[pct-l] Microspikes vs. Hiking Crampons??

Scott Diamond scott.diamond.mail at gmail.com
Tue Nov 8 18:24:17 CST 2016

This subject does come up all the time. Based on Ned's advice last winter,
for my PCT hike I brought  Kahtoola Hiking crampons but I'd like to provide
some input on why I wish I'd brought Microspikes

*What I Don't Like About Crampons*

   - Heavier than microspikes
   - Do not pack easily. The microspikes drop into your pack, crampons have
   sharp points and need to be strapped to the outside of your pack. Leaving
   Kennedy Meadows your pack is full already and finding a place to strap
   crampons can be a challenge
   - The crampons are a pain to take on and off. Microspikes easily slip on
   and off.

Mostly it comes down to ​Ned's comments on "out-of-track." I entered the
Sierra Nevada mid June and didn't have any out-of-track hiking. I think
this is typical for most PCT hikers. I didn't conduct a scientific survey
but I don't think I saw anyone else wearing crampons. Everyone else was
either wearing microspikes or didn't have traction devices at all.

Your mileage may vary but I thought I'd share another perspective.


On Sun, Nov 6, 2016 at 4:09 PM, <ned at mountaineducation.org> wrote:

> Traction aides for the PCT and JMT "early season" Thru Hiker:
> Kahtoola's Microspikes vs. Hiking Crampons
> This comes up every year, so I thought I'd cover the subject from our point
> of view of teaching about the role and use of traction aides in thru hiking
> for the last 34 years. As with all gear, we approach the discussion from
> the
> priority of design and reliable function.
> Kahtoola: "Our Microspikes weren't designed for traversing anything steep.
> They were meant for walking on flat, crusty snow and maybe going straight
> up
> or down moderate slopes."
> Kahtoola sponsored Mountain Education with their Hiking Crampons and
> Microspikes back in 2010. Three of us with different sized feet, weight,
> and
> styles of hiking tested them on the Pacific Crest/John Muir Trails between
> Cottonwood Pass and Evolution Valley across April, May, and June and, for
> the most part, on 4 to 10-feet of snow. Over the last six years since then,
> we have beaten up those original pieces of equipment on granite, gravel,
> ice, snow, and short stretches of dry trail and here is what we'd say about
> them.
> Despite all the different on-trail ways we could think of to prevent this
> catastrophe, Microspikes commonly rolled off our shoes when traversing
> steep, crusty snow out-of-track. We tied them into our shoe's laces and
> even
> added over-the-instep straps to hold them on, but to no avail. As soon as
> one, usually the downhill foot, which was the one taking the most lateral
> force, would roll off, that shoe would not hold to the surface snow and
> slip, causing a fall, tumble, and immediate self-arrest. This sometimes can
> be prevented, however, if you walk either gingerly or very aggressively.
> Walking gingerly across steep, crusty, cold-morning snow out-of-track is
> not
> advised because you need to stomp even just a little bit to get their
> little
> spikes to "bite" into the surface snow. By not stomping, or at least
> kicking
> and scratching each step's foothold, you risk not getting enough of a grip
> on the snow and risking a slip-and-fall.
> Walking aggressively on inclined, hard snow means landing hard on your
> heel's uphill edges and staying on those edges all the way forward to your
> toes. If you don't have shoes that can hold an edge, you've already got one
> strike against you, so you'd better stomp and scratch.a lot! There's no
> more
> efficient way to quickly end a dream snow-hike than to slip, fall, tumble,
> and crash into something hard on the way down the slope.
> Stomp and scratch means that for every step you take, for example up the
> snow-incline to Forester Pass, if there aren't any footsteps before you in
> which to also step (I'll get into this in a minute), you'll have to make
> your own flat (side to side) platforms on which to stand before you take
> your next step. Typically, you step forward, while balanced on one leg and
> two poles out to your sides (three point stance), and stomp as hard an
> impression into the crusty snow as you can, then repetitively stomp and
> scratch out that platform to make it wide enough to hold your whole foot.
> Then stand on it and test it for "roll-out" (if it's only half as wide as
> your foot, you can totter off it, twisting your ankle and making an
> emergency move sideways to try and stop a subsequent fall) before you make
> your next step. This is best done with hiking crampons, but Microspikes may
> do, depending on snow conditions.
> I keep referring to
> ​​
> "out-of-track." What's this? A boot-track is made when a
> snow-hiker walks through the snow leaving a trail of footprints. When many
> do this, the track becomes flat, side to side, because that's what's made
> when you stand or walk vertically or plumb. When you go across a slope
> anywhere else out of this track, your ankles will roll over to conform to
> the angle of the slope, unless your shoes can hold an edge to it.
> Snow-hiking affords you the freedom to go anywhere you want. You don't have
> a trail to follow nor signs telling you to stay on the trail. If you want
> to
> go straight up, make your own switchbacks, traverse a slope, or glissade
> down a snow-ramp, you can do that without damaging the alpine environment.
> So, if you need to pick a route away from camp across hard, steep, crusty,
> morning snow and do not have a path to follow (because you didn't want to
> go
> that way or you were the first to be there for the season), you'd better
> have great boots with firm edges and strong uppers or be wearing hiking
> crampons.
> Now, as I said, Microspike "roll-outs" don't happen with everybody. You can
> be wise about their shortcomings, more careful with your foot placements,
> and do just fine, but we had a helluva time with them, primarily on the
> steep, snowy traverses down into the many creeks we had to cross going
> north
> up the Sierra. (Remember, snow will remain the longest on the northern
> aspects of things like ridges and peaks and in the shade while melting
> fastest off the southern aspects of the same).
> Why do they "roll out"? Primarily because they don't have metal frames that
