Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Review Issue

Way back in the day (mid-nineties) I was the primary equipment reviewer for Rock&Ice magazine. I loved that job for three reasons: First, I could get whatever gear I was interested in sent to me. Second, I would get all of that category of gear sent to me; hundreds of climbing holds for example, or a massive pile of roughly 50L packs. Third, I could basically write whatever I wanted to about the gear, and did. Today I get paid by a few different companies to test products and develop ideas for new gear. But, for some reason, products I have nothing to do with still occasionally show up on my doorstop. Normally I just ignore 'em (lightweight jumper cables? Why?), but a few are interesting enough that my latent review instincts kick in, and soon my fingers are slamming the keyboard in rage or love. Here are three products I received last fall and finally go some time to review.

Icetrekkers "Diamond Grip" slip on street shoe crampons compared to others.

Here in Canmore, in the literal sun-eating shadow of the Canadian Rockies, the sidewalks are icy for months at a time. As are the trails. Every senior citizen has a pair of "clickies," or some sort of studded footwear to prevent broken hips. Runners also use 'em on icy trails, and, I might as well admit it, I own a pair for when walking around in normal crampons would be overkill. I sometimes bring them out for long hikes on icy trails where walking in crampons would suck. The local canyon-walkers all run some version of these strap-on spiky rigs as well. If you don't want to wear full-on crampons but it's still an icy mess then something with real traction is very useful.

Icetrekkers makes three different types of slip-on crampons, ranging from basically a set of six short golf spikes (called "Spikes) to the full-on "chains." I didn't know it, but my mom has been running the Spikes for years, they are popular among the dog-walking set. My package had some "Diamond Grip" rigs in 'em, which, "Provide aggressive traction for all winter walking conditions." My wife and I went for a few hikes on the icy sidewalks and trails; she used her "Stabilicers" traction cleats, I used the Diamonds. Overall both did well enough and were a lot better than sliding around on the trail in standard rubber. But the Diamond Grips have a fatal flaw; the little "diamonds" can roll on their axles, and when they do it's off to the races. It takes just the right type of walking downhill or uphill to cause this problem, but that's when you don't want it. Other than that they do the job.

The Spikes (and other "spike" style slip-ons) are the best for straight ice, but lack enough height or "grab" for walking in softer snow; it's like being on snow tires with too few studs. But they are the top rigs around Canmore with the dog-walking set because they work.

Switch Magnetic Sunglasses

I at first thought this was a joke; magnetic sunglasses for people with metal plates in their heads or something? But it's the lenses and frames that contain magnets, which makes for quick and secure lens changes. Or so goes the hype. Actually, the lenses do change really quickly and easily compared to any other system I've ever used; you don't have to clean the lenses after changing them because you don't have to grab the lens itself, just the edges, click, in and good to go. Both the frames and the lenses seem to be high quality, but all the frames are just slightly dorky, too much engineer and not enough Italian in the plastic mix. On my nose the top frame "bar" is too low, which means I continually have to lift my nose up when riding or skate skiing to see around it. But I liked 'em enough to wear them occasionally. They aren't cheap, but each set comes with a set of good lenses, and there are lots of lens options. So far so good. My only complaint is that they are a bit heavy on my large but sharp nose; not crazy heavy, but like wearing a set of glass-lens sunglasses. Many of my glasses have had different lens packages included, but usually I just put one set of lenses in and ignored the other options 'cause they were too annoying to change. These I actually changed a bunch based on what I was doing and what time of day it was, kinda cool, but ultimately I just expect my lenses to pretty much work in whatever conditions I'm in, or I'm too lazy to change them.

Heatmax Toasti Toes

When I was about 10 my parents bought me a handwarmer. Just one, we were poor, but it was a sort of sunglass-case like box into which you put a little black stick, and then lit the stick on fire, resulting in a smoldering fire hazard that would last a long time. This was not a good gift for a ten-year old, I almost burned the house down. Since then I've played with various "hand warmers," toe warmers, etc. Heatmax sent me a collection of different products, none of which burnt the house down.

If you've ever used the standard little hand warmers that you throw into your gloves and hope they'll keep your hands warm then you'll recognize the Heatmax stuff, but Heatmax has shaped the packages into very thin insoles and added a nicer covering and some adhesive so the things stay put under your toes instead of just hanging out under your arch or some other annoying place. That alone is a pretty cool idea, as anyone who has used the non-adhesive varieties will attest. But there's a basic problem when putting air-activated heaters into a tight-fitting ski or mountaineering boot: The reactive stuff in there seemingly can't get enough air, and soon gets cold, or at least it seemed like that's what was happening to me. It also seems that when the reactant is compressed and isn't moved around it gets cold; you have to shake it up out in the open air and immediately there's a lot more warm coming out of it. This tends to mess up the nicely sealed little insoles, which leak black stuff... Even with that problem I still enjoyed the heat on my feet when changing back and forth from my performance winter boots to my standing around boots, but probably not enough to buy more of these things. Maybe people with very cold feet will put up with the hassles of taking them out and shaking them up etc. I gave a few to a friend of mine with "cold feet," she really liked the extra heat but found some of the same activation problems. They would probably work better in loose-fitting boots.

Right, this concludes the long-winded review issue. I have zero affiliation with any of these companies, just did this for entertainment. Yeah, I'm a gear geek.


Kim Graves said...

Will - the bomb for these street shoe crampons is Microspikes. We where them all winter around the property. And my partner and I hike in them during the shoulder seasons. They're really great. See:

Best, Kim

Will Gadd said...

Those look nice!!

Unknown said...

how much do those diamond things weight per pair?

hill sound trail crampon are what i use ... canadian company, though the product is made in korea