Microspikes vs Crampons: Which is better?

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. Well, let’s read on and get started!

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. That’s beside the point, get ready to get a new pair and go on a backcountry hike or wilderness adventure!

Microspikes or Crampons Comparison

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What Exactly are Microspikes?

This unique winter footwear accessory allows hikers, mountaineers, and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy wintry landscapes, increase traction on slippery trails with packed snow and ice, and thus decrease the possibility of falls and other accidents. Microspikes usually have small but sharp stainless steel spikes that attach to your regular winter boot either with chains or elastic bands. The harnesses that keep these products attached to your regular footwear should include toe bales and flex chains, and they should fit snugly to your boot in order to stop slippage while not being so tight as to cause discomfort.

When to Use Them?

The spikes on these winter footwear accessories are usually large enough to offer a noticeable improvement in traction on flat ground. However, as the slope increases in intensity, you might notice that your microspikes simply do not have enough “bite” to dig insufficiently to keep you from slipping. Thus, this footwear option is best used for flat, level, or only slightly undulating trails where ice and snow are expected. Furthermore, because they will add extra weight to your shoe, you should only use these bad boys when they are truly needed. Finding a product that can be conveniently tucked away into a pouch on the best hiking backpack will make it easy to slip them on and off depending on the given trail conditions. In General, when are going to pack for your next adventure, remember to bring a pair.

How to Choose Winter Shoes?

Despite the publicity campaigns of the most renowned outdoor sports outfitters, the best winter shoe option will largely depend on where you are heading, and what type of outdoor activity you will be doing. Obviously, winter boots with good traction will be the essential part of any winter shoe consideration. Because most people add 1-2 layers of thick socks (think wool hiking socks), you should probably choose a boot size that is slightly larger than your normal shoe size. Boots that feel tight and constricting can reduce the circulation to your feet and thus make your toes feel colder and even numb. Also, it is important to find a boot that is made from waterproof materials as wet snow has a knack for finding its way into even the smallest opening. Water always finds a way. A lot of hikers have gotten frostbite from lacking the skills & gear fro their frosty alpine adventures.

Furthermore, if you are planning on being in areas where slippery hiking conditions are a high probability, you should search for a winter boot that is compatible with crampons, microspikes, or other types of traction-adding footwear accessories. Even the best winter boot with great traction will be susceptible on ice or packed snow and these products will give you more grip to help avoid falls. Not falling is a good sign you are having a fun day.

What Exactly are Crampons?

Crampons are similar to microspikes in that they are winter boot accessories that can be attached to a boot in order to improve traction. What defines a crampon, however, is that the points or barbs are both longer and sharper and thus have the ability to penetrate more deeply into the icy surface where you are walking. Furthermore, crampons tend to have the spikes around the circumference of the boot because they also incorporate a flexible middle bar called a leafspring. The leafspring allows for more flexibility, and thus only further increases the “bite”, allowing the spikes to deeply penetrate the ice with each step you take.

When to Use Them?

Mountaineers almost always will bring a pair of crampons with them, even when summiting a peak in the middle of the summer. At high altitudes, the weather can change in the blink of an eye, and a warm summy afternoon can suddenly change into a full-on blizzard. Because of the steep slopes associated with hiking in the mountains, crampons are almost always the best option if your trail has any steep slopes. The chains and spikes associated with microspikes simply do not have the ability to penetrate deep enough into the snow or ice on steep grades or angles. Thus, you should always choose crampons you need to sustain your full body weight when climbing a precipitous grade or when ice has formed on top of a rock. Amazing for when you go on hikes (for days at a time!) on aggressive terrain or a walk in a local snowy trail (hat tip to  hillsound trail.) Remember to stay safe and wear the right clothing.

How to Choose Shoe Spikes for Snow?

As we mentioned in the introduction, shoe spikes are essentially useless on fresh-fallen snow that is loose and unpacked. In fact, spike accessories will only add further weight to your shoe, thus making you fall deeper into the pile of snow. When hiking in these conditions, snowshoes are the only acceptable option.

On packed snow or ice, however, the traction offered by spikes is essential. The best shoe spikes for you, however, will largely depend on what type of activity you need. Below, we offer some suggestions for different outdoor winter activities.

