What are Hiking Crampons?
Hiking crampons are designed to add traction to hiking boots. Unlike mountaineering crampons, they are flexible to permit long distance walking. Strictly speaking, in the mountaineering world, hiking crampons don’t exist but rather they are called “traction devices”. But for the rest of us we call them crampons, trails spikes or cleats.
What do they do?
Simply put, they help keep you from falling down.
While hiking or backpacking during the late fall, winter, or early spring, you can encounter icy trails. In some cases, a good lugged sole on your shoe or boot is sufficient. On fresh snow or unpacked trails, traction is usually enough for hiking shoes or boots. However, frequently during late winter and early spring, packed trails and those that are exposed to sunshine can partially melt during the day and re-freeze overnight creating a precariously icy surface. Trekking poles are always a good idea but adding crampons makes your hike even safer and more enjoyable.
There are two general styles of hiking crampons: coils and spikes.
Coil types work well for light duty use such as walking on icy sidewalks or parking lots. These are also great for having in your car for unexpected ice storms or just in case. You wouldn’t want to slip and fall when you are running into the market for a six-pack on your way home from work. Yaktrax is probably the best know example of this style.
For more demanding conditions, spikes are the way to go. Heavier duty than coils, spike crampons are meant for harsher use. They almost look like snow chains for your feet. Chains with sharpened spikes are attached to a stretchable rubber perimeter that holds everything evenly underfoot. My experience using Kahtoola Microspikes has been very good and I can recommend them without reservation. I’ve also heard good things about Hillsound as well.
Excuse me while I whip this (crampon) out.
Most crampons are fairly lightweight and compact. This is great when you are hiking in the mountains. I have found them to be a lifesaver when hiking in the Smoky Mountains. Depending on weather and altitude, the trails are often snow covered and icy. You might not need them at lower elevations but as you ascend, you may encounter icy conditions. Carrying crampons in my backpack doesn’t add much weight and they are much appreciated when needed.
A note of caution: since crampons are designed for ice, walking on hard surfaces like concrete or rock may be slippery. Walking on docks and boardwalks can be slippery as well as damaging to their surfaces.