Do you hate slipping and sliding around on icy terrain as you hike? You’re not alone. Trekking over icy and slippery trails can be a huge challenge and it is one of the reasons why many people opt to stay at home during the winter months. Thankfully, there’s a way to get more traction on these icy trails: hiking spikes.
But what are hiking spikes you might ask?
The short answer:
You can think of hiking spikes as the footwear version of chains for your tires. They are designed to wrap around the lower part of your hiking boots to provide you with traction as you walk on icy terrain. As their name suggests, hiking spikes have small spikes attached to them that are engineered to grip the ice as you walk.
If you’ve never used or seen hiking spikes before, it’s understandable if you have a lot of questions about how they work and whether they’re really a good idea for hiking. In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into all things hiking spikes related so that you have the knowledge you need to decide if they’re right for you.
Hiking Spikes Defined
Hiking spikes are a type of traction device that you can attach to hiking boots when you need more grip as you walk over trails that are icy or covered in densely packed snow. These spikes are designed to limit the amount of slipping and sliding you do on flat and moderately inclined terrain.
There are many different companies that make hiking spikes, though Kahtoola MICROspikes and Yaktrax are arguably the most famous. Both of these spikes have rubber frames that you can stretch over the front and back of your boots. They also have spikes built-in that are designed to go over your outsoles so that you can get more traction as you walk on icy terrain.
Are Crampons and Spikes the Same Thing?
Crampons and microspikes have similar purposes (to give you more traction on ice) but they are not the same thing.
When you compare crampons and hiking spikes side-by-side, you’ll quickly notice that crampons are much more burly and heavy-duty than their spiky cousins. This is because crampons were originally designed for technical mountaineering and ice climbing where people need to ascend steeper terrain. Meanwhile, hiking spikes are engineered for walking on flat to moderately steep slopes.
The other difference between crampons and hiking spikes is the type of footwear that they’re compatible with.
You can put hiking spikes on most boots and shoes (though they perform best on hiking boots and shouldn’t be used with, say, dress shoes or sandals). Meanwhile, most crampons are only designed to work with mountaineering boots, which have especially-designed toe welts that can accommodate the metal attachment system that’s standard with most crampons.
To be fair, there are some crampons that you can use with regular hiking boots (they’re called walking crampons), but they’re not as common and most people find that they are a bit over-the-top for regular hiking trails where hiking spikes will normally suffice.
But for mountaineering or any other activity on very steep terrain, crampons are generally more appropriate. Just keep in mind that using crampons requires mastering some specific walking techniques that you should learn from a guide or outdoor educator before you try them out on your own.
Can You Walk on Pavement with MICROspikes?
You can walk on pavement with MICROspikes, but doing so isn’t a great idea unless the pavement itself is very icy.
Routinely walking on concrete will typically cause MICROspikes to wear out unnaturally fast because the concrete will grind down the actual spikes on your MICROspikes.
Of course, if the pavement is covered in ice, then MICROspikes can be very helpful. Many people with balance or mobility limitations find that using MICROspikes on icy pavement is really useful, so we’re not saying that you shouldn’t do so if it’s necessary for your well-being.
In fact, if the pavement is icy and you’re afraid of falling, MICROspikes or Yaktrax can be crucial.
But simply walking across regular pavement that’s not icy with your MICROspikes because you don’t want to take them off can cause them to wear out faster than you might have anticipated.
Can You Run in MICROspikes?
Yes, you can run in MICROspikes. There are actually many trail runners who love running in their MICROspikes during the winter months.
That is because MICROspikes provide a good amount of traction without weighing you down on the trail. MICROspikes are also nimble and easy to use, though there is still a risk of slipping whenever you run on icy terrain, regardless of whether or not you use a traction device.
Just keep in mind that using MICROspikes simply to run on pavement may not be a great move unless the pavement itself is very icy. Also note that MICROspikes aren’t great for deep snow because, while they provide traction, they don’t offer a lot of loft over snow itself.
Many trail runners who head outside for a run in very deep snowpacks actually opt to use running snowshoes instead.
Running snowshoes are typically smaller than regular hiking snowshoes and they have more of a curvature to them to allow you to run at a more natural gait. They don’t provide as much traction as hiking spikes or snowshoes, but they can limit how much you sink into the snow as you run. As a result, they’re popular for running in places where there’s a lot of snow but not a lot of ice.
Are Hiking Spikes a Good Idea?
Hiking spikes are a great tool to have for hiking in icy conditions that don’t warrant the use of crampons. While hiking spikes are not a good idea for mountaineering or climbing on steep slopes, they can be very useful if you’re expecting a casual to moderate hiking trail that’s covered in ice.
Just remember that, like any piece of equipment, it can take time to learn how to walk properly in MICROspikes. So before you set out on a huge wintertime trekking trip, consider taking your hiking spikes for a few test hikes so you can get more comfortable with how they work on the trail. Happy hiking!
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.