During my first winter hiking trip, some buddies and I traveled up to Isle Royal National Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I already owned a quality pair of microspikes that I had used when summiting some fourteen thousand foot peaks in the Rockies where snow and ice were common even in July and August. When I got to the Isle Royal, however, the three feet of freshly fallen snow caved in underneath my crampons and I ended up hiking through waist-deep snow on most parts of the trail. My buddies, both of whom had brought along snowshoes, enjoyed laughing at me as they calmly waded across the top of the snow enjoying the otherworldly winter wonderland.
After that disastrous experience, I began to research the main differences between winter traction devices and I found that contrary to my prior assumptions, microspikes and crampons are not the same thing. This article will take an in-depth look at the differences between microspikes and crampons and then go on to review the main differences between these two important and necessary winter traction footwear.
How to choose between microspikes and crampons?
Before we begin, it is important to clarify the main differences between microspikes and crampons. Knowing the difference will help any hiker know when to use each of these footwear options.
Both microspikes and crampons are used by hikers and mountaineers to give traction on ice and packed snow. Snowshoes, on the other hand, offer flotation on top of the loose and unpacked snow. Microspikes, however, are best used for flatter surfaces where ice or packed snow are common are expected while crampons are more suited for steeper surfaces that are covered by a mix of rock, ice, and solid snow.
To use a car analogy, your regular hiking boots are like a normal set of car tires. Microspikes would represent an upgrade to deep-tread winter snow tires, while crampons would be like putting chains on your tires.
Microspikes or Crampons Comparison
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