Crampons vs Microspikes
When it comes to mountaineering, you’re going to need all the support you can get. I’m talking from experience, here! Climbing up even a seemingly simple slope might just be a mistake if you don’t have the right footwear or accessories to help you grip the verticals. But won’t ski shoes or boots be enough?
Not always. Many people swear by show shoes, however, there are plenty of good reasons why you should be considering crampons or microspikes when it comes to traversing any kind of snowy or icy plain.
That’s right – you don’t have to be climbing inclines or verticals to need a good bit of grip underfoot. If you’re like me, and you’ve spent plenty of time traversing icy conditions, you’ll already know that grip is everything.
It’s not only frustrating to keep moving when things are slippy underfoot, it’s also incredibly dangerous. Even with all the experience in the world, and with the best accessories to hand, you’re still going to be at the mercy of the elements.
In this guide, I’m going to be considering a debate that’s still catching fire in the mountaineering community: crampons vs microspikes. Which are better? Does either option serve a purpose? Is it worth investing in both, or can you place all your faith in one or the other?
Before you go ahead and buy into any crampons or microspikes for your icy adventures, make sure you read my following breakdown. Otherwise, you might find that you end up paying out for the wrong kit! Believe me – we’ve all been there – and you now have the benefit of an experienced hand – or foot – to help you out along the way!
I’ll also take a look at the best crampons and microspikes – as examples – which I feel are worthy of your money.
Understanding Crampons and Microspikes
Before looking at the main differences between the two options, it’s worth remembering that they are not footwear options outright. These are accessories which you can actively clip and fit to the underneath your soles.
They are often really handy to clip on and take off, meaning that you won’t have to wander around normal ground or terrain with spikes clunking underneath. At the same time, these systems have evolved to the point where they should be steadfast and locked in. The best crampons and microspikes will never give way when you’re traversing awkward or icy terrain.
I’ll run through a few things you should be looking for when buying the best of either product a little further down in my guide.
Use Crampons for Icy Slopes and Icy Climbs
If you’re going to be scaling plenty of frozen walls and mountainscapes during your adventures, you are certainly going to need a good pair of crampons to help you on your way. These locking accessories will fix to your boots and will help you to retain grip and purchase on vertical climbs and on steep slopes and gradients.
Crampons are becoming more and more adaptable, and this is certainly something you should look for when shopping around. Traditionally, crampons will attach underfoot to give traction to specific types of boot. In the past, you may have only been able to use these on welt-based footwear. However, that’s not always the case in the modern market. Generally, the best crampons will fit the majority of boots which extend past the ankles.
Crampons are frames with spikes that extend outward, allowing you to dig down and grip into even tough surfaces. This is why they are often great for getting a grip on some of the tougher inclines to traverse. Many people would traditionally use crampons just for climbing, but they work well on most slopes.
What to Look For?
As you can imagine, not all crampons and fits are the same. Most will be great for slope climbing, however, there are some which are built with long hikes in mind. You should invest in these models if you find that you are going to going on treks as well as vertical climbs. These tend to be lighter in weight.
The heavier the crampon and the longer the spikes, the more likely it will support you when you are specifically climbing up icy slopes or walls. You will normally find that crampon spikes extend to around an inch in length, however, you can find shorter spikes if you’d prefer to go on general walks.
You will, of course, also find that there are crampons with more spikes than others. It doesn’t always follow that more spikes equals more traction, however, so make sure to look deeper into the spike length, the durability, boot fitting, and what other climbers have to say.
Why Buy Crampons?
In the crampons vs microspikes debate, crampons win out when you are going full-on mountaineering. As we’ll find out shortly, microspikes work to a slightly different purpose. However, modern crampons are extremely versatile, meaning that you can find some options which allow you to walk on flatter surfaces.
Therefore, are crampons necessarily the best choice to make for all around snow and ice trekking? Possibly. There are still reasons why you might want to invest in microspikes instead, meaning I seriously suggest you stick around for the complete lowdown.
As it happens, though, crampons should be ideal if you are going on tougher treks and climbing up long, steep slopes. The longer the spikes, the better – on the whole!
Choose Microspikes for Flatter Terrain
If crampons are ideal for steeper hikes and tougher climbs, then microspikes offer a flatter, simpler alternative. While you can find crampons which do the job well on slightly flatter slopes, you will generally find that it is worth clipping on a set of microspikes if you are going to purely stick to the flat.
Microspikes consist of a simple spike and chain system which, again, connects to your existing footwear. These are accessories which you can easily slide and lock over the top of your existing boots, meaning it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to adapt to them if you are already wearing a good pair of mountaineering shoes.
