Review of Kahtoola FLIGHTdeck System
By Matt Smith
I have to admit that snowshoeing isn't highest on my list. To some degree if I am going to be out in the pow, I'd just as soon be on planks. But there is almost nothing that can beat the solitude of the puff... puff... puff... puff trudging along some deep fluff. On top of that, snowshoeing is an excellent way to introduce children to outdoor winter sports. If you can walk, you can pretty much snowshoe. Snowshoeing in the front country often means starting off on hard packed powder trails or even ice. If you are only out for a short day hike your pack probably doesn't have room to comfortably pack snowshoes. Your other option is to wear them, which really isn't all that much fun. Kahtoola has devised a functional system to address both of these issues. The FLIGHTdeck system is the best of both worlds, featuring a detachable binding that allows you to leave the crampon on your boot for traction, while reducing the bulk of the deck so you can more easily stow them on the back of your pack on appraoch.
FLIGHTdeck 24 up close and personal
The FLIGHTdeck system is available in a variety of sizes ranging from 23 inches for sport minded folks, to 29 inches for those who stray a little farther from home. The binding consists of a fairly traditional style foot plate and strap system combined with toe and fore foot crampons. A simple spring loaded pin/clip system allows you to easily attach or detach the binding from the snow shoe deck. With a little practice on a scrap piece of carpet a home, it didn't take long to get the hang of stepping into the FLIGHTdeck. The release mechanism is a small pull cable that toggles the spring loaded pin. After 15 minutes or so of self-orientation, I was off to the hills.
On my first trip out with the FLIGHTdeck I discovered that it didn't take very long for the clips to get clogged with packed powder when you are just wearing the crampon. If the clips are clogged, I found the pins wouldn't fully engage and the binding would come loose from the FLIGHTdeck with very little force (Duh!). It was a simple matter to clean the binding with a couple of whacks with my trekking poles, much like you might do with your alpine boots before stepping into your skis. Using the T-shaped pull, I was easily able to grasp the release cable and remove the binding from the FLIGHTdeck.
One of the major complaints I have with many snowshoe designs is the pivot mechanism on the binding. I've seen everything from a rigid pinned hinge (my favorite by the way) to eye-bolts strapped to the frame with heavy weight rubber. On even a very slight side-hill traverse when the deck of the snowshoe is off level, the pivot can twist and rotate, making walking uncomfortable, inefficient, and tiresome. The pivot on the FLIGHTdeck is a wide Hypalon strap that I found performed better than most. The padded heel strike area is a nice attention to detail that I really appreciated after a full day on the trail. It was amazing how much my perception of fatigue was reduced with the added comfort.
FLIGHTdeck Stowed for transport
Last but not least, and perhaps my favorite part is the packability of the FLIGHTdeck with the binding either strapped to your boot, or stowed in another part of your pack. I stuffed the pair of FLIGHTdeck 24s into and onto several packs using different strategies. One fact quickly emerges, regardless of your pack, the FLIGHTdeck fits with less fuss and fumble than pretty much any other snowshoe I have tested. You of course still have to be careful with the crampons that are attached to the frame, but having the top surface of the deck clean and empty made all the difference.
Summary: The FLIGHTdeck system is a nice mid to high level snowshoe best suited to flat or low angle trails. The padded heel strike will win you over on the first day, and you won't pay the price in weight. The FLIGHTdeck 24 weighs in at only 64 oz. / pair. They are comparably priced with similar snowshoes and can be found online for about $250.
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Matt Smith Is a contributing editor at Gearreview.com and can even be found freezing his can off in a canyon mid-winter. Check out his blog with his latest trip reports and product test updates.