Selecting Foot Traction for Your Hike

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Microspikes, Crampons or Snowshoes?

Following the patterns of the trail conditions as they change throughout the season will help select the necessary traction to safely and efficiently hike throughout the winter. Every trip is different and the terrain will dictate what kind of traction you will need. Often, one option isn’t enough – you may have to bring two – or more – with you on your adventure. Get familiar with the options so that you can make an educated decision as to which options will keep you safe and upright.


YAKTRAX

This is the most basic type of footwear traction available. These should only be worn on flat trails that have small patches of ice, but mostly snow and dirt. They offer very limited security on ice and snow slopes.

PROS

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Inexpensive ($20)
  • Allows full flexion of the sole of your boot
  • Hardly know you are wearing anything
  • Intuitive use; no training needed

CONS

  • Effective on flat ice and hard snow ONLY. Think getting the mail from the mailbox or ice fishing
  • Will slip on angled ice and snow
  • If used often, they may need to be replaced yearly or several times in a year as they will break
  • Will sometimes shift on your boot and will need to be adjusted regularly

KAHTOOLA MICROSPIKES

These straightforward spikes are excellent for low angle ice. They will begin to slip on ice over 20 degrees or so, especially on the descent. If your route stays at a fairly moderate grade, these may be the tool for the job. These are ideal on hard packed trails that see a lot of use. They will tolerate very low-angle ice in most cases.

PROS

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Inexpensive comparatively ($60)
  • Allows full flexion of the sole of your boot
  • Hardly know you are wearing anything
  • Intuitive use; no training needed

CONS

  • Effective on low angle ice and hard snow ONLY
  • Will slip on angled ice above 20 degrees
  • If used often, they may need to be replaced yearly as they will dull
  • The connection between the rubber and the chain can break after a lot of use
  • Will sometimes shift on your boot and will need to be adjusted regularly
  • No front points

HILLSOUND TRAIL CRAMPONS


This type of traction is very similar to the Kahtoola Microspikes and have the same limitations and advantages. You could read many gear review sites out there and I am positive there will be some die-hard Microspike fans and some die-hard Hillsound fans. In my book, they are virtually the same when we are looking at the broad spectrum of traction.

PROS

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Inexpensive comparatively ($60)
  • Allows full flexion of the sole of your boot
  • Hardly know you are wearing anything
  • Rip and stick strap over the top of the foot helps keep the traction in place
  • Less adjusting after putting them on
  • Intuitive use; no training needed

CONS

  • Effective on low angle ice and hard snow ONLY
  • Will slip on angled ice above 20 degrees
  • No front points
  • If used often, they may need to be replaced yearly as they will dull
  • The connection between the rubber and the chain can break after a lot of use

FULL MOUNTAINEERING CRAMPONS


Full crampons are the the safest bet. When you don’t know what you might run into, full crampons would be the way to go. I often bring these in conjunction with Microspikes and will use them when the Microspikes begin to slip. These are excellent for low angle and high angle snow and ice and everything in between.

PROS

  • No adjustments needed after putting them on
  • Very secure on your boot
  • Long spikes really sink into the snow and ice
  • Front points allow you to climb vertical ice
  • Excellent for any angle snow and ice
  • Strong construction; rarely breaks
  • Will often last many seasons depending on the use and the terrain

CONS

  • Expensive ($130)
  • Heavy
  • Greatly minimizes the flexion of your boot making walking on low angle terrain a bit more strenuous
  • Takes longer to put on and take off
  • Requires training to use properly and efficiently

SNOWSHOES


Many view snowshoes as flotation instead of traction, and this is true. However most modern snowshoes have traction on the bottom and sides of them. I am including these so that you can get an idea of what they are not good for, rather than what they are good for. Every winter we see snowshoes being used in terrain that really require crampons or Microspikes. These would be used for a trail that has several inches of fresh snow on it with short patches of hard-packed snow.

PROS

  • No adjustments needed after putting them on
  • Very secure on your boot
  • Also offer flotation
  • Only good on snow and hard packed snow up to 25 degrees or so.. NOT FOR ICE OR HIGH ANGLE SNOW
  • Will often last many seasons depending on the use and the terrain

CONS

  • Expensive ($120 -$250)
  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Do not pack well when not in use
  • Takes longer to put on and take off
  • Requires a slightly wider gate when you walk
  • Not appropriate for ice of any kind (microspike or crampon terrain)
  • Not appropriate for high angle snow.

There are many other options available. Be aware that these options exist and that traction is mandatory for trails in the White Mountains from November – May. Many accidents could be avoided with the proper traction. The key is to switch your traction BEFORE you slip or get into a place where making the transition is risky or difficult.

Happy hiking! Stay safe and have fun!

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