10 Best Winter Traction Devices and Crampons of 2022

10 Best Winter Traction Devices and Crampons

Winter hiking often requires the use of traction devices like microspikes or crampons that give your feet a better grip on ice and packed snow, while increasing your safety by preventing slips and falls on hard ice. The products listed below are designed for use in increasingly demanding conditions ranging from packed snow and icy trails to non-technical mountaineering over ice, snow slab, and rock. All of them can be used with soft-soled boots and trail runners as well as more conventional mountaineering boots with rigid soles and heel and/or toe welts.

Make / ModelBindingSpikes/LengthBest For
Kahtoola MicrospikesElastomer12 spikes, 0.95 cmPacked snow, icy trails
Hillsound Trail Crampon UltraElastomer18 spikes, 1.2-1.5 cmPacked snow, icy trails
Hillsound Trail CramponsElastomer11 spikes, 1.5 cmPacked snow, icy trails
Black Diamond Distance SpikesElastomer14 spikes, 0.8 cmPacked snow, icy trails
Hillsound Trail Crampon ProRatchet10 spikes, 2.0-2.6 cmMixed ice, snow, and rock
Kahtoola K10 CramponsWebbing10 spikes, 1.9 cmMixed ice, snow, and rock
Kahtoola KTS CramponsWebbing10 spikes, 2.54 cmMixed ice, snow, and rock
Black Diamond Contact Strap CramponsUniversal10 spikes, 3.8-5.0 cmNon-technical mountaineering
Petzl Irvis FLexlock CramponsUniversal10 spikes, 3.0-4.0 cmNon-technical mountaineering
Petzl Leopard Flexlock CramponsUniversal10 spikes, 3.0-4.0 cmNon-technical mountaineering

Be sure to read our Winter Traction Devices and Crampons FAQ below about the characteristics of these winter traction devices and how to choose the right ones for your adventures. You frequently have to carry more than one, including snowshoes, depending on the conditions you’ll encounter on extended winter hikes.

1. Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola Microspikes redefined winter traction when they first became available a decade ago because they had elastomer harnesses that were compatible with non-technical winter hiking boots and soft-soled trail shoes. Unlike traditional spiked crampons, they have loosely coupled spike assemblies connected by chains that provide excellent traction on packed snow and icy trails. They don’t require any special training to use and their stainless steel spikes can take a beating on icy trails. While they can also be used with running shoes, they can cause pressure on the toe box leading to friction and discomfort (see the Black Diamond Distance Spikes below as an alternative). Weight: 312 g/pair. Read our Microspikes Review.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

2. Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra

Trail Crampon Ultra
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra is quite similar to Kahtoola Microspikes but has slightly longer spikes. Like microspikes, these are connected in loosely coupled spike assemblies and suspended from a stretchy elastomer binding optimized for use with soft-soled winter hiking boots or mountaineering boots.  While they can also be used with running shoes, they can cause pressure on the toe box leading to friction and discomfort (see the Black Diamond Distance Spikes below as an alternative). The Hillsound Ultras comes with a horizontal velcro safety strap to prevent loss if one pops off and you don’t notice it missing, which does happen.  Many winter hikers prefer the Hillsound Ultras over Kahtoola Microspikes for this reason but both products provide many of the same benefits and can be used interchangeably. Weight: 422 g/pair. Read our Trail Crampon Ultra Review.

Available from:
Backcountry | Hillsound | Amazon

3. Hillsound Trail Crampons

Hillsound Trail Crampons
Hillsound Trail Crampons are more aggressive than the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras with longer spikes for trails that have thicker and much harder ice. They have an elastomer binding which makes them compatible with all types of footwear but their spikes are organized into plates, like a cross between Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Ultras and Trail Crampon Pros. While they are also suitable for use on packed snow, they are more susceptible to snowballing than Hillsound Ultras. It’s also important to fit them properly to prevent the spikes from sliding off your soles, but in the right conditions, they feel like you have claws. Weight: 462 g/pair. Read our article on How to Choose between all three of Hillsound’s Trail Crampon products.

Available from:
REI | Hillsound | Amazon

4. Black Diamond Distance Spikes

Black Diamond Distance Spikes
Black Diamond Distance Spikes are specifically designed for use with trail runners and have a softshell toe binding that holds them onto the forefoot to prevent toe friction and cold toes, which are big problems when using other traction aids with elastomer bindings such as Kahtoola Microspikes or Hillsound Ultras with trail running shoes. The stainless steel spikes underfoot are linked together with loosely coupled assemblies and chains to minimize pressure points and snowballing, while emphasizing optimal toe-off engagement. Weight: 230 g/pair.

Available from:
REI | Black Diamond | Amazon

5. Hillsound Trail Crampons Pro

Hillsound trail crampon Pro
Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros have a unique ratchet-style binding that makes them much easier to use and more secure than mountaineering crampons with a universal binding. They have a tool-free adjustment mechanism and anti-balling plates to prevent snow from clumping underneath them. They can be used with soft-soled footwear, they work best with boots rather than trail runners where they can cause toe pressure if they’re too tight. They’re made with heat-treated carbon steel and are quite durable when used on ice and rock. Weight: 667 g/pair. Read our Trail Crampon Pro Review. 