> wrap up the side of the shoe into which your foot slides as you load it on
> a
> steep slope. The "rubber band" method of holding the chain/teeth network to
> your shoe doesn't have "sides," thus allows your shoe to slide sideways and
> out of it. Rarely do they come off when going straight up or down a slope.
> Microspikes do functionally well going straight up and down slopes, too.
> So,
> for your toe-in ascents and heel-plunge descents, they work fine. Their
> weakness is on steep traverses.
> Let me summarize our thoughts on these rubber-band-mounted traction
> devices:
> . They are designed for flat surfaces, moderately sloped traverses, ups,
> and
> downs.
> . They can roll off your shoes when you traverse steep, hard snow slopes.
> . They kick and scratch moderately well compared to their bigger brother.
> . They are lighter and take up less room than their bigger brother.
> . You can walk on rock and dirt with them just fine.
> . They can fill with snow and not work easier than hiking crampons.
> . They don't get as good a bite as hiking crampons (shallower points).
> Other product designs to be wary of:
> . Teeth/spikes only under the ball of the foot (unless you walk on your
> toes, I suppose).
> . Teeth/spikes only under the instep of your foot (unless you never walk
> off
> your toes).
> . Teeth/spikes never near the edges of your foot (no steep traverses for
> you).
> . Really lightweight materials that will bend easily.
> . Flimsy mounting methods.
> Hiking crampons are designed for hiking (vs. climbing) and will give you
> the
> most reliability, durability, and confident performance in hair-raising
> situations while still providing forward flexibility for walking, a small
> package for storage, and only a few more ounces in carrying weight.
> Relative
> over-kill in design is a good thing when it affects your balance and
> safety!
> It is very important to note that climbing crampons are not appropriate for
> walking.
> . Their two forward fangs (designed for climbing ice walls, etc.) can
> lacerate your lower legs.
> . Their rigid frames do not flex for walking.
> Why do hiking crampons work so well?
> . Their metal frames wrap up alongside the sole of your shoes (you can't
> roll out!).
> . They often have front and rear metal bails that hang onto your boot
> welts.
> . They have strong over-the-top-of-the-foot strapping to hold it to your
> shoe.
> . They have longer steel or thick aluminum teeth to dig into the snow
> deeper.
> . Their teeth/points are strong enough to let you walk on granite without
> bending.
> . They are hinged so you can walk normally, flexing off your toes to push
> forward.
> . Their points are far enough apart to minimize the "balling-up" of snow
> between the teeth and frame and if it does, you can easily kick the snow
> off
> without taking the device off.
> . Their teeth/points are close to the sides of your shoes enabling good
> bite
> on steep traverses.
> . The front points are bent down to provide excellent forward bite without
> fear of injury.
> . Their large heel points work great while heel-plunging straight down a
> snow slope.
> . They are easy to fit most any size, width, or type of shoe.
> In reality, you can kick-and-scratch big platforms to stand on into most
> any
> frozen, crusty snow surface faster and more efficiently on steep traverses
> and you can toe-in and go straight up with confidence using their bent-down
> front points. Their big teeth hold onto anything, even granite and slippery
> rocks and logs on creek-crossings. What was a little scary to walk on (you
> feel a little slippery under foot) totally changes when you put teeth under
> your feet! Uncertainty goes away as your grip to the slope increases.
> Side Note #1: Snowshoes, even those with lots of teeth underneath, are not
> safe on steep, out-of-track traverses because they can lose their grip and
> spin or slide sideways causing you to fall and tumble down the slope into
> something hard below. On steep descents, when you want to go straight down,
> they can actually allow you to ski or skate pretty well because they don't
> grip very deeply. The broader surface gives you more flotation, but less
> bite (depending on snow conditions). Going straight up is pretty good on
> their big teeth under foot, but because of the broad surface area, you
> can't
> toe-in very deeply and can sometimes slide backwards. Springtime
> consolidated snow does not require snowshoes. Shallow powder snow on dirt
> or
> trail, any month, in the mountains does not. New, deep, powder snow in the
> fall does. Snowshoes demand a different manner of walking and can be very
> fatiguing to use.
> Side Note #2: Always have three points of contact between your body and the
> snow to maintain your balance and minimize falls. (Traction devices
> minimize
> slipping). Use two poles with powder-snow baskets (not the small diameter
> little discs for hard-packed snow or dirt) placed at a distance from your
> body, not close to your body like when summer hiking. One can be a normal
> hiking pole while the other should be a self-arrest pole (talked about in
> another article).
> In case you couldn't tell, after six years and 36 months living on snow
> using Kahtoola Hiking crampons, we don't leave home without them, even if
> we
> only suspect encountering steep patches or drifts of snow across the trail!
> As always, we hope this information helps you decide what to trust your
> life
> with when miles from help. However, no written or heard word or watched
> actions beat actual experience and practice. Consider attending some sort
> of
> snow skills training course where your instructors can demonstrate to you
> how to use your snow safety equipment, then watch you as you practice to
> perfect a skill.
> C 2016 Mountain Education, Inc.
> Ned Tibbits, Director
> Mountain Education, Inc.
> ned at mountaineducation.org <mailto:ned at mountaineducation.org>
> _______________________________________________
> Pct-L mailing list
> Pct-L at backcountry.net
> To unsubscribe, or change options visit:
> http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l
> List Archives:
> http://mailman.backcountry.net/pipermail/pct-l/
> All content is copyrighted by the respective authors.
> Reproduction is prohibited without express permission.

More information about the Pct-L mailing list