A guide to Backpacking and Winter Sports
for the best Lightweight Crampons and Microspikes.
1. Increase Traction: By far the number one use is traction, particularly on frozen surfaces. Crampons attach underneath your shoes or boots to improve ground traction - quite literally by stabbing the ground like an array of small knives. Particularly useful on slick surfaces like hiking on snow covered slopes or scaling alpine ice-covered rock.
2. Increase Service Area: Ever hiked in snow and had to "post hole" through a foot or two every step? It can be exhausting lifting your feet high enough to clear the surface for the next step. Some attachments increase the surface area of your shoe, preventing you from sinking deep down into the snow.
CRAMPONS: Crampons do the same thing as microspikes; they provide traction. However, these suckers look reptilian and have looong spikes - usually 1" in length. The good quality crampons will have well-spaced out strong spikes and thick straps. This thick metal frame is designed more for steep slopes, technical ice climbs, deep snow or rocky ground.
MICROSPIKES: Generally for backpacking or trail running on more moderate snowy or icy trails. Can be very light and ideal for ultralight backpacking or thru-hiking long distance trail in winter. These "spikes" are typically only in the ¼" and ½" range. The line between microspikes and crampons continues to blur as more and more models come out with different designs - some more "wired" instead of spiked.
SNOWSHOES: Yea, we ain't talking about snowshoes in this post. But, it is worth distinguishing them from microspikes and crampons. Snowshoes are often used for the same purpose - traction and increased foot surface area. These are used much more for deep snow and powdery conditions though. Their bulky design can be extremely impractical to cover long distances on foot in. Hence, we are not going to dig too much into them.
STRUCTURE: These puppies can be flexible for walking or stiff for techincal routes. We are specifically talking about the metal frame it's arch. You should always match the flexibility of your boot with the flexibility of the crampon.
Flexible: Best for hiking on softer ground - crunchy glaciers and packed snow. The center hinged bar connects the front and back is designed to flex with the boot for more natural walking. Can be used on technical vertical ice with a rigid climbing boot, but not ideal.
Semi-Rigid: The most popular for adaptability - they can be used in many environments. Flexible enough for walking, yet stiff enough for climbing. Some models have an adjustable bar that can change the crampon from a semi-rigid one to a flexible crampon which makes it more foot friendly for hiking and less likely to ball up with snow. Fits a variety of boot shapes - think highly curved boots. The bar orientation will determine whether it is meant for the left or right foot.
Rigid: The most technical crampons used purely for vertical surfaces like ice climbing. Walking ain't too much fun in these.
FRAME MATERIAL: What is it actually made out of? There are two common materials used.
Steel: For general mountaineering, durability and to use in technical, steep and icy terrain, go for steel crampons. You will get the same benefits of steel crampons plus corrosion resistance, if you opt for stainless-steel frames.
Aluminum: The lower weight factor plus the fact that they are ideal for alpine climbs, aluminium crampons win out. The downside is the fact that they will wear out quickly if used on rock.
ANTI-BALLING SYSTEMS: Aka "antibott" plates, these are additional plates designed to prevent snow and ice form balling up under your boot... and are pretty darn important. In extremely dangerous situations your crampons can easily turn into slick skis if you don't have them.
FIT: Your winter boots should be warm, supportive and waterproof with the ability to take a crampon designed for your intended use. Not all crampons will fit all boots. You should ensure that the crampon sits centrally on the sole of the boot with nothing hanging from the sides. You need a solid fit with no wobble. Aka - your crampon and microspikes need to match your choice of footwear.
It will depend on your boot and conditions. Boots with toe and heel welts accept almost any crampon. Lighter and less technical boots without welts will only take crampons with straps or maybe, hybrid crampons. If you wear over-boots, try the crampons on with these in place, as the extra bulk will affect the fit.
1. STEP-IN: Just like skis - step and snap in. Best for boots with rigid soles or thick welts (the rubber rim from your shoe sole). This is the easiest, fastest and most precise attachment system, especially if you have to put them on while wearing gloves. For this system, boots should have rigid soles and at least a 3/8" welt or groove on the heel and toe.
