Microspikes, crampons and snowshoes: differences and use

  • Elena Lukashova elena -
  • December 6, 2020 -
  • -
  • Last Update: December 27, 2020 3 minute read
Elena Lukashova

elena - December 6, 2020 - Hiking Gear

Last Update: December 27, 2020

3 minute read

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Many people think that hiking season ranges from mid-spring to mid-autumn, but for most hiking enthusiasts, every season is hiking season. However, weather conditions change over the year, and so does the hiking equipment.

From this point of view, winter is the “heaviest” season that requires not only additional layers of clothing, but also some specific hiking gear. Among such gear types, there are traction devices for your hiking footwear: microspikes, crampons and snowshoes.

Even though they serve the same purpose of ensuring greater traction on snow and ice, these three devices don’t all look the same.

So, why and when do you need each of them?
What exactly are they?
How do they differ from each other?

Let’s find out together in this article.



Black and grey mid-cut hiking boot with a set of metal microspikes attached to its sole

Microspikes are stainless steel chains with small spikes. It is the most affordable, versatile, light and easy to use traction device. Short spikes are more comfortable on easy and moderate hiking trails, as well as on the trails with muddy or rocky sections.

However, they are not recommended for traversing glacial trails and climbing steep and high snow slopes.

They are your perfect match if you:

  • walk along icy paths, flatter areas and easy slopes with hard-packed snow and ice;
  • hike along a trail with a gentle gradient and on terrain with mixed rock and ice;
  • search for a traction device that fits non-boot footwear choices (e.g. trail running shoes).

good to know:
Microspikes are usually sold with a comfortable small tote sack, so they can be easily packed inside the hiking backpack without taking up much space.

Person hiking along a wide and genntle hiking snowy trail wearing microspikes

A microspikes-friendly winter hiking trail | © Bielo into the Wild



Blue and black high-cut heavy leather mountaineering boot with a set of long metal spikes attached to its sole

Elder and more expensive brothers of microspikes with long metal spikes. Uncomfortable for light hiking because of their design and weight, crampons are essential for mountaineering activities on hard-packed snow and ice.

Moreover, there are different types of crampons, and you should choose them based on the mountaineering activity you are going to practice.

They are your perfect match if you:

  • cross glaciers and ascend snow slopes;
  • climb frozen waterfalls and scale ice-smeared rock.

good to know:
Crampons’ long spikes are potentially harmful for a beginner and do require some training to use them safely.

Rope team climbing a steep hiking trail wearing crampons

People ascending a snow slope with crampons | @matteo_1996_bianchi



Black and grey mid-cut hiking boot with a racquet-like snowshoe attached to its sole

A bulky accessory that resembles a racquet and allows you not to sink into powdery or deep snow. In the past, snowshoes were used by hunters, farmers and fur traders to travel on foot during the winters. Indeed, besides traction, they allow you to float on snow by distributing your weight over a large area.

Snowshoes are not suitable for iced trails and hard-packed snow.

They are your perfect match if you:

  • walk on a gentle trail covered by a thick layer of fresh snow;
  • going for a short-day hike and don’t mind wearing heavy gear.

good to know:
Most snowshoes are provided with metal spikes and can also be used as an alternative to microspikes on gentle snowy trails with short patches of hard-packed snow.

A group of hikers crossing snowy terrain wearing snowshoes

A group of people on snowshoes | @fuorimappa


Ready to face winter hiking?

Hiking in winter is not as challenging as it might seem if you prepare for it properly. Actually, it is a unique occasion to see your favorite hiking destinations under a whole new light.

And microspikes, crampons and snowshoes will help you to get there safely and to have a lot of fun.

See you on the trail!


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