It’s wintertime! And that means it’s time for traction devices. Specifically microspikes and crampons.

I feel lucky to have gained much knowledge about hiking from experienced hikers, books, online forums, mountaineering stores, and making my own mistakes. I have noticed that there is often confusion between microspikes and crampons, and even I have made this mistake unknowingly. During a recent visit to the Mountaineer in Keene, NY, my friend Jim and I received valuable assistance from a staff member named Mike. He is an excellent resource with a wealth of knowledge. He mentioned that he had spoken to a ranger who said that many of the injuries occurring in December 2023 were due to hikers relying too much on microspikes and not using crampons when necessary. This prompted me to look further into gear. I want to clarify that I am not an expert but a mountain hiker passionate about learning, safety, and sharing information with others.

It’s pretty simple. The item pictured above is known as microspikes. They are stainless steel spikes that range in length from 1/4 to 1/2 inch and are usually attached to the shoe with a rubber “glove” type contraption. Microspikes are most effective on flat terrain and low-angle slopes. They work well on packed snow or light accumulation of ice. These spikes are available in different unisex sizes, so choosing the right size is essential. For example, if you wear a women’s 8.5 hiking boots, a medium-sized microspike would be a good fit. In the picture above, these are a $20 pair off Amazon. I like my Kahtoolas (but I didn’t picture them since I need to sharpen them, doah!)

According to a NY State Adirondack ranger, these can cause more injuries during winter. While they are easy to wear and lightweight, they should not be used beyond their ability. They should work fine when hiking on flat surfaces or mild slopes. However, if climbing steeper slopes with a significant amount of ice, it is better to use crampons instead.

Hillsoun

If hiking on steeper terrain with excessive ice and an aggressive incline, it’s essential to wear crampons. (Or snowshoes if it’s those conditions. We will make another blog post for that!) There are many different types of crampons, but today, we will discuss trail crampons. These are the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro. They attach to your winter hiking boots super easily. Initially, they looked intense and arduous but were easy to get on. Two front-toe picks help when you are at a good incline. The flexy orange panels on the bottoms of these crampons shown are to help prevent the balling of snow. It’s a great feature! (Note: these are not intended for technical ascents or ice climbing. You will need mountaineering boots and more aggressive crampons for that.)

A lot of times, while we are out hiking, we may not want to stop and change footgear or clothing. It’s important to take the time and make sure that you have proper traction for the conditions. And sometimes that means that you are stopping and going more than you might want to. Whether it’s from microspikes to crampons to snowshoes or back to crampons, making the switch can help prevent injuries.

 

Tips for both crampons and microspikes:
-You want a boot with a pretty firm base. Nothing too flexible, or crampons and microspikes won’t stay on well. If you are wearing microspikes that keep popping off, your shoes are likely too loose, your microspike size is too big, or the conditions are super sticking (late fall/early spring.)
-If you are wearing microspikes, and the snow is wet, you may start “balling.” This means balls of ice/snow will build up and stick in between your spikes. Spraying your microspikes with cooking oil is an excellent way to limit that. (Thanks, Brad! This has worked like a champ!)
-Keep them clean and dry in between use
-Cooking spray helps from snow balling up on microspikes
-Keep an eye on your spike sharpness. They will wear down over use. Different ways to sharpen your spikes.

 

For more information on microspikes and crampons, follow these links:
The Next Summit Hiking Blog
Crave The Planet
Moxtain Hiking Blog
REI How to take care of your crampons

 

Yaktrax and nanospikes can be left at home. They are good for getting back and forth to the car from stores/work, not on mountains.