Winter hiking often requires the use of traction devices like microspikes or crampons that give your feet a better grip on ice and packed snow, while increasing your safety by preventing slips and falls on hard ice. The products listed below are designed for use in increasingly demanding conditions ranging from packed snow and icy trails to non-technical mountaineering over ice, snow slab, and rock. All of them can be used with soft-soled boots and trail runners as well as more conventional mountaineering boots with rigid soles and toe or heel welts.
|Make / Model||Best For|
|Kahtoola Microspikes||Packed snow, icy trails|
|Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra||Packed snow, icy trails|
|Hillsound Trail Crampons||Packed snow, icy trails|
|Black Diamond Distance Spikes||Packed snow, icy trails|
|Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro||Mixed ice, snow, and rock|
|Kahtoola K10 Crampons||Mixed ice, snow, and rock|
|Kahtoola KTS Crampons||Mixed ice, snow, and rock|
|Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons||Non-technical mountaineering|
|Petzl Irvis FLexlock Crampons||Non-technical mountaineering|
|Petzl Leopard Flexlock Crampons||Non-technical mountaineering|
Be sure to read our Winter Traction Devices and Crampons FAQ below about the characteristics of these winter traction devices and how to choose the right ones for your adventures. You frequently have to carry more than one, including snowshoes, depending on the conditions you’ll encounter on extended winter hikes.
1. Kahtoola Microspikes
2. Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
3. Hillsound Trail Crampons
4. Black Diamond Distance Spikes
5. Hillsound Trail Crampons Pro
6. Kahtoola K10 Crampons
7. Kahtoola KTS Crampons
8. Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons
9. Petzl Irvis FlexLock Crampons
10. Petzl Leopard FlexLock Crampon
Winter Traction Devices and Crampons FAQ
If you’ve never used winter traction aids or crampons, it can be quite confusing to understand what you need and when to use it. Here are answers to some of the most common questions people have, but if you have others, please ask away in the comment section below and we’d be happy to answer them.
I’ve just started winter hiking, what do I need to buy?
Start with Kahtoola Microspikes or Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras. If you hike in more mountainous terrain, I’d recommend getting Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros or Kahtoola KTS Crampons. If you need to snowshoe, buy those too. That will cover most of the bases.
What are microspikes?
Microspikes, also called trail crampons, are winter traction aids that act like tire chains for your boots or trail shoes. They usually have 1-1.5 cm spikes attached to chains with elastic harnesses that slip onto your footwear. They are best suited for hiking on packed snow and icy trails but are uncomfortable for walking on paved surfaces.
What is the difference between microspikes and crampons?
The primary difference between microspikes and crampons is the length of the spikes they have. Microspikes, also called trail crampons, have 1-1.5 cm spikes, while crampons have spikes that are up to 5 cm in length. Microspikes are used for hiking on packed snow and thin ice, while crampons are used for hiking on thicker ice, rock, and snow slabs.
Do you need to carry multiple winter traction devices on hikes or is one sufficient?
It really depends on where you are hiking and what the conditions are. But for lengthy winter hikes at multiple levels of elevation (ie. mountainous terrain), it is often necessary to carry microspikes, crampons, and snowshoes so that you have the correct level of traction or flotation for the surface conditions you’re likely to encounter. Too much traction, and you’ll wear yourself out by strapping heavy traction aids to your feet or twist an ankle because you used a mountaineering crampon when microspikes are more appropriate.
Do microspikes wear out?
Microspikes do wear out over time and the tops of their triangular spikes become flattened, providing less grip on ice. You can sharpen them with a mill bastard file, but eventually, they will have to be replaced.
What are rock spikes?
Rock spikes are microspikes that have worn out. Many hikers keep them around for use in early winter or spring conditions when hiking trails still have a lot of exposed rock and a thin coating of ice in order to preserve their newer and sharper microspikes for winter use on thicker ice and packed snow.
What is the difference between ice cleats and microspikes?