2. STRAP-ON: Highly adaptable. The advantage of the strap-on system is the fact that it can be used with virtually any boot or shoe and is perfect for moderate ice routes. You just have to ensure that the center bar is compatible with your footwear. The attachment systems is typically a pair of nylon webbing straps. Great for when you will be using multiple boots with the same crampon. Strap-ons are not as secure as step-ins - you can always get a little bit of wiggle and movement between the crampon and the boot. They take longer to attach than the step-in or hybrid style and are less reliable as the straps may loosen over time.
3. HYBRID: Best used with lightweight mountaineering boots, as the hybrid system does not require a boot with a toe welt. They are relatively easy to put on even when wearing gloves as you only need to pull on the toe strap and clamp down the heel lever. The attachment to the boot is created by combining a rear tension lever similar to that of step-in crampons with a forefoot strap. It is a simple form of attachment sometimes referred to as mixed or half step or semi-step. Designed for boots with a stiff sole plus a welt or heel groove to hold the heel lever.
© Ken Koh (@adventurenomad)
There is a huge range of models with different point configurations with some having as many as 14 points. Traditional crampons have 12 points - 10 underfoot plus 2 front points that can either be vertical or horizontal oriented. 10-point crampons - used for basic snow travel and ski mountaineering, not useful for actual climbing due to the points being shorter and less durable.
Remember that points and rigidity of crampons increase with the difficulty of the terrain. The most important thing to consider is the shape and nature of the front points. The points need to be under your instep, following the shape of your boot. Some highly technical models have serrated sides on the points to allow for grabbing in places where a point won't penetrate the ice or snow. Points can be adjustable and replaceable on technical ice and mixed climbing crampons.
MODULAR and NON-MODULAR:
Modular points are replaceable. The obvious advantage with modular points is that it is possible to replace the teeth. Preferable if you need will use your crampons a lot as it is easier (and cheaper) to replace the points instead of the entire device. Can require a little more hardware managing the screws.
Non-Modular are fixed. Can be sharpened. However, these things are permanently attached. aka - points go bad, you will need to replace the crampon. These are lighter though.
Vertical vs Horizontal Points: Vertical front points are similar to an icepick, stiff and sharp and point down. Vertical points are more precise because the points align with the grain of the ice. They do slice through snow causing "balling" underfoot more so than other styles. Horizontal front points are ideal for alpine situations because they point forward and are meant to almost be kicked into an ice wall. Snow balling underfoot is minimal. Horizontal points are often used on flexible crampons for mountaineering.
Mono vs Dual Points: Mono is just what you'd guess - a single front point. Extremely precise and able to be stuck into a groove between icicles or a crack. They allow you to pivot your foot, drop your knee or shift your position without destroying your hold. Dual is, yep - a double front point. Less precise, but more surface area for more stability.
Crampons, similar to boots, are rated on their flexibility and by how much support they provide. You want what is right for you and your conditions. In general, the lower ratings are for snowy backpacking and the higher numbers are for alpine ice climbing.
C1 - crampons that are flexible with simple straps and usually ten points.
C2 - crampons that are usually articulated with a heel clip with 12-14 points.
C3 - completely rigid crampons with a heel clip and toe-bail.
While we're on the topic, here are the mountain boot ratings:
B0 - flexible. Ideal for light hiking.
B1 - semi-flexible. Still suitable for hiking, yet more for tougher terrain or in winter conditions. Suitable for use with a C1 rated strap-on crampon.
B2 - fully stiff. Very common. Good for both walking and climbing in lower grades of winter mountaineering. Compatible with C1 and C2 rated crampons with a step-in binding at the heel.
B3 - super rigid. Technical and insulated climbing boot for winter. Compatible with all types of crampons including the rigid C3s with a full step-in binding at the heel and toe.
Weight: 2.0 - 4.0 oz
A spikeless ultra lightweight design which is easy to put on and take off, "Yaktrax cleats" fit over shoes for safety when walking, hiking or jogging on packed snow or ice. Providing 360 degrees of traction on cold surfaces for stability, they have been designed with a skid lock coil system. The durable rubber foot frame with a removable over-foot strap ensures a secure fit. The abrasion resistant 1.4mm stainless-steel coils have been tested safe from breakage in temperatures as low as -41 degrees F. Ensure when buying that you try them on with the shoes that you will be wearing, to get the right size. Simply put the tip over the toe of your shoe and pull the back into place.