Available from:
Backcountry | Hillsound | Amazon

6. Kahtoola K10 Crampons

Kahtoola K10 Crampons
Kahtoola K10 Crampons are 10 point crampons designed for use with hiking boots (regular or insulated) or trail shoes. Featuring a very flexible leaf spring and superlight Chromoly steel, the K10 Crampons have 1.9 cm spikes and come with synthetic anti-balling snow release skins that prevent snow from balling up underneath the spikes. The length of the crampon is adjustable without tools and the strap-based binding system is easy to adjust. Weight: 652 g/pair with snow release skins. Read our K10 Crampon Review.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

7. Kahtoola KTS Crampons

KTS crampon
Kahtoola’s KTS Crampons are quite similar to the Kahtoola K10 Crampon described above but have longer 1″ spikes. They have a flexible spring-center bar compatible with all types of footwear and fold up small for enhanced packability. Synthetic snow release skins, included, help prevent snowballing like more conventional crampons with anti-balling plates. When fitted properly, the front toe binding does not compress your toes, which can be a big issue when using the crampon with trail runners or soft boots. Weight: 652 g/pair Read our KTS Crampon Review.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Amazon

8. Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons

Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons
The Black Diamond Contact Strap is a burly general-purpose crampon suitable for beginner use and available with multiple binding systems, including the universal binding shown here. It has a tool-free length adjustment system and comes with preattached anti-balling (ABS) plates. Best used with boots, the Contact Strap comes with a flexible center bar that is compatible with all types of boots, both rigid and soft-soled. It tops out at a size 10.5M however, but you can purchase a longer flex bar for larger boot sizes. The Contact Strap Crampons are made with stainless steel so they won’t rust and weigh in at 808 g/pair. The Contact Straps were the first crampons I ever bought, and while they were awesome, they’ve been significantly improved since.  Read our now dated Contact Strap Review.

Available from:
REI | Black Diamond

9. Petzl Irvis FlexLock Crampons

Petzl Irvis FlexLock
The Petzl Irvis is a 10 point steel crampon with a tool-free length adjustment that comes with anti-balling plates. It has a universal binding and comes with a linking bar that can be set for flexible or semirigid modes to adapt the crampons to flexible or rigid boots. The weight of this latest model has been descreased by reducing the thickness of the frame without a loss of strength.  A longer linking bar is also available for boot sizes over 11.5M. Weight: 710 g/pair.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Amazon

10. Petzl Leopard FlexLock Crampon

Petzl Leopard FlexLock Crampon
The Petzl Leopard FlexLock redefined what it means to be a crampon by doing away with a center bar and replacing it with two Dyneema cords, which are incredibly strong but not rigid. This makes them easy to fold up and pack, a problem with most conventional crampons. The spike configuration on these crampons is designed for low-angle glacier walking, packed snow, and ice. Made with aluminum, they are very lightweight but not as durable as steel crampons when hiking on rock. A universal binding makes them compatible with soft-soled boots and footwear without welts. Weight: 384 g/pair.

Available from:
Backcountry | Amazon

Winter Traction Devices and Crampons FAQ

If you’ve never used winter traction aids or crampons, it can be quite confusing to understand what you need and when to use it. Here are answers to some of the most common questions people have, but if you have others, please ask away in the comment section below and we’d be happy to answer them.

I’ve just started winter hiking, what do I need to buy?

Start with Kahtoola Microspikes or Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras. If you hike in more mountainous terrain, I’d recommend getting Hillsound Trail Crampon Pros or Kahtoola KTS Crampons. If you need to snowshoe, buy those too. That will cover most of the bases.

What are microspikes?

Microspikes, also called trail crampons, are winter traction aids that act like tire chains for your boots or trail shoes. They usually have 1-1.5 cm spikes attached to chains with elastic harnesses that slip onto your footwear. They are best suited for hiking on packed snow and icy trails but are uncomfortable for walking on paved surfaces.

What is the difference between microspikes and crampons?

The primary difference between microspikes and crampons is the length of the spikes they have. Microspikes, also called trail crampons, have 1-1.5 cm spikes, while crampons have spikes that are up to 5 cm in length. Microspikes are used for hiking on packed snow and thin ice, while crampons are used for hiking on thicker ice, rock, and snow slabs.

Do you need to carry multiple winter traction devices on hikes or is one sufficient?

It really depends on where you are hiking and what the conditions are. But for lengthy winter hikes at multiple levels of elevation (ie. mountainous terrain), it is often necessary to carry microspikes, crampons, and snowshoes so that you have the correct level of traction or flotation for the surface conditions you’re likely to encounter. Too much traction, and you’ll wear yourself out by strapping heavy traction aids to your feet or twist an ankle because you used a mountaineering crampon when microspikes are more appropriate.

