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Best Crampons for Winter Hiking 

If you love hiking in the winter, then you might be thinking about purchasing some new outdoor gear to make your winter strolls a little easier. Have you considered investing in crampons? A traction device that attaches to your footwear can help you feel more secure and confident underfoot in slippery conditions. 

There are several winter traction devices to choose from, including crampons, microspikes, and ice cleats. Your purchase will depend on the activity and the weather you will face. 

Our top pick is The Black Diamond Distance Spike, which offers great support across all kinds of challenging terrain. The softshell toe cover is a great addition, and they are quick and easy to put on and take off. 

The two choices on the list from Kahtoola are also excellent, and both offer extra support for a range of winter activities. 

In this guide, we will take a look at some of the best winter traction devices available now and find out what features to look for specifically. We’ve also answered some frequently asked questions about crampons for winter hiking.

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The Best Crampons for Winter Hiking in 2024

Best Overall – The Black Diamond Distance Spike

best-crampons-for-winter-hiking
Image by Black Diamond

Features and specs:

  • Style: Microspike 
  • Traction: 14 spikes per foot  
  • Spike length: 8 mm 

The innovative design of the Black Diamond Distance Spike includes a industry-first hybrid upper with a softshell toe cover and heel retention elastomer which allows for an optimized fit and extra snow protection. 

Whether you’re looking for an ice axe or a winter traction device, Utah-based company Black Diamond has all your mountaineering needs covered.

The spikes, made from stainless steel, offer aggressive traction over a variety of terrains, as well as stability underfoot for rocky surfaces. The heel has a loop to make them easy to get on and off, and they pack neatly into a bag for transportation.

Lightweight and durable, these crampons will help you reach further distances and navigate your way through hard-packed snow. 

Best Durable – Hillsound Trail Crampons Pro

best-crampons-for-winter-hiking
Image by Hillsound

Features and specs:

  • Style: Crampon
  • Traction: 11 spikes per foot  
  • Spike length: 17 mm

The strong and sturdy Hillsound Trail Crampons Pro are designed for wearing with stiff sole boots and are suitable for ice, snow, mud, and slippery surfaces.

The Trail Crampons Pro will allow you to stride confidently even in the most challenging conditions and in a variety of different environments, from snowy streets to icy terrain.

The product features an adjustable strap across the foot and orange anti-snowballing pads to help shed snow and prevent snow build-up on the underside of your shoes. 

From yard work to mountaineering, reviewers mentioned a range of activities that these crampons are useful for. You can pack them into a heavy-duty carry bag for easy storage and transportation. For an alternative option, check out the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra, which are compatible with trail running shoes.

Best for Mountaineering – Kahtoola KTS Crampons

best-crampons-for-winter-hiking
Image by Kahtoola

Features and specs:

  • Style: Crampon  
  • Traction: 10 spikes per foot  
  • Spike length: 25 mm  

The Kahtoola KTS crampons are made from alloy steel, and they offer great stability for hiking and backpacking. They can be attached to shoes or winter boots and used on and off snowy and icy trails. 

Kahtoola is an outdoor gear company from Arizona. They are dedicated to building products that make the outdoors more accessible, including shoe traction devices, microspikes, and crampons. 

The folding heel support allows the KTS crampons to collapse into a small package that you can take anywhere. The independent front and rear binding system allow for a customizable fit.

Best for Every Day – Yaktrax Walk Traction Cleats 

best-crampons-for-winter-hiking
Image by Yaktrax

Features and specs:

  • Style: Ice cleat 
  • Traction: Stainless steel coils  
  • Coil length: 1.4 mm 

The Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats are designed to give instantly better traction on challenging terrain. They are perfect for walking, jogging, or hiking on packed snow or ice. Instead of spikes, this device has steel coils that stretch across the bottom of the shoe to provide extra traction. 

Yaktrax are known for their innovative designs. Another popular product is the Yaktrax Diamond Grip, which uses patented diamond-shaped beads for stability on slippery surfaces.

The Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats fit over shoes and can be secured by a durable rubber strap. The sharp-edged coils provide support as you hike. According to Yaktrax, the steel coils provide 360 degrees of traction on cold surfaces and the same solid grip on dry surfaces. 

They are available in multiple sizes and they are excellent value for money. 

Best for Winter Hikes – Kahtoola Microspikes 

best-crampons-for-winter-hiking
Image by Kahtoola

Features and specs:

  • Style: Microspike 
  • Traction: 12 spikes per foot  
  • Spike length: 10 mm

The Kahtoola Microspikes offer a valuable safety net in icy conditions. With an integrated toe bail and stretchy elastomer harness, these are strong and lightweight. 

The stainless steel chains allow for good grip and prevent any snow build up. Microspikes are known for their ease of use. They are typically easy to put on and take off, with a design that accommodates various footwear types, so you can even wear them with your regular trail runners.

These microspikes are not designed for steep inclines or ice climbing. If you are looking for something to support you in a technical mountaineering setting, the Kahtoola KTS crampons are a better option. 

Best Budget – Cimkiz Crampons Ice Cleats

best-crampons-for-winter-hiking
Image by Cimkiz

Features and specs:

  • Style: Microspike 
  • Traction: 19 spikes per foot  
  • Spike length: 11.5 mm

This traction device from Cimkiz is made from stretchy material that is easy to put on and take off. They are designed for walking on snowy hiking trails, ice fishing, or walking along snow-packed streets.

The stainless steel chain system is durable, and the thermoplastic elastomer is made from thick rubber, which gives plenty of flexibility. An adjustable strap allows for a secure and snug fit.

These fit onto various kinds of shoes and boots so you can wear them with your regular hiking shoes or sport shoes. They come in a range of colors, and their price of under $30 is tough to beat. 

Why Should I Wear Crampons When Hiking? 

With the right gear, winter hiking can be an incredible experience. Crampons attach to the soles of your boots to provide enhanced grip and stability when walking on icy or snow-covered terrain. They will allow you to explore beautiful winter landscapes with greater ease and comfort.

Safety on Icy or Snowy Surfaces

Crampons significantly improve traction on icy and slippery surfaces, reducing the risk of slips and falls. This is particularly important when navigating frozen trails, wet snow, or icy slopes, but it can also be useful for snowy sidewalks or winter yard work. 

In deep snow or on compacted snow surfaces, crampons can prevent your feet from sinking and provide stability, allowing for safer and more comfortable hiking. They enhance your ability to navigate diverse terrains during winter hikes.

Crossing Glaciers or Frozen Lakes

When you are hiking in the winter, you may come across some unique challenges. Crampons can allow you to cross frozen bodies of water or traverse icy patches, providing the necessary traction to navigate these tricky surfaces safely.

Increased Confidence

With crampons, hikers can tackle challenging and steep terrain with increased confidence. The additional traction provided by crampons allows for more secure footing on slopes and icy surfaces. 

Efficiency and Speed

Crampons can help you maintain a steady pace even in challenging winter conditions. With improved traction, you will expend less energy than you would trying to navigate tricky terrain with just hiking boots. You’ll find that you cover distances more quickly and efficiently, too. 

Winter Mountaineering

Crampons are essential for more advanced winter activities such as mountaineering or ice climbing. They provide the necessary grip on steep and technical terrain where regular hiking boots alone may not have the appropriate grip.

What to Look for When Buying Crampons for Winter Hiking 

When considering buying crampons, it’s essential to choose a pair that matches the intended use and level of technicality required for your winter hiking adventures. Always follow manufacturer guidelines and ensure that the crampons are compatible with your hiking boots.

Types of Traction Devices 

Crampons 

Crampons typically have the highest number of spikes, ranging from 10 to 14 or more. The spikes can be longer and more pointed, varying in length depending on the intended use, with some designed for technical ice climbing.

Crampons occasionally use a more technical binding system that includes heel and toe clips. This system requires boots with specific heel and toe welts, commonly found on mountaineering boots.

Microspikes 

Microspikes have a simpler design, consisting of an elastomer harness with a network of shorter spikes (usually around 12-25 mm in length) that cover the sole of the footwear.