Many people will find that microspikes transform your shoes or boots into tyre treads – the concept is the same, in that you are effectively adding extra tread over the top of your existing grips. There’s no muddling around with the larger spikes you get from crampons, though it is possible that the size of your microspikes will vary from unit to unit.
These options tend to be great if you are going to be moving through ice and snow at speed. This means that if your mountaineering adventures are going to be less about the trudge and more about efficiency, microspikes will more than allow you to work up a sweat. They can be great in heavy snow conditions as well on the ice, meaning that you are never likely to get bogged down too easily.
Things to Look For
As mentioned, microspike kits may vary in terms of spike length, meaning that the longer the spikes, the deeper the traction. This is one area in which crampons and microspikes actually carry some similarities. The name ‘microspike’ exists for a reason – they are much shorter than what you would expect from a crampon system!
Do look for microspikes which are easy for you to set up and take off when you need to. In many cases, people might find that microspikes work best as a short term support, meaning that you may experience fatigue if you end up wearing them the whole time you are trekking or hiking.
Always make sure to look for those microspikes which compact easily, and which can be stowed away and taken back out again when needed. This will likely be a welcome asset if you find your feet and legs getting tired from slope to slope!
Why Buy Microspikes?
Microspikes can be preferable to crampons in the sense that they are built for purpose as far as traversing flat, icy plains are concerned. They’re also ideal in thicker snow, and especially if you want to move quicker than a simple trudge.
Microspikes are also really easy to look after and to pack away, meaning that they are pretty lightweight for packing into a simple bag while on route. You should also find that wiping down microspikes is really easy.
However, again, try not to wear them ‘permanently’ while walking or hiking. They can get wearing after a while, though you may be able to find some spikes which work best on longer walks.
Many people prefer microspikes to crampons as they can be easier to remove, store and clean down. However, there are plenty of pros and cons to either option.
Some Examples of Crampons and Microspikes
To help tie off this guide, I’ve taken a look at fantastic examples of crampons and microspikes which are available for you to buy right now. Take a look at my follow breakdowns, and make sure to read into the verified buyer reviews, too.
Product 1: Petzl Vasak Crampons for Classic Mountaineering
As the name suggests, these crampons follow the ‘classic’ style and fit you’re likely to find in crampons across the board. However, these crampons are particularly lightweight and will dig deep into even some of the toughest snow and ice, meaning that they may be amongst the easiest to maneuver with over long distances.
These crampons are also particularly noteworthy as they have flexible locking functions, meaning that you can easily adjust them for several different types of boots.
Key Specs: Unisex fit, antisnow system, dual locking compatibility, up to 875g
- Very lightweight to carry and fit
- Adaptable to fit various boots
- Anti-snow, prevents build-up
- Ideal for a wide variety of snow and ice conditions
- May be a little expensive
💡 I think these Petzl crampons are amongst the best you can buy online right now. They are sturdy, competent and are really light in bulk. Therefore, these are spike systems which should generally compete well with even the most flexible of microspikes elsewhere. I feel they are certainly worth the investment!
Product 2: Kahtoola Microspikes Footwear Traction
These super-affordable microspikes are really easy to slide over your existing boots and will give you almost an inch worth of spiking grip across 12 evenly-spaced pikes.
They come in a variety of fits to suit a range of boot sizes, and not only that, they remain impressively lightweight regardless of the size. These tend to be a great option if you are new to microspikes, and if you are only a tight budget!
Key Specs: Available in four sizes, max 14oz in weight, 12 spike system
- Brilliantly versatile – great for crossing all kinds of terrain
- Nice spike length to offer good all-around traction
- Very well priced
- Easy to move on and off
- Maybe not as sturdy as crampon systems elsewhere
💡 I think these microspikes are brilliant examples for what you should be looking for in terms of a leading hiking system. While some people may prefer crampons for obvious reasons, these spikes are impressively lightweight and really easy to manage. The different sizes and multi-terrain functionality make for a system you can rely on for years to come.
So – which works better in the battle of crampons vs microspikes? It’s not a case of one being better than the other. Each fit a particular purpose. Microspikes are great if you are mainly going to be walking on flat terrain, though crampons are getting more flexible in their design and usability.
Therefore, in my opinion, it is well worth looking at both sides of the debate and comparing what verified buyers and trekkers have to say.
Do maker sure to take a look at my online picks and start thinking about the most comfortable ways for you to keep a grip in the colder or more rugged terrains that come your way. Finding the right fit doesn’t have to be difficult!