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Weight: 14.25 oz
Price: $61.88 - $69.99
An improvement on the Trail Crampon, the Ultra version has more traction and flexibility, plus reduced weight for hikers to travel lighter without sacrificing traction. You get a 2-year warranty plus a carry bag to keep your crampons safely tucked away when not in use. Designed with welded double-link chains, a rip and stick (velcro) strapping which keeps them securely fastened and an elastomer harness that easily stretches over most footwear, they have a wide heel place with 3 spikes for downhill safety. In total there are 18 x 2/3” stainless steel spikes to grip ice and packed snow. The Trail Crampon Ultra works well in mud, ice, snow and slush.
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Weight: 11.0 - 13.5 oz
Price: $55.90 - $135.00
With an award winning traction design, Kahtoola MICROspikes work well on loose trails, muddy tracks and through streams, not just in snowy or icy conditions or if you wish to throw a line through the ice. Light and tough, there are 12 stainless steel spikes (3/8 inch length) per foot on all sizes - small, medium, large and extra large. They are perfect for ultralight backpacking - super packable when stored in their tote bag (5" x 3" x 2"). The spine length is 3/8" and there is an integrated toe bale and reinforced eyelets allowing for a 50% lower profile elastomer harness. You can take your pick of red or black, depending on your color whim and they come with a 2-year warranty.
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Weight: 23.3 oz
Designed for rugged conditions, the KTS Steel Hiking Crampons are flexible and ultralight for a longer spiked crampon. With serious traction, a folding heel support and independent rear bindings, they are super compact for when you need to stow them in your backpack. Ideal for backpacking, hiking and non-technical mountaineering, they have an all-metal design, which can withstand extreme conditions such as ice, packed snow or a rocky terrain of snow and ice. A go-to item sitting between micro-spikes and hard-core crampons, the KTS steel hiking crampons are easy to get on and off your shoes. With 10 spikes per crampon of chromoly steel, a spine length of 1" and stainless steel leaf-spring extender bars, they pack up to a size of 8" x 3" x 3.5". Snow release skins (SRS) are included and you get a 3-year warranty. For the perfect investment, grab some anti-balling protectors and the pouch for storage.
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Weight: 2 lb 7.5 oz
Featuring lightweight stainless steel design to enhance durability and to protect against rusting and snowballing, the Cyborg Pro Crampons are literally a climbing machine on your feet. Perfect for technical ice routes and steep mixed climbing, they fit both hard and soft boots relatively well. The rear heel clip has a micro-adjustment system for a secure fit and dual-density ABS plates keep the snow from sticking to the bottom. Adjustable front points act like massive teeth to chomp into vertical ice, providing precise edging while dry tooling. They can also be set up with either single or dual points. The Cyborg Pro Crampons come with a 1-year warranty.
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Weight: 2 lb 4.7 oz (with balling plate) 1 lb. 15.7 oz (without)
Grivel G12 Crampons will take you from glacier strolls to grade 4 alpine ice. Alpine climbers and mountaineers count on them to take on any terrain that may be encountered in the mountains. You will have a lifetime manufacturer's warranty and anti-balling plates are included to keep snow from sticking to the bottom of them. Constructed from steel with 12 points on each foot, the dual horizontal front points really attack the ice. Available in three different attachment systems. Easily adjusted to the correct length, tool free, the G12 crampons are a breeze to put on and take off, even if you happen to be wearing gloves. The downfall is that you will have to sort out your own bag for storage.
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Weight: 1 lb 4 oz
Constructed from aluminium alloy, these are a true beauty. Created for moderate snow climbing when approaching alpine rocky trails, the Neve crampon is great for lightweight performance. With a 10-point aluminium flexible spring steel centre bar function, highly formed front and real rails, aluminium wire bails and micro-adjust heel lever including dual-density ABS. Its flexible construction will keep you moving quickly and confidently on a steep or snowy terrain. There are 2 different attachment configurations, which accommodate both technical and non-technical footwear. To accommodate trekking and trail running footwear, the strap version has a new softer strap.
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By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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