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

ned at mountaineducation.org ned at mountaineducation.org
Wed Nov 9 12:51:03 CST 2016

And you’re absolutely right, Scott! 


If you will be walking on steep, consolidated (hard, frozen), springtime snow in the tracks of others, microspikes are the way to go!

If you want to make your own trail on these surface conditions, hiking crampons are safer.


You’ve got to know the snow surface conditions that you’ll be walking into, how to make wise decisions about your route and time of day to be walking on the snow, and how to stay balanced and maximize traction to prevent slip-and-falls. This may sound like a lot of worry, but once you get to know this beautiful aspect of mountain life, it becomes second-nature, your confidence soars, and you can go wherever you want within your skills abilities (no trails or awkward scrambling to limit your exploring).



Ned Tibbits, Director

Mountain Education, Inc.

 <mailto:ned at mountaineducation.org> ned at mountaineducation.org 


From: Scott Diamond [mailto:scott.diamond.mail at gmail.com] 
Sent: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 4:24 PM
To: Ned Tibbits <ned at mountaineducation.org>
Cc: PCT <pct-l at backcountry.net>; johnmuirtrail at yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: [pct-l] Microspikes vs. Hiking Crampons??


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 <mailto: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

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

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
. 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
. 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

. 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
. They have longer steel or thick aluminum teeth to dig into the snow
. Their teeth/points are strong enough to let you walk on granite without
. They are hinged so you can walk normally, flexing off your toes to push
. 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>  <mailto:ned at mountaineducation.org <mailto:ned at mountaineducation.org> >

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