For most of us hiking enthusiasts, it’s an activity we enjoy all year round – not just when the weather is dry and sunny. This includes winter too, because hikes during this time of the year can be truly magical and relaxing. Of course, to go out during the winter, you also need the right equipment. When talking about this, most people think about a 4-season tent or a hardshell jacket. But a good set of crampons (or microspikes) is also very important.
This gear is used to make your step more stable. They come in different shapes and designs, because they need to perform in difficult circumstances. Some are used on flat surfaces for walking, while others are used by alpinists for technical climbing. To find the best crampons out there, you need to think about where and how you’ll be using them. Our product choice was made with an accent on hiking. We also created a buying guide where we discussed the available options, and all the ups and downs that come with them.
Size does matter when it comes to crampons and microspikes! If the pointy part of the spikes is too big, they may sink so deeply into the ground or snow that you feel "stuck" with each step. If the spikes are too small, they won't grip well on slippery terrain.
Most people think of microspikes as being useful for hiking on snow and ice, and they really are. But they can improve your traction on slippery mud, too. Crampons aren't a good fit for mud, but they're tops on hard or steep ice.
Speaking of size, make sure the trail crampons or microspikes you choose fit your footwear well. If the harness that holds the microspikes onto your shoes is too big, the spikes will slip around — which could cause you to slip or fall. If the harness is too small, it can break.
How To Choose Microspikes For Hiking – Buying Guide
All of these products are designed to improve your safety, but there are many differences in design. Depending on what you need and where you’re going, you might need microspikes to improve the grip but still remain comfortable to walk in, or heavy-duty crampons to climb steep surfaces.
The frame on your product should be designed to make the activity easier. It can be fully flexible, semi-rigid or rigid. All microspikes come with a fully flexible frame, because it’s the best option for walking. There are also many crampons with flexible frames. They usually have a hinged bar connecting the front and back plates. Aside from walking, it works well for conventional climbing too. An added plus is that the movement prevents snow from balling up under your foot.
The semi-rigid frame combines the best from flexible and rigid types. It’s the most popular choice because of its versatility – you can walk while having these crampons on, but you can also make some more demanding climbs. Some crampons feature an adjustable bar so you can choose whether you want them to be flexible or semi-rigid. Finally, rigid frames offer the best precision. They sit very tightly on your boot, and give you excellent support and maneuverability when climbing. Mostly used for technical climbs, these are not the best option to walk in.
This is something you need to carefully consider when shopping for new crampons. Points can vary in number, size and position. They should be placed so that your foot has traction in every direction. Microspikes usually have more points (spikes) than crampons. However, they are positioned differently and they are usually much shorter compared to crampons.
On the other hand, crampons usually come with either 10 or 12 points. Versions with ten points are more commonly used for walking in the snow and regular climbing. The points should have the proper position under your sole, and they should be in line with your boot so you get the best possible support.
Something that is very characteristic for crampons and can vary significantly from one product to another are the front points. These allow you better movement in different situations, depending on the design. Some ice crampons come with only one front (mono) point, while most have two. A single point offers better precision, while dual points cover a larger area.
Next, they can be positioned horizontally or vertically. Horizontal points will make walking and regular climbs easier, while vertical points work like an icepick and are better for technical climbing. In addition, they can have serrated edges for better penetration into the ice. Finally, front points can be modular (replaceable) or non-modular. If you climb often and risk damaging the points, it’s smart to buy crampons with modular points. This way you can replace only them instead of the whole device.
All microspikes come with harnesses which you need to stretch when you put them on your shoes. Some of the best microspikes also have straps or buckles on top which allow you to tighten everything up. On the other hand, crampons come with three different designs – step-in, strap-on and hybrid bindings. Step-in crampons require boots with a rigid sole. Boots also need to have heel and toe welts (at least 3/8” deep) for attachment. However, this binding is very secure and also very easy to attach even with gloves on.
Strap-on crampons feature an elastic harness instead of heel clips and toe rails. This makes it possible to use them with your favorite climbing or hiking boots. They are not as tight or precise as step-in type, but the performance is very good nevertheless. These usually come with either a semi-rigid or a flexible frame. Hybrid crampons are a mixture of the previous two. They have an elastic webbing in the toe area, while the heel has a clip so it can click into place. For this reason you need a boot with a heel welt and preferably a rigid sole.
Crampons and microspikes are exposed to harsh conditions and really need to be durable. This is especially true for points. For this reason, they are made of different types of metal. Steel is the obvious choice because it’s strong, inexpensive and very resistant to damage. However, it can corrode, which is a problem in wet conditions (including snow and ice). For this reason, most points are made of stainless steel. It’s resistant to corrosion, in addition to all of the upsides of regular steel.
On the other hand, some manufacturers choose aluminum when making their crampons. This is because it’s significantly lighter compared to steel. It performs very well on snow and ice, but can be damaged much quicker if you encounter rocky surfaces on your way.
In addition to metal, the frame features parts which are flexible – harnesses on microspikes and strap-on crampons. They need to be elastic and fit almost any shoe you put them on. For this reason, manufacturers commonly choose rubber, silicone or nylon. It’s important that this material doesn’t snap when stretched, and also that it doesn’t deteriorate when exposed to low temperatures.
Size and Weight
Depending on the product you get, you may be able to adjust it to your shoe. Most microspikes don’t allow this – they come in pre-made sizes and you need to be careful to pick the right one so you don’t need to overstretch it. On the other hand, the linking bar we talked about (which connects heel and toe plates) allows you to adjust length too. This way the spikes can be positioned just right to give you the best stability for walking and climbing. As for weight, it depends on the materials used. Like we mentioned, steel crampons are heavier but offer greater durability, so it’s up to you to decide what is more important in the given situation.
Always make sure to buy the right crampons for the boots you own. Compare carefully, and try the combination if possible. As we suggested, microspikes and strap-on crampons will work with most boots out there (as long as the size is right). You should consider this combo if you’re mostly going to use it for hiking.
Furthermore, boot soles come with different flexibility too. You will have the biggest comfort and least amount of movement between boot and crampon if they have similar if not the same rigidity. If you want to use rigid step-in crampons, you need to have a stiff boot.
Q: What Are Hiking Crampons?
Q: When Do I Need Hiking Crampons?
Q: What Is The Difference Between Crampons And Microspikes?
Globo Surf Overview
Crampons and microspikes are a great investment for your winter excursions, and should be on your checklist when preparing for hiking and winter camping. They are designed to make moving around easier and more pleasant, as well as save you from a potential injury of course. As you had the opportunity to see, there are some significant differences between products – they won’t work the same in every situation. The best crampons should make your life easier whatever you’re doing, so be sure to study the guide and figure out what you’re looking for. Have fun and stay safe!
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Have you tried crampons or microspikes that made it onto our list? How did they perform? Where did you use them? Are they durable? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.