OUTDOOR BASICS

Crampons vs. Microspikes: Staying Safe During Your Hike

Crampons and microspikes on boots
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

Though some of you may picture the perfect hike as a warm, sunny day in the middle of spring with blue skies and a clear hiking trail, avid hikers and general outdoorsy folks tend to brave the trails in all conditions, including ice and snow.

Preparing for these types of hiking conditions can certainly take some time, however, if you have the right recommendations and a forecast of the region ahead of time, you should be good to go.

If mother nature is promising snow, ice and the like, you might want to check the terrain, and consider: crampons vs. microspikes.

The issue with this comparison is that oftentimes people consider crampons and microspikes as the same hiking product. There, my friends, is where you would be wrong. Microspikes vs. crampons: what’s the real difference between the two?

Yellow crampons attached to shoe

In a very vague explanation, microspikes are simply made for flat, mild terrain with the accompanying of ice and snow; crampons serve the same purpose as microspikes (with longer spikes), yet they are more beneficial for steeper slopes, ice at high-angles or snow-covered, rocky terrains. Before we delve into the comparison of the two, let’s identify some of the benefits of each on their own.

What are microspikes, anyway?

There is one thing to be made clear about microspikes: they are to be worn and attached to a hiking-style boot. Placing microspikes on a sneaker that is not fit for hiking may not be beneficial to you and your hiking experience in the long run, or in the short run, for that matter.

Hiking boot treads are great, but their traction doesn’t fair well in ice and snow; this is when you break out the microspikes. It’s similar to putting chains on a 2-wheel drive vehicle in the mountains. It provides better traction and prevents you from sliding out on the snow and ice.

Advantages

Well, this is simple: microspikes are an easy fix! If you have a moderate hike planned with mild terrain, and the forecast is calling for a 40% chance of snow or ice, there’s no need to cancel. If you’re ready to face the climate head on, microspikes are your best way to stay proactive; place them in your pack and/or bag and hit the trails.

Walking with microspikes on

One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to strap the microspikes on too soon. Remember, microspikes will add significant weight to your hiking boots, so don’t put them on prematurely; this could exhaust you quicker than you think.

If there is a snow or ice-covered trail that you can’t manage in your standard hiking treads, pull over to the side and strap on these bad boys. That type of timing should be just about perfect.

Disadvantages

Don’t be confused, microspikes are great; however, hiking for longer durations in a regular style hiking boot can be tiring on its own. If you add microspikes to your hiking boot, think of all the extra added weight to your feet.

Microspikes are beneficial for snowy and icy conditions, but the added weight to your hike can tire you out. Make sure to prepare your legs, feet and mindset when you check the forecast and decide to strap on a pair of microspikes for your next adventure.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A MICROSPIKE

Though there are different sizes of microspikes, the general concept and purpose of microspikes remains the same. The spike sizes for microspikes typically fall in the ¼ of an inch to a ½ inch range, most being a ½ inch long. The amount of spikes on on the microspike fitting, also varies.

Microspikes up close

The amount of spikes typically ranges from a low 8, to as many as 19 spikes on each shoe. The more spikes, the more traction. Knowing your purpose and intention of use for the microspikes is a huge advantage, prior to purchasing.

BEST USE OF A MICROSPIKE

Though microspikes are typically the topic of a hiking forum, uses for microspikes can vary, especially because it is the lesser of the two in comparison to crampons. Microspikes can be used for everyday use in the snow (or multi-purpose, rather), trail running or walking, general stability or traction in the snow, ice fishing, or mediocre hiking.

If you’re just looking for some extra traction while tramping around in the snow this winter, a lesser microspike should do the trick. However, if you commonly use microspikes for more strenuous activities in the ice and snow (fishing, hiking, trail running), you want to make sure that you have the proper traction. In order to do so, make sure to do your research. Which microspike brand, size and spike amount will suit you best?

So…what exactly are crampons?

Mountaineering crampons are longer, steel spikes that are typically held together by steel bars or chains; these spikes come with straps that click onto your hiking boot or shoe, allowing you to conquer steep slopes that are invaded with ice and snow.

Crampons attached to boots

Crampons typically have longer, angled spikes (as opposed to shorter, microspikes) and though may seem rather intense compared to microspikes, they are great for climbing the more impossible peaks during or after the circumstances of ice and/or snow.

Advantages

The durability and overall function of the crampon is a huge selling point. There comes a point on the trail where you just can’t climb any higher in the snow without crampons. The one-inch, steel crampons are flexible, durable and can dig into most steep surfaces, keeping you safe and comfortable; these are a nice option to keep in your pack, even if you start off the hike with microspikes.

Crampons can also be found on snowshoes. Snowshoes are great for keeping you light on your feet and above the snow; crampons are integrated on snowshoes for traction. It’s a win-win!  

Disadvantages

Though crampons can help to navigate safely on the more treacherous paths, they aren’t necessarily the lightest of contraptions for your feet, much like the microspikes. However, as you can imagine, different products are made of different materials. Some crampons are made of aluminum, while others are made of steel.

Crampons new design

Keep in mind, microspikes are shorter and are overall a smaller contraption that crampons, therefore, they are going to be lighter (yet are still heavy to carry on your feet while hiking). Crampons, especially those made of steel, are most durable in tough conditions, but can definitely put a damper on your energy level due to heaviness.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM CRAMPONS

Crampons are the real deal. If you’re winter activity is too intense for a microspike, this is where you make the upgrade. Crampons, much like microspikes, come in different qualities, sizes and amount of traction (via spikes). The quality crampon cleats will have well-spaced spikes made of durable material (thick aluminum, steel).