  • Winter Running: If the treadmill at your local gym is driving you insane but the sidewalks around your neighborhood are covered in ice and snow, a pair of low profile cleats or small spikes will probably be all you need. Make sure to find the best pair of ice cleats for hiking or running that are lightweight so that you will not feel burdened by the extra weight. Super fun running in the outdoors during the cold seasons! Many are super light, allowing you to run. If you are new, only go a short distance.
  • Hiking on Flat Ground: When hiking on ice or hiking in the snow in order to check out the winter landscape, a pair of durable, slip-on microspikes will probably be the best option as they offer quality traction with chains and mini-spikes without adding too much weight. Wearing them will much the experience a lot more fun.
  • Serious Winter Mountaineering: For any type of winter exploring that will require you to be heading up moderate to steep slopes, crampons are a must. Not only will these footwear accessories make hiking on a grade easier, but they can also help you to avoid dangerous slips and falls that can come with treacherous conditions or an unexpected hiking cramp. You should also carry with you a snow spike for hiking or an ice axe at all times.
  • Rain, Snow, Ice, and Sleet: Winter can be a crazy season, and many times the weather includes a wide range of climatic conditions. If you are heading out during a day when the weather forecast says something like “possible chance of rain, snow, and sleet”, hybrid models of ice cleats for boots combine the best of microspikes and crampons into one product.

How to Put On Crampons?

Once you invest in a quality pair of crampons, you need to know how to properly use them in order to benefit from the extra traction. Fortunately, putting on these bad boys doesn’t require you to be a rocket scientist. Firstly, never try to put on these accessories when sitting down. You need to apply your full body weight when tying up the bindings and make sure you get the most secure fastening. When you first start out, you might wanna get a lighter pair.

Place your boot on the crampon with your toe firmly under the toel pale or between the front posts, depending on the model. Next, raise the heel lever to attach it to your winter boot. Lastly, join the safety strap in a way that the buckle is on the outside of your boot.

The majority of crampons now attach by clipping on to the boot. To put the crampon on, put it on a firm surface, place your boot on the crampon with the toe securely under the toe bale or between the front posts and pull up the heel lever to secure it to your boot. Then fasten the safety strap so that the buckle is on the outside of your boot as this will help to avoid snagging or catching while hiking.

Other types of crampons might have straps (instead of clip ons), but the processing for putting them on is essentially the same.

Guide to Best Crampons and Microspikes on the Market Today


High-End Microspikes

Yatta Life Heavy Duty 14-Spikes Trail Spike Ice Grip Snow Cleats Footwear Crampon for Walking, Jogging, or Hiking on Snow and Ice (Large (Black) Size 9-10.5)

Yatta Life Heavy Duty Trail Spikes are essential for hikers that want only the best. With a pair of these and a great pair of hiking underwear, you should be able to spend hours outside even during the harshest winter day. A combination of stainless steel spikes and chains along with a rubber elastomer attachment means that this product will stand up to all sorts of heavy duty outdoor activities. When you wear thse bad boys, you just want to put them to work.

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Cheapest / Most Affordable Microspikes

Springk Traction Cleats Snow Grips Ice Creepers,Anti Slip 12 Stainless Steel Microspikes Crampons with 1 Free Portable Bag for Men Women Walking Jogging Hiking and Mountaineering(Black, Medium)

Finding quality traction accessories for winter hiking doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. The Springk Traction Cleats will cost you under $20 dollars, while still offering great performance. These bad boys are extremely easy to take on and off and can easily be attached to all types of footwear including running shoes, athletic shoes, and hiking boots. Great piece of equipment.

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High-End Crampons

Black Diamond Cyborg Clip Crampon, Polished

The Black Diamond Cyborg Crampons are designed for serious adventure seekers who are not content with easy summer ascents of mountains. These bad boys come with adjustable hooded front points and strong secondary points along with a low-profile micro-adjust heel. These are a great option for exceptional mountaineers who need the best gear for serious expeditions such as an ultra-light bivy tarp to keep you dry during that unexpected rainstorm at the 10,000 foot base camp. Your best friend when you travel to the backpackcountry.

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Best Lightweight Crampons

Docooler 14-point Super-lightweight Semi-rigid Crampons Aluminum Alloy Crampon Traction Device Mountaineering Glacier Travel

Using crampons to assure added traction does not necessarily mean that you will be struggling up a mountain with an extra 5-10 pounds on your feet. DoCooler offers a super lightweight option for this type of footwear that weighs in at around 33 ounces. The aluminum alloy frame along with the 14-point design will ensure that you get maximum traction at only a fraction of the weight of similar options. These mountaineering crampons are some of the best shoes to walking on ice. A very popular piece of gear to purchase that will last you years.

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Cheapest Crampons

OUTAD Traction Cleats/Crampon for Snow and Ice

While some traction-adding footwear accessories can cost you several hundred dollars, the OUTAD Traction Cleats are some of the cheapest crampons on the market and will cost you under $60 dollars. The 14 multi-directional aluminum alloy spikes, along with the length of the spikes themselves means that you will be able to use these cleats for a wide range of outdoor winter activities, from trail running to mountain hiking.

