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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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