Microspikes typically have fewer spikes, ranging from 10 to 12. The spikes are shorter and less aggressive than those found on crampons, focusing on providing traction on icy and packed snow surfaces.

Ice Cleats 

Ice cleats typically have a simple and lightweight design. They consist of an elastomer harness that wraps around the sole of your footwear and metal spikes or studs on the bottom. Ice cleats are generally designed for everyday winter activities such as walking on icy sidewalks, commuting, or working in icy conditions. They provide basic traction without the technical features of microspikes or crampons.

Traction Types: Spikes, Studs, and Coils 

Spikes are sharp and pointed protrusions that provide direct contact with the ground. You should note the number of spikes per foot and the length of the spikes when you are deciding on the right traction device for your needs. 

Studs are short and blunt-ended, arranged in a pattern to provide traction. 

Coils are spiral-shaped, and commonly used by brands such as Yaktrax. The coils grip to the ground and offer good support for hiking. 

Binding System: Step-In vs. Strap-On 

The binding system is the mechanism that secures the traction device to your footwear. 

Step-in binding systems require boots with specific heel and toe welts, also known as bails or front and rear bindings. This feature is more common to find in more technical crampons. Heel and toe clips are also part of this binding system to provide extra support.  

The Strap-On binding system is more versatile and can be used with a wide range of footwear. Adjustable straps wrap around the boot and secure the traction device in place. Hybrid binding systems offer a combination of both. 

The elastomer harness is found in a Strap-On binding system. It is a flexible and stretchable harness made from rubber or synthetic materials that wraps around the sole of your footwear. It secures the spikes or studs in place. Sometimes, there are straps or buckles to ensure a snug and secure fit. 

Materials

The spikes and chains will often be made from stainless steel, which is commonly used because of its durability. 

Aluminum is also popular in the manufacturing of these devices, as it is lighter weight. It is less durable than stainless steel, but it is suitable for occasional use on less technical terrain. 

Size and Fit 

Most crampons come in several sizes that suit the foot sizes of men and women. Look for crampons with adjustable features to ensure a proper and secure fit on your boots. Some brands recommend going one size up from your normal shoe size. 

Weight and Packability

Some crampons come with durable carry bags, which can be beneficial for longer hikes or when carrying them in your backpack. It’s also useful to have them for unexpected changes in weather or icy patches that you might not have anticipated. 

Consider the weight of the crampons and choose a pair that meets your preferences for weight and portability.

Footwear Compatibility 

Always check the compatibility of the crampons with your specific boots or shoes, and consider the type of winter terrain you’ll be navigating to choose the appropriate level of technicality and features.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can you walk on the sidewalk with microspikes or crampons?

Yes, if the sidewalk is covered in ice and snow, you will need extra traction to get safely from A to B. 

A coil-based device, such as the Yaktrax Walk Traction Cleats, is designed specifically for walking on icy sidewalks.

Can crampons damage my boots?

Crampons with a proper binding system and adjusted correctly should not damage your boots. However, it’s essential to ensure compatibility and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to prevent any potential damage.

You should regularly check for wear and tear, clean them after use, and store them in a dry place to prevent corrosion. Inspect the straps, bindings, and points for any damage.

How do I choose the right crampons for my needs?

There are various types of crampons, including those designed for general mountaineering, technical ice climbing, mixed alpine terrain, and specialized uses. Consider what activity you require the device for before you click “buy now.” 

You should also think about the terrain and boot compatibility before making your choice. 

Conclusion 

If you are considering purchasing a traction device for winter hiking, it’s worth researching what type of support you will require. 

If you live somewhere with long periods of cold weather, crampons or ice cleats can be useful for everyday activities such as walking along icy streets or working in the yard. If you have a hiking trip coming up soon, you will need something that will offer you extra grip for days hiking across snow and ice. 

There are lots of good value options out there, but don’t be afraid to spend a bit more if you are looking for a more technical piece of gear. The Black Diamond Distance Spike is a great overall choice.

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