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Preview: Vargo Pocket Cleats v3 || Sub-3 oz traction for early-season backpacking

The Pocket Cleats v3 look very different than v1 and v2.

The third-generation Pocket Cleats from Vargo have undergone significant revisions since v2, which was tweaked from v1. They will be available in October or November in stainless steel ($40, 2.9 oz) and titanium ($60, 2.1 oz), each in just one size that will fit most running shoes, hiking shoes, and hiking boots.

Problems with v1 and v2

The first two generations of Pocket Cleats had a major problem: they did not reliably stay put. For example, while climbing low-angle (about 15 degrees) glacial ice in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, the arms on my Pocket Cleats rotated out of place, so that they were no longer underfoot.

This “swinging” problem wasn’t guaranteed to occur, but the possibility of it was unnerving in high-stakes situations. For example, recently I used the Pocket Cleats to climb the Northeast Gully, a 40-degree chute in Colorado’s Indian Peaks that was holding more snow in mid-July than I expected. The Pocket Cleats performed as intended (although I wasn’t confident that they would).

The squirelly fit was especially bad for shoes with thick outsoles (e.g. Hokas) or non-hourglass shapes (e.g. Altras), and during extended wear, due to stretching, slipping, and moving of the webbing straps.

The first- and second-generation Pocket Cleats were V-shaped and were insufficiently reliable — the arms had a tendency to swing outwards, out from underneath the shoe.

New design

Pocket Cleats v3 is no longer V-shaped, but a band of three square cleat pods that are centered under the shoe. The pods are connected with a heavy-duty rubberized nylon strap (i.e. Hypalon), and they can be shifted along the strap to concentrate or disperse the traction. Each pod has four triangular points, and its outsole-facing side features shorter tabs that will lock loosely into the shoe’s tread pattern.

Side profile of v3

Thin 2mm cord wraps over the top of the shoe to keep the pods in place. The front cord is tightened and secured with a cord lock. (It better be a damn good cord lock.) The rear loop must be tied, and for extra security the cord can be run through the shoelace eyelets. Relative to v1 and v2, which used side-release buckles, installing and removing v3 will be slower and require more dexterity.

The new lacing system. The front is secured with cord and a cord lock; the rear must be tied, and can be looped through the shoelace eyelets.

This new center-track design should stay put roughly in the center of the shoe. But, unlike the first two generations, it won’t provide any traction along the sides of the forefoot.

Targeted users

Vargo hopes that the Pocket Cleats will gain traction (pun intended) with early-season backpackers in the High Sierra, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountains who want additional traction for snowbound passes, as a matter of safety or efficiency. It’s also hoping to penetrate the running community, although its sales and marketing strategy sounded less developed.

The packed size is very impressive. And the weight, at 2.1 or 2.9 oz, is excellent.

Vargo clarified that the Pocket Cleats v3 are not substitutes for crampons, and are not appropriate for mountaineering. What is the difference between early-season backpacking and mountaineering? Sometimes, very little. Personally, I would discourage Pocket Cleats when ropes, belays, and ice axes are required, recommended, or reasonable. In those situations, the extra weight of more capable traction devices — such as the Kahoola K-10 or Hillsound Trail Pro — is a wise investment.


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What was your experience with v1 or v2? Care to speculate on the performance of v3?

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2 Responses to Preview: Vargo Pocket Cleats v3 || Sub-3 oz traction for early-season backpacking

  1. Paul A August 1, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    It seems obvious that these are not a substitute for mountaineering crampons, but how do they perform in comparison to Kahtoola Microspikes? That would seem to me to be the main competition.

    From the photos, it looks like both devices feature the same number of similar-sized spikes. The Pocket Cleats weigh 9-10 ounces less, but the shoe attachment looks less secure. And concentrating all the spikes towards the front of the shoe could be a disadvantage in some situations, like while plunge-stepping downhill.

    • Andrew Skurka August 1, 2017 at 11:41 am #

      v3 vs. Microspikes:

      * No rear traction
      * Slower on/off and probably less secure
      * Lighter
      * Center-line traction, not dispersed across the forefoot
      * Bigger teeth

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