Crampons vs Microspikes – What’s Better for Winter Hiking?

Crampons and microspikes are useful winter traction devices when hiking in icy conditions. However, they both serve a bit different purposes and are different from snowshoes. It can prove challenging for a more novice hiker to decide which type in which to invest. 

Our team of experts has hiked various types of winter terrain over the years using microspikes and crampons, and we know the differences between the two pretty well.

Here are our recommendations on crampons vs. microspikes, depending on the type of terrain and difficulty of the hike that you will complete. 

Quick Summary 

  • Microspikes and crampons are both devices that provide added traction when walking or hiking on snow and ice. 
  • Microspikes work best for walking or running on flat surfaces with tightly packed snow or ice. 
  • Crampons are a must for mountaineering in the winter months or crossing frozen glaciers, waterfalls, and other treacherous areas. 

What Are Microspikes? 

microspikes for hiking

Microspikes are traction devices used in winter conditions. They typically have a rubber harness that attaches around your hiking boots or walking shoes and between 6-10 stainless steel spikes on the bottom that prevent you from falling on slippery surfaces such as ice and snow. 

These spikes are generally between ¼-inch to ½- inch long. Think of them as a concept similar to tire chains for your feet. Tire chains improve vehicle traction, and microspikes improve foot traction.  

Many different types of microspikes exist on the market, with different lengths of spikes and materials to fit different budgets.

They are popular for all types of winter activities, such as running, walking, and moderate hiking. If you live in an area with significant wintery weather, you may want to invest in a pair.  

Are Microspikes Necessary? 

Microspikes are a necessary safety device if you plan to hike or go backpacking through winter terrain. They provide the ultimate traction needed to navigate the icy sections of hiking trails, mountains with icy terrain, and other slippery conditions.

They also make a great way to improve your grip on flat terrain (such as sidewalks) during day-to-day activities, even if you are not an avid hiker. 

They also make an excellent option for people who want to walk through flat, packed snow-covered trails and do not want to use bulky snowshoes, as microspikes are often lightweight and easily packable.

We definitely recommend considering purchasing microspikes as part of your winter gear.

One thing to be aware of, if you travel by plane, you are only allowed to transport your crampons and microspikes on the plane only in checked luggage.

How To Use Microspikes

mounting hiking microspikes on my winter boots
Photo by rfmohonk

Microspikes are generally easy to put on and remove over your regular hiking boots or other footwear. The general steps to attach microspikes to your shoes or boots are as follows:

  1. Start in a sitting-down position with your fit slightly inclined. 
  2. Properly align the microspikes in the correct position, matching the front points of the microspike with the front of your shoe. The toe bail should align with your toes with the rubber ring or loop facing upwards and the spikes facing the ground. 
  3. Slip the microspikes toe first on your shoes (similar to putting on a pair of socks). Secure the back end of the spikes around your heel. 

To remove your micro spikes, use the rubber loop towards the heel and pull them off your boot, similar to removing a sock. 

When wearing your micro spikes, walk or run as you normally would, and you will get the necessary traction to avoid slipping.  

What Are Crampons?

crampons for hiking
Photo by Alastair Humphreys

Mountaineering crampons are steel or aluminum devices primarily used for scaling very steep snowy and icy terrain, such as climbing to the summit of mountains.

They help provide the proper traction for these steep climbs and navigate very hard ice. They are not intended for regular trekking and should only be used for climbing steep icy slopes. 

First designed by mountaineers in 1908, crampons have longer spikes than microspikes, and the material of the straps will be different as well (metal for crampons and rubber for microspikes).

You will primarily use crampons on technical terrains, such as a glacier, frozen waterfalls, icy rocks, or snowfields. The spikes on crampons are usually 1-inch to 2-inches long. 

Are Crampons Necessary?

using hiking crampons on icy terrain
April using hiking crampons

Crampons are a necessary part of your gear on all summit climbs and if you intend to do any ice climbing, climb frozen waterfalls, or for any other types of general technical mountaineering.

