia patient will make them shiver and produce more heat.
Exertional Heat Stroke has a mortality rate of 50% which is very, very high! Rapidly cool by any means. In the wilderness, a light layer of wet clothes is a good tactic.

Only one person has been killed in California (except the Mojave) by a snake bite since 1980.
Don't use suction, ice or constriction. Just use your car keys and get them out.

Death rate by lightning is probably less than 10%; because most strikes are "splash type" not direct hits. If the victim is alive, they're likely to remain that way.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"The only powder to get high on, falls from the sky."

I'm not sure if I really want to start this up but I'm going to give it a shot.

I admit it, I'm a gear junkie. No really, I have TONS of gear. Well, not tons, maybe only a single ton or so. I have enough stuff to completely outfit 3-4 people for a wide variety of conditions and sports. And guess what? I'm going to make public all new significant purchases. It's not healthy to continue hiding my actions from those who love me. Seriously, I'm not doing this to brag.

Yesterday, I bought a new snowboard off of It's a big honkin' Winterstick Severe Terrain and it's one of the oldest, most highly regarded boards on the market. One that's built for big mountain, hard charging riding. Paid $125 for a board that retails for $550. Ahhhhhh.....

Pacific Crest Trailway

One of the most interesting ebooks I've come across in a long time is a copy of the Pacific Crest Trailway. Published in 1945, this rare book chronicles a trail that is 510 miles shorter and has many miles of road walking. The author talks about the wilderness qualities, the backpacking experience and the details of the journey in language that is easily readable but a little unusual for today's audience. I enjoyed how Mount Rainier was declared "the most inspiring mountain in the United States" (p. 43) and the introduction to the chapter on Backpacking Exploration is praiseworthy as well.
Backpacking provides ... a cross-country exploring program of romance and adventure that creates self-reliance, personality and leadership. It comes into close companionship with the wilderness in an environment of deep solitude, free from the sights and sounds of a mechanically disturbed Nature. It arouses a love for nature and hardy pioneering that is vitally needed in our too artificial civilization.
Yes, Yes, Yes!
Credit goes to lonetrail on PCT-L for pointing this out.

Guide Life

The Seattle Times printed a worthwhile piece on working as a wilderness guide. Some of the article is a little bland but there are some good points. The article focuses on NOLS which, if you didn't know, is the biggest in the business.

I learned that "of the 520 NOLS instructors, only 36 work 25 weeks a year"?. Sounds like a lot of free time for playing right?