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.