Ice cleats and ice screws are less penetrating than microspikes and suitable for more casual home or urban use. Ice cleats are often part of a strap-on overshoe to provide it with more traction.
What is an elastomer binding?
Microspikes and trail crampons have a stretchy, elastic binding that can accommodate all types of footwear, from soft-soled winter hiking boots and trail shoes to more rigid soled mountaineering boots. The elastomer remains flexible down to -20F and is highly durable for extended use.
What is a ratchet-style crampon harness?
A ratchet-style binding, like on Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Pro, is similar to a snowshoe binding where ridged straps are fed through a buckle that locks them in place. The advantage is a very secure fit, which is important on a crampon, and the ability to tighten the binding on the fly while wearing gloves.
What is an instep crampon?
An instep crampon usually has 4-6 spikes and attaches to the instep of hiking footwear. While it does provide added traction and they are very lightweight, it’s very difficult to balance yourself when walking up slopes or over rocky surfaces. They were used in the early days of mountaineering before crampons or microspikes became popular.
Do microspikes come in multiple sizes?
Microspikes also called trail crampons, come in different sizes based on your boot or shoe size. It’s important to fit them correctly to footwear to prevent discomfort or friction from using microspikes that are too small. The same holds for microspikes which are too large, can pop off your shoes, and are easily lost.
Can you walk on the pavement with microspikes?
While microspikes are made with stainless steel and are very durable, they’re not intended for walking on pavement or city sidewalks. You’re better off getting a pair of ice cleats or Yaktrax for that purpose.
What is the difference between microspikes and crampons?
Crampons have much larger spikes designed to penetrate deep ice on surfaces where falling is never an option. Microspikes have shorter spikes that provide a good grip on ice surfaces but are less penetrating. They also have a binding system, usually an elastomer harness, that is compatible with multiple footwear types, while crampon/footwear compatibility is more limited.
What are anti-balling plates?
Anti-balling plates also called balling plates, ABS plates, or snow release skins, prevent wet snow from clumping to the bottom of a winter traction device or crampon. This occurs when the crampon comes into contact with water or wet snow. Balling under a crampon is dangerous because it prevents the crampon spikes from gaining traction. Instead, you slip over the surface of the snow or ice out of control.
Do you need to wear gaiters with microspikes or crampons?
High mountaineering gaiters are designed, in part, to protect your legs from the sharp points of your crampons and usually have reinforced lowers to prevent spike penetration. They’re not really necessary for protection when wearing microspikes because their spikes are much shorter. Still, gaiters also prevent your pants from getting wet in deep snow and can be worn for that purpose alone.
What is the difference between a steel crampon and an aluminum crampon?
Steel crampons are much more durable than aluminum ones and are easier to sharpen when they’ve been worn down. However, aluminum crampons are very lightweight and can weigh half as much as steel crampons, making them useful when the lightest gear weight is required.
What is a step-in crampon binding?
Step-in crampon bindings attach to special ridges, called welts, that are cut into the soles of mountaineering boots. The step-in bindings have hinged metal bars that slot into the welts and form a very tight connection with the boots. Step-in bindings are used for higher-angle mountaineering or ice climbing where you need a very secure attachment.
What is a flexible leaf spring?
The metal bar connecting the front and heel portion of a crampon are usually rigid when the crampon is used with a stiff-soled mountaineering boot. It should be replaced with a flexible metal bar called a leaf spring, which lets the two halves of the crampon, the front and back, move independently when the crampon is used with a soft-soled boot or trail shoe.
How do you walk on ice with crampons?
When you walk in crampons you want to make sure that all of your spikes are in contact with an icy surface and digging into it. This may involve bending your ankle and leg to keep the spikes in continuous contact or stomping down on the ice as you walk. This prevents you from sliding and falling,
Can you walk on rocks with crampons?
It is often necessary to walk on rocks with crampons in mountainous terrain. You should do so carefully to avoid twisting an ankle and try to keep the surface of your foot as flat or perpendicular to the rock as possible.
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