However, the lesser of quality crampons will be vaguely similar to a microspike, proving the understanding that some may not know the difference between the two. Crampons will have longer spikes, averaging about one inch, and will also be held together by steel bars or chains, accompanied by a rubber or clip on strap for your hiking boot or shoe.

Crampon minimalist design

Due to the heftiness of most crampons, a quality crampon cleat will have a durable, thick strap for promising support. Crampons can also be found on snowshoes.

BEST USE OF CRAMPONS

Crampons fall into the same category that microspikes do; if you’re wearing either of these specialty footwear, you’re braving the ice and snow. If you’re strapping on a pair of crampons, you’re even braver than the average microspiker.

Crampons are best used in snowy/icy conditions for moderate to extreme hiking, mountaineering (technical or general), intense trail running, security on steeper slopes, or simply rock/ice climbing. If you’re looking for an adventure while your family and friends are hitting the slopes, you can always throw on a pair of crampons and face them head on, up the mountain. Crampons will give you the safety and security you need when you’re taking on your next adventure in the ice or snow.

WHEN DO YOU MAKE THE TRANSITION?

Okay, so I’m sure you’re wondering, when do you make the switch from microspikes to crampons? This typically happens when the terrain gets too steep for a microspike to keep their grip on the ice or snow.

Microspikes are shorter, in length, than the spike of a mountaineering crampon, so when coming across a steeper slope or an uneven, rocky terrain, the microspike won’t be able to hold your full body weight on the hill; the spike simply won’t stick.

Hiking with crampons on

This is when you make the transition; unclip the microspikes and put on a mountaineering crampon. This is definitely your safer bet to complete the hike with ease.

Microspikes can certainly be used up to a certain point. For example, if you have a hike planned and snow is falling, you might want to keep microspikes in your pack. If it’s a small, fresh snowfall with no more planned for the day, and your hike is moderate, you should be good to go.

However, if you’re climbing at higher altitudes with steeper peaks, with a forecast or presence of snow, keep in mind that microspikes simple might not be good enough. Though crampons are a bit heavier than microspikes and are for more extreme hikes, if you’re not comfortable in microspikes, or believe you’ll need more traction, it wouldn’t hurt to keep crampons on deck.

WHERE CAN YOU BUY THESE PRODUCTS?

Now that you know what you should be looking for, you’re probably wondering where you can get these products. Outdoor sporting goods stores are the best place to start your search before heading online, as it’s easier for you to ask the staff any questions you may have.

Microspikes on shoes

It’s better to get any confusion you may still have out of the way before you make your first purchase, as it can be a hassle to return them.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU MAKE THE CLIMB

Do your research

It’s important to understand why you are in need of microspikes or crampons, what you will be using them for, and what kind of either or each of the products will you need. First, choose your intention. Next, choose your activity and lastly, do your research based on those answers.

As we mentioned above, microspikes and crampons have some similar uses or activities, yet their level of need varies. Check out the next destination that you will be using either of these products very thoroughly. You don’t want to end up on an extremely steep, icy mountain with a cheap pair of microspikes and nowhere to go.

Pick your poison

It’s also important that once you’ve narrowed down the necessity for either microspikes or crampons, you choose the correct pair of either to move forward. If you’re looking for a quick, easy pair of microspikes to shovel your steep driveway, a cheaper, less quality option should probably fair well for you; however, if you’re taking an ice climbing trip with your hiking club, a quality pair of crampons are definitely recommended.

Crampons strapped on

There are also a variety of spike differences to choose from; less spikes (or points) for lesser intensity and vice versa. The average amount of spikes for both a microspikes cleat or a crampon cleat is 10.

PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD

You’ve done half the battle. You have done your research in order to take your adventure to the next level! Have confidence in your equipment and don’t forget to talk to friends, family and fellow hikers or climbers that have hit the trails you’re about to spike down.

Also a good “know before you go” tip: check the weather before you depart for your destination! You certainly don’t want to get stuck in the middle of an ice and snow storm, on a mountain, with no microspikes or crampons in hand.

Climbing up using crampons

You can do it, just strap on your new pair of cleats and put your best foot forward. Oh, and don’t forget to check our page for latest reviews and recommendations for the best gear!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Janet Wilder

    I would compare microspikes to putting chains on your car tires when the weather gets rough, they will make traveling a lot more doable on terrain that you would have been hiking normally. Crampons are more like an off road vehicle, if we are continuing with the metaphor. They are going to get you places that your would be unlikely to reach in regular hiking boots or with microspikes.

  • Daniel Carraway

    Crampons and microspikes are great hiking companions. Depending on where you’ll be using them, the two are very useful and enable you to move about in the snow. It’s easy to remember really – ice climbing is for crampons while microspikes can help you with tasks as well. See what works best for you.

  • Michelle Greer

    Don’t know if I’m brace enough to go hike in the snow and ice, but just in case I change my mind I am definitely logging away the information provided in this article. I’d probably start somewhere where I just need the micro spikes and then move on to tougher terrain. Great information!

  • Adam White

    What a great metaphor, Janet. That really gives some perspective. So it sounds like basically, I would use micro spikes for simple snowy areas and then crampons for more ice and snow, maybe some rocky situations? Seems like it might be good to know what you’re getting into before you go out hiking in the snow and ice. Great article to be prepared!

  • Daniel Carraway

    You’ll enjoy hiking in the snow – so don’t worry. In no time at all, you’ll feel comfortable in the outdoors. Make sure you have the right gear for your shoes. Crampons or microspikes? Only you can tell which one will make trekking in the outdoors an enjoyable one.

  • Daniel Carraway

    Make sure you know where you’re going and what to expect in terms of terrain, weather, etc. Have you worn any of this yet?

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