If your winter adventures need you to tread icy terrain aggressively, you should not attempt them without wearing crampons. 

The type of crampons you use will depend on the terrain, so ensure you have the proper type for your safety.

Crampons used for general mountaineering will differ from ice-climbing crampons.

The method in which you strap on your crampon will also depend largely on the style of your hiking boot and the terrain you intend to climb. 

How To Use Crampons 

Most crampons are more challenging to put on and take off than microspikes. It would help if you practiced putting them on at home while wearing gloves so you can become comfortable with the process in the field.

The exact method for putting on the crampons will vary according to the style and manufacturer. 

Some general tips for using crampons include: 

  • Ensure that your crampon straps and your boot laces are properly tucked in.
  • Make sure that when you tighten the straps, there’s good contact between the crampon frames and the bottom of your boots. 

As you use your crampons when walking on ice and packed snow, make sure that you maintain a slightly wider stance than you usually would (wider than shoulder width) and keep your knees bent and loose. 

Remove your crampons when you’ve reached a flat area with powdery or deep snow. 

When To Use Crampons vs. Microspikes 

Most crampons provide aggressive traction, and you should only use them when you need vertical traction, such as when navigating steeper slopes.

Microspikes work on flatter terrain and low-angle slopes, so you would want to use them on these types of icy surfaces or flat-packed snow. 

Some microspikes use coils or ice cleats instead of small spikes to provide extra traction. Many people who live in areas with brutal winters use these devices to safely assist them with getting around daily, such as taking exercise walks, running errands, or walking the dog.  

Tips and Recommendations 

If you’re trying to decide on crampons vs. microspikes to meet your winter traction device needs, it is best to consider the types of outdoor activities in which you will primarily take part and their features. 

A good pair of affordable and lightweight microspikes should work well for most snow and ice situations you will encounter daily and prevent slips on ice, hard snow, and slightly steep terrain.

You should only choose crampons if you intend on mountaineering or tackling extremely adventurous trails. 

If you’re looking for a good and affordable pair of microspikes for your winter boots or running shoes, check out our recommended products we personally tried and tested.


Can You Walk on Rocks With Microspikes?

You can walk on rocks in microspikes, but you want to make sure that you have ones with steel spikes to give you a good grip on the rock without getting damaged. 

When Should You Use Microspikes?

You should use microspikes when you want to gain more traction on flat surfaces covered in ice or hard snow. You should not use them in areas of fresh powder or deep snow as they will not work as effectively. 

Are Microspikes the Same as Crampons?

Microspikes and crampons are different traction devices. While crampons have 8-12 ½  to ¾ – inch spikes on the outer part of the sole, microspikes usually have 6-10 shorter ¼ to ½ inch spikes placed toward the inner sole.

Can I Use Crampons Instead of Microspikes?

Crampons work best for climbing a mountain, and microspikes work best for walking. Although you may be able to use either type for certain icy hills, crampons provide less mobility and are best suited for more technical snow slopes or ice-covered rock.  

Are Microspikes and Crampons Adjustable for Different Shoe Sizes?

While some microspikes are adjustable to fit different shoe sizes, step-in crampons and stainless steel crampons often require a proper fit and sizing for optimal performance and safety.

Are Microspikes and Crampons Suitable for Winter Hiking, Mountaineering, or Both?

Microspikes are suitable for winter hiking on icy trails, while crampons are better for mountaineering and steep slopes. We recommend you use appropriate mountaineering boots with crampons to ensure safety and stability in challenging terrain.

Do Microspikes and Crampons Require Any Special Maintenance or Care?

Both microspikes and strap-on crampons generally require regular maintenance. It’s important to inspect them for any damage, clean off debris, and store them properly. Additionally, maintaining footwear traction is crucial by cleaning the treads and replacing worn-out components when necessary.

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom has been a writer for over 20 years and an outdoor and hiking enthusiast for most of her life. After spending much of her career in the corporate world, she decided to freelance to spend more time with her family and explore new places. You will find her always looking forward to her next weekend adventure and writing guides that help others make the most of their own hikes and time outdoors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *