Schedules have cleared up and I’ve been able to get out and finally put some miles on the YakTrax XTR Extremes that were sent to me. I have taken them on frozen creeks and trails that were rocky, icy, and snowy. According to my GPS they’ve also seen about 6,000′ of elevation gain.
I will start off by saying that these were provided to me for review purposes directly from YakTrax but I will report my findings as accurately as possible and I promise that my opinions are unbiased.
Right away I noticed a few things that were different than similar products on the market. The carbon steel spikes and chain links are thinner than their counterparts, this will be good for saving weight, but may affect durability. If I am in terrain that I rely on solid traction to stay safe, then I may not want to put my faith in something that I think may fail at any second. I also noticed that the front set of spikes is independent of the rear set, this was one thing I knew would affect stability and looked forward to testing it out. These also have an anti-snow balling plate in both the front and rear which seemed like a nice touch and different than its competition. The use of steel grommets in conjuction with 10 attachment points on each foot show that there should be a good distribution of pressure and shouldn’t see any failure in the rubber strap that wraps around the foot which is advertised to be strong down to -41 degrees Farenheit.
Good traction, and the spikes stayed in place with help from rubber plates against the sole of my boot. Rubber plates wore very slightly, nothing to worry about for that trip, but I may be worried about how the rubber would hold up in sub zero temps while constantly running over sharp rocks. The thinner steel spikes held up just fine with no breaks or bends. I am 195lbs and made this climb with a 45lb pack so there was sufficient weight on the XTR’s. I enjoy the movement of the front plate under the ball of my foot as it is in two sections which conforms to my foot, but I also view it as a weak point in the design. If that rubber were to fail, then there will be no tension in either the front or rear section of the front traction system.
Rocky/Icy – steady incline
Having 10 spikes definitely helped me keep my footing in rocky/icy conditions. The XTR’s did really well on these types of trails and kept me on my feet the entire time. I’ve taken a number of spills in my day and really value not having a sore elbow or tailbone for a winter backpacking trip. Again, no breaks or bends on the spikes which I was impressed, but two of the chain links had come apart a bit and I was able to squeeze them back together with my multi tool pliers. This gave some validity to my thoughts that the thinner steel may create some durability issues. Though it was an easy fix, if I were to have to continue reclamping these links, over time they would fail. I would not mind a few extra grams or an ounce or two to use a thicker gauge steel.
These were worn with Keen Summit County insulated boots, as well as Merrell Outbound GTX Mid’s, Merrell Whiteout 8’s, Keen Oregon PCT’s and 2,000 gram insulated Pac Boots. The large size fit all boots very well and the chains fit snugly in between all the lugs to make for solid stability. The chains are a bit longer enabling the strap to sit higher on the boots which helps with being able to use them with different size boots, keeping the rubber from coming in contact with rocks, and provides enough “give” to be able to get your fingers in between the strap and the boot to pull up to take some slack out of the chain.
My only real concerns with the YakTrax XTR Extreme’s are the durability of the chain links and the rubber plates beneath the foot. The rubber definitely helps with traction between the boot and the plate as well as keeping snow from packing up beneath your foot, but I question the durability and the design. If the rear rubber plate were to fail, not a big deal because it is re-enforced with steel, but the front is a different story. Now, I understand that the steel portions of the front plate are in two sections to help give them the flexibility needed to remain conformed to your foot, but that is a weak spot that I think could cause problems for some people.
These also come with a thick stuff sack as the spikes are a bit sharp. I decided to save weight on a trip by leaving the sack and bringing beer. Note: Don’t leave XTR’s in a backpack lid with beers…I ended up with my Arcteryx Bora 95 lid filled with beer slush. Bring the bag.
EDIT 1/25/2011: Recently found out that the YakTrax XTR Extreme is no longer being produced. They have taken it back to the drawing board to deal with durability issues. An updated version should be available for the 2011/2012 Winter season. Final thought: I am still pleased with my XTR’s and will continue to use them until something fails and am excited to see the next version.