Microspikes for Hiking: Traction Devices 101 - AdventureTripr

Microspikes for Hiking: Traction Devices 101

Kirsten Forrester · October 22, 2021

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Microspikes for Hiking: Traction Devices 101
Microspikes for Hiking: Traction Devices 101

Just because snow starts to fall, it doesn’t mean the adventure needs to stop! One of the best hiking gear purchases we’ve ever made over the years has been microspikes. Microspikes are essential for snow hikes. They help you move more quickly, provide grip and traction, and keep you super safe on snowy or icy hiking trails. 

Microspikes are one of three traction devices winter hikers use -- mountaineering crampons and snowshoes being the other two. In this blog, we’ll be breaking down the differences between the three and when to use each. 

What Are Microspikes?

Microspikes are a lightweight and flexible traction device that you pull over your winter hiking boots, hiking shoes, or ordinary winter boots. They are best worn on fairly level hiking trails covered with packed snow or ice. What’s great about microspikes is they are easy to take on and off. So if the trail starts as dirt you can start with them in your backpack, and then put them on as you reach higher elevations and begin walking on snow. They do a great job of giving you traction in a scenario where your typical boot would start to slip.

While microspikes are marvelous winter traction aids, they do have their limits when you start to tackle higher angle slopes covered in ice. That’s when you want to switch to a longer and sharper winter traction aid called a mountaineering crampon.

Microspikes vs. Crampons 

Microspikes vs. crampons: Crampons have large spikes designed to bite into ice.
Microspikes vs. crampons: Crampons have large spikes designed to bite into ice.

Microspikes are lighter and very comfortable to use in hiking and trekking activities that involve trail running or backpacking on moderate snowy, icy, or mixed rock paths. The chains and spikes on microspikes have too much “give” in them and are too short to penetrate deeply into ice when you need it to hold your full body weight. Crampons have deeper spikes (about half an inch) that will penetrate the ice and provide a strong grip. Crampons were originally designed for ice climbing, and are best worn on steep, high angle ice fields where you need a solid footing.

Crampons require special training, need to be worn with mountaineering boots, and should be paired with an ice axe! 

Microspikes vs. Snowshoes 

Microspikes vs snowshoes: Use Snowshoes in deep and powdery snow.
Microspikes vs snowshoes: Use Snowshoes in deep and powdery snow.

Snowshoes have two functions: they provide flotation so you don’t sink as deeply into powdery or deep snow, and they prevent post-holing (when you sink into snow up to your thighs or waist). If you’re going to be on packed, low-angle snow, use microspikes. Walking on well-packed snow in snowshoes can be tedious! Instead, break them out when the snow is deep and you need to stay on top of it, or in the spring when snow is starting to melt and you need a more even weight distribution to avoid sinking through. 

The Best Microspikes 

If you’re considering using microspikes for hiking this winter, here are two of the best brands on the market! 

Kahtoola Microspikes

 Kahtoola Microspikes are some of the best microspikes on the market.
Kahtoola Microspikes are some of the best microspikes on the market.

When it comes to microspikes, unfortunately the market is inundated with cheap ones that look good but are built cheaply and fail quickly. Thankfully, Kahtoola is not one of them! Kahtoola makes the original microspikes well-constructed with solid materials. They top almost everyone’s list of the best microspikes! Kahtoola also makes the Nanospike, which are specially designed for trail running in the winter. 

Hillsound Trail Crampons

The use of “crampon” here is a misnomer, which you’ll unfortunately see a lot when it comes to microspikes and crampons. Nevertheless, Hillsound is the next top producer of microspikes after Kahtoola. This pair has a  velcro strap across the top of the instep, which helps secure them on your feet and decrease the chances they’ll get sucked off by mud or deep snow.

There you have it: everything you need to know about using microspikes for hiking! Make sure to tag us in your winter adventures with #adventuresforeveryone, and stay safe out there!

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