This article was written by Sarah Galbraith and previously appeared in the Winter 2013 Long Trail News. Products and prices have been updated.
Vermont’s winter hiker has three options for foot travel across snow and ice, and slipping’s not one of them. When it comes to sticking safely to your surface, spike-less traction, spikes, and crampons will all get the job done in the right conditions, but which option is best?
Spike-less Traction: This design consists of a rubber strap system with steel coils underfoot. Examples are YakTrax’s Walk and Pro ($20 and $30, respectively). The Walk is designed for use on sidewalks or park trails, while the Pro is geared to more rugged trails. The Pro includes an additional strap over the arch to attach more securely to a hiker’s foot. Advantages of both models are low cost, light weight, easy storage in a pack or jacket pocket, and heel tabs that make suiting up easy and quick. On the downside, the coils often slip on hard slick surfaces and the Walk often falls off with vigorous use. Both are best suited to packed snow and are not recommended for icy or slippery surfaces. For hikers, the Pro is worth the extra money.
Spiked Traction: This style consists of a rubber strap system and small chains running underfoot with welded metal triangular spikes along the contact points between your foot and hiking surface. Examples are Hillsound Trail Crampons ($60) and Kahtoola Microspikes ($70). Advantages are midrange cost, easy storage in pack or jacket pockets, light weight, heel tabs to aid putting on and taking off, and superior traction. These are best suited to powder and packed snow, hard-packed surfaces, and ice. They are more expensive than spike-less options, but provide significantly increased confidence.
Crampons: Crampons attach to your foot using one of three binding systems (step-in, strap, and hybrid designs). They attach to your boots, are made of metal, and have sharp teeth that dig into ice and packed snow. Examples of strap crampons are C.A.M.P USA Stalker Universal Crampons ($100) and Black Diamond Contact Crampons ($130). The advantage of this option is supreme traction. Disadvantages are higher price, heavier weight, greater complication, and bulky storage. Crampons are best suited to hard-packed surfaces and ice.
The right choice among these three comes down to intended use, budget, and personal preference. For winter hiking in the Green Mountains, the spiked models offer the best combination of affordability and security. Vermont’s winter hiker is likely to find fresh powder, packed snow, frozen streams, and icy and wind-blown summits. Spiked traction will keep you right-side-up in all of these conditions, without weighing you down or breaking the bank.
Regardless of your choice, always remove your traction before entering any lodges or shelters to protect their floors.
Sarah Galbraith of Marshfield, hikes, bikes, skis, and cartwheels through Vermont in all seasons. She thru-hiked the Long Trail in 2001.