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Best Flexi Crampons

Kahtoola KTS Steel Hiking Crampons with SRS (M/L)

If you are looking for a traction-adding device that still allows for maximum flexibility, look no further than the Kahtoola Steel Hiking Crampons. This creation is uniquely flexible and ultralight at only 24 ounces while still standing up to rugged conditions. The patented Release Skins (SRS) along with the Chromoly Steel with dual layer Stainless Steel LeafSpring Extender Bars are what offers maximum flexibility and movement. 

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Grivel G12 Crampons

Grivel G12 crampon Cramp-O-Matic yellow/grey

The Grivel G12 product is one of the best traction devices for winter footwear on the market. The 12 points and Chromolly steel frame make these bad boys super durable and long lasting.

What We Like?

The customized horizontal frame certainly lessens the snowballing effect while the three-dimension relief stamping adds strength and rigidity to the frame. Most importantly, they only weigh in at just over two pounds meaning that you can enjoy the greater traction without noticing the extra weight.

Who Should But It?

These quality hiking accessories are designed for adventurous folks who are willing to brave some harsh winter hiking conditions. It is important to note however that the step in style of this product requires both rear and toe welts on your winter boots.

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YakTrax Ice Grips

Yaktrax Diamond Grip All-Surface Traction Cleats for Walking on Ice and Snow, Large

The YaxTrax Ice grips are another great traction-adding device for serious winter enthusiasts. They fit over most types of shoes, including your running shoes and winter hiking boots meaning that they are versatile enough to be used for a wide range of winter outdoor fun.

What We Like?

YaxTrax is a trusted name in the winter footwear industry, and their ice grips certainly live up to their lofty reputation. The patented diamond beads are manufactured from a case-hardened steel alloy that is strung together on steel aircraft cable. If that does not speak of durability, nothing else will. The design incorporates hundreds of biting edge grips in all direction. Also, the rubber sling will stay elastic even in the lowest temperatures so that you do not have to worry about slipping.

Who Should But It?

Because the design of this footwear naturally prevents the accumulation of snow and ice, they are ideal for people who plan to be hiking, climbing, running, or walking in areas where you will most likely be transitioning between different types of surfaces. 

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Kahtoola Microspikes sold by REI

Kahtoola MICROspikes Footwear Traction - Red Large - 2016/17

While REI is one of the most trusted names in the outdoor products industry, they do not manufacture their own traction-adding footwear. Rather, they trust Kahtoola to provide their stores with some of the best products out there. The Kahtoola Microspikes sold by REI are simply put some of best footwear options for your winter adventures.

What We Like?

These bad boys sell for a under $70 dollar while including several high-performance features such as 3/8 inch hardened stainless-steel spikes, reinforced eyelets, integrated toe bales, elastomer harnesses, and stainless-steel flex chains to help prevent snowballing. The heel tabs also make it incredibly easy to slip these on and off of your boots or sports shoes.

Who Should But It?

This option is meant for people who want a combination of performance and affordability (who doesn’t, right?). At under one pound, these are also a great product for people who despise hard & heavy footwear.

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Hillsound Microspikes

Hillsound Trail Crampon Traction Device, Black, Large

Lastly, we come to Hillsound Microspikes. These quality products by a trusted manufacturer come with a unique ergonomic plate system for added spike stability. If you are worried about slippage, these spikes are for you.

What We Like?

Hillsound incorporates several high/performance features into this product. For starters, the elastomer harness stretches to fit most footwear. Also, the over shoe strap contributes to added stability. The hinged plate flexes naturally with the boot sole meaning that you will not have to worry about ridigness that leads to discomfort.

Who Should But It?

Without a doubt, this shoe is meant for people who need the extra stability without sacrificing a useful amount of flexibility.

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Final Thoughts

Serious hikers, mountaineers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who simply cannot wait for spring to roll around, need to invest in quality winter footwear accessories that will add traction to their boots or running shoes, even if you are not a pro. Not only will this help increase your stability, but it can also help avoid spills and falls that could land you in the hospital. Any of the crampons or microspikes reviewed above offer superior performance for all of your outdoor winter expeditions. Hope this blog post helped you a bit!

Don’t be a fool, even if you only go once a year, youll be really happy followed our tips. When you go on a climb or hike, you want to do it safely. If you go someplace new and dangerous, there are lots of guides to hire (even online!) Get the support you need and avoid a rocky adventure.

 

Scott Moey
 

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