Do microspikes wear out?

Microspikes do wear out over time and the tops of their triangular spikes become flattened, providing less grip on ice. You can sharpen them with a mill bastard file, but eventually, they will have to be replaced.

What are rock spikes?

Rock spikes are microspikes that have worn out. Many hikers keep them around for use in early winter or spring conditions when hiking trails still have a lot of exposed rock and a thin coating of ice in order to preserve their newer and sharper microspikes for winter use on thicker ice and packed snow.

What is the difference between ice cleats and microspikes?

Ice cleats and ice screws are less penetrating than microspikes and suitable for more casual home or urban use. Ice cleats are often part of a strap-on overshoe to provide it with more traction.

What is an elastomer binding?

Microspikes and trail crampons have a stretchy, elastic binding that can accommodate all types of footwear, from soft-soled winter hiking boots and trail shoes to more rigid soled mountaineering boots. The elastomer remains flexible down to -20F and is highly durable for extended use.

What is a ratchet-style crampon harness?

A ratchet-style binding, like on Hillsound’s Trail Crampon Pro, is similar to a snowshoe binding where ridged straps are fed through a buckle that locks them in place. The advantage is a very secure fit, which is important on a crampon, and the ability to tighten the binding on the fly while wearing gloves.

What is an instep crampon?

An instep crampon usually has 4-6 spikes and attaches to the instep of hiking footwear. While it does provide added traction and they are very lightweight, it’s very difficult to balance yourself when walking up slopes or over rocky surfaces. They were used in the early days of mountaineering before crampons or microspikes became popular.

Do microspikes come in multiple sizes?

Microspikes, also called trail crampons, come in different sizes based on your boot or shoe size. It’s important to fit them correctly to footwear to prevent discomfort or friction from using microspikes that are too small.  The same holds for microspikes which are too large, which can pop off your shoes, and are easily lost.

Can you walk on the pavement with microspikes?

While microspikes are made with stainless steel and are very durable, they’re not intended for walking on pavement or city sidewalks. You’re better off getting a pair of ice cleats or Yaktrax for that purpose.

What is the difference between microspikes and crampons?

Crampons have much larger spikes designed to penetrate deep ice on surfaces where falling is never an option. Microspikes have shorter spikes that provide a good grip on ice surfaces but are less penetrating. They also have a binding system, usually an elastomer harnesses, that is compatible with multiple footwear types, while crampon/footwear compatibility is more limited.

What are anti-balling plates?

Anti-balling plates also called balling plates, or ABS plates, or snow release skins, prevent wet snow from clumping to the bottom of a winter traction device or crampon. This occurs when the crampon comes into contact with water or wet snow. Balling under a crampon is dangerous because it prevents the crampon spikes from gaining traction. Instead, you slip over the surface of the snow or ice out of control.

Do you need to wear gaiters with microspikes or crampons?

High mountaineering gaiters are designed, in part, to protect your legs from the sharp points of your crampons and usually have reinforced lowers to prevent spike penetration. They’re not really necessary for protection when wearing microspikes because their spikes are much shorter. Still, gaiters also prevent your pants from getting wet in deep snow and can be worn for that purpose alone.

What is the difference between a steel crampon and an aluminum crampon?

Steel crampons are much more durable than aluminum ones and are easier to sharpen when they’ve been worn down. However, aluminum crampons are very lightweight and can weigh half as much as steel crampons, making them useful when the lightest gear weight is required.

What is a step-in crampon binding?

Step-in crampon bindings attach to special ridges, called welts, that are cut into the soles of mountaineering boots. The step-in bindings have hinged metal bars that slot into the welts and form a very tight connection with the boots. Step-in binding are used mainly for higher angle mountaineering or ice climbing where you need a very secure attachment.

What is a flexible leaf spring?

The metal bar connecting the front and heel portion of a crampon is usually rigid when the crampon is used with a stiff-soled mountaineering boot. It should be replaced with a flexible metal bar called a leaf spring, which lets the two halves of the crampon, the front and back, move independently when the crampon is used with a soft-soled boot or trail shoe.

How do you walk on ice with crampons?

When you walk in crampons you want to make sure that all of your spikes are in contact with an icy surface and digging into it. This may involve bending your ankle and leg to keep the spikes in continuous contact or stomping down on the ice as you walk. This prevents you from sliding and falling,

Can you walk on rocks with crampons?

It is often necessary to walk on rocks with crampons in mountainous terrain. You should do so carefully to avoid twisting an ankle and try to keep the surface of your foot as flat or perpendicular to the rock as possible.

See Also:

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10 comments

  1. Great round-up of the current state of the market.

  2. How do you carry crampons in your pack without risking damage to your other gear?

    Thanks,
    Bruce

  3. I have a pair of Kahtoola’s, but I usually take my chainsen lights to save some weight. They seem to work just as well

  4. Thank you Philip