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How Do You Know When to Use Microspikes?

Hiking in the snow can be a ton of fun, but only if you’ve got the right equipment. When you read about hiking, you hear people mention different traction devices: snowshoes, crampons, microspikes, flip-flops, you name it. In many situations, crampons and snowshoes are just a bit too much- not to mention a bit too expensive. So, how do you know when to use microspikes?

What are Microspikes?

Microspikes are a type of traction device that hikers use to prevent slipping on snow and ice. They wrap around the bottom of your boots and are made of tiny metal spikes. They’re particularly useful when the snow/ice has begun to melt, digging into the softer parts of the ice and providing tons of grip that your hiking boots or trail running shoes just don’t have. The microspikes that I use are the YakTrax Diamond Grips:

Yaktrax Diamond Grips on a recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in May 2021

If you’re interested, you can check out my full (but brief) review of the Yaktrax here!

Types of Traction Devices for Snow and Ice

Microspikes

These are the least intense type of traction device. A bit of rubber stretches around your shoe and holds the thin spikes in place, making it much easier to walk on average trails that are covered in snow and ice. If you’re heading up anything like a 35-degree incline or lower, microspikes will (usually) be the bare minimum of what you need.

Crampons

In situations where slipping isn’t the annoying kind of inconvenience, but the deadly kind, crampons are usually the way to go. Instead of small metal spikes, you have what amounts to knives for feet. They let you kick in to snow and ice at very high altitudes, conquering steep trails and staggering inclines much more safely. Crampons are used by mountaineers to dig into the side of frozen peaks and keep going without risking a deadly fall.

Climber stuck into the side of an ice wall with crampons!

Snowshoes

If you want to avoid “post-holing”- when the snow is so deep and loosely packed that your foot falls right through it- snowshoes are the way to go. They disperse your weight across a much wider surface area, preventing you from falling through loose snow. Mountaineers and winter hikers alike use snowshoes to make walking across snow much, much easier. Anybody who’s stepped onto loose snow and found themselves thigh deep knows the benefit of snowshoes that stop that from happening!

Snowshoes and loose, drifting snow- a match made in hiker heaven!

When Should You Use Microspikes?

Microspikes are a great solution when you’re walking across ice and snow on light-medium steep trails. They’ll keep you from slipping and sliding around. i’ve found that they work exceptionally well on slightly slushy ice/snow that has just begun to melt. The spikes grab the snow like a tick grabs the inside of your thigh- tightly.

The best situations to use microspikes are when crampons and snowshoes don’t make sense, but the snow is still slippery. If you aren’t post-holing a lot, if the snow/ice isn’t incredibly dense and thick, and if you’re not hiking at a very high altitude, microspikes are a great choice. They’re less expensive, less bulky, and easier to attach to your boots than snowshoes or crampons. I used them to great effect (minus a decent amount of post-holing but I’ll blame that on being 280 pounds) on this hike:

That’s the final push to Lake of Glass at Rocky Mountain National Park. It was about two-tenths of a mile, at a roughly 29% grade. it wasn’t the most intense thing in the world, but I doubt I’d have made it if it weren’t for the microspikes on my feet!

Wrapping Up:

So, what are microspikes and what are they good for? They are traction devices that attach to the bottom of you’re feet, and they’re good for every snowy situation where snowshoes and crampons aren’t necessary!

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