Crampons Vs. Microspikes For Hiking (Which Is Better?)

Winter hikes are a blast, but one slip on the ice can turn things south quicker than a snowball fight dropping down an igloo chimney. That’s why it’s important to be well-equipped when hiking in snowy and icy conditions. To keep your toes from turning into ice cubes, either crampons or microspikes are essential.

In this article, we’ll explore both crampons and microspikes, compare them, contrast them, and help you figure out which one is right for you.

Crampons and Microspikes: What’s the Deal?

Think of crampons and microspikes as magical accessories that turn your hiking boots into unstoppable traction machines. Crampons are spikes that attach to your boots and are best used for more technical terrain, like steep inclines and glaciers.

Microspikes, on the other hand, are smaller and better for low-angle terrain. They’re a great option if you’re looking for something more versatile and affordable (also easier to carry).

Now that the quick overview is out of the way, let’s get into a bit more detail.

What are Crampons?

Crampons are like snow boots for your existing boots! They’re metal spikes used to provide traction on snow and ice. The points slip into the surface’s softer layers, giving an added grip and allowing you to navigate snowy and icy terrain safely.

Types of Crampons

Crampons for hiking come in two main types: strap-on and step-in. Strap-on crampons are the most common type and are attached to regular hiking shoes with straps. Step-in crampons are the better choice if you’re planning on more extensive technical hikes – think mountain ice climbing. They clip into special boots with protruding welts under the toe and heel, making them a more secure and stable choice.

When to Use Crampons for Hiking

Crampons are necessary only in conditions when the snow/ice is hard and dense, and there’s a steep incline to the climb. Crampons are specifically designed for the most challenging ice terrains, including icefalls, vertical sheets, and alpine ice climbing. If you’re worried about slipping, stubbing your toe or twisting your ankle while hiking, especially in tricky weather conditions, a pair of crampons is a smart investment.

The Pros and Cons of Using Crampons

Crampons provide unparalleled performance on rough, icy terrain. They give increased security and stability, making it possible to hike features that would otherwise be too treacherous to navigate. However, wearing crampons can take some time to get used to, and they’re not appropriate for every situation. On flat, light snow, they can be slippery and cumbersome to wear. They’re also prone to damaging trails and other natural features, so it’s crucial to use them only when necessary and when no other options are available.

What are Microspikes?

Microspikes are a compact and straightforward portable hiking accessory that can easily enhance the stability of your regular hiking boots in icy, snowy terrains. They contain small metal spikes attached to rubber or elastomer harnesses that fit snugly over your boots, offering extra traction for those slippery hikes.

Types of Microspikes

There are many different types of microspikes on the market, but the primary difference lies in the type of harness they use to fit your boots. Most microspikes come with either a rubber or elastomer harness. Some are also designed with heavy-duty metal pegs while others have longer, thinner spikes. They vary in weight, spikes’ size, materials used, and how the spikes are connected to the harness. Each type is unique in its purpose, so it’s essential to choose the right ones for your intended use.

When to Use Microspikes for Hiking

Microspikes are ideal for hiking on light or shallow snow, including trails where your boots may not have enough grip. They’re often the best option for moderate hikes, where there’s still some rough terrain, but it’s not as strenuous as steep mountains or glaciers. Microspikes can provide added grip and footing alongside your regular boots, making them hugely useful to have around for those last-minute hikes when the weather is suddenly snowy.

The Pros and Cons of Using Microspikes

Microspikes are more affordable and more adaptable than crampons, and they’re relatively easy to put on and take off, making them perfect for hikers who need lightweight and user-friendly gear. They’re also less cumbersome than crampons, so less chance of damaging the trail, making them more environmentally friendly. However, microspikes are not suitable for steep inclines and glaciers like crampons. They also don’t have as much grip or stability as crampons and may struggle during sudden changes in the weather.

Crampons vs Microspikes: Which Should You Use?

When it comes to deciding between crampons and microspikes, there are several things to consider before taking the plunge. Both offer excellent traction and stability on snow and ice, but they’re not equally well-suited to every situation. So let’s take a closer look at what distinguishes these winter hiking tools.

The primary decision that should impact your choice between crampons and microspikes is the terrain you intended to topple. Crampons are perfect for technical terrain where you need optimal traction, like ice climbing or traversing a steep ice terrain. But microspikes are less invasive, less clunky, and are ideal for everyday winter hiking. They’re also wind-resistant, lightweight, and easy to pack, which makes them popular with hikers.

Examples of Hiking Scenarios

So, when exactly would you choose one option over the other? Suppose you’re hitting a more technical winter hike like a snowy glacier, steep icy hills or mountaineering requiring rope and climbing hardware. In that case, you should consider crampons to provide the necessary stability and traction for your boots.

On the other hand, suppose your adventure falls on moderate trails where there’s only shallow snow, with some icy patches. In that case, microspikes would be perfect for keeping you safe and stable while ensuring the overall ease of your hike.


Both crampons and microspikes offer a great degree of support and stability, but they’re distinctly suited to different winter hiking scenarios. So, carefully consider what you need on your hike, taking the trail’s terrain, weather, and conditions into account. Whether it’s microspikes or sleek crampons, your hiking experience will be improved, and you’ll stand a better chance of reaching the summit safely with these fantastic traction gadgets in your gear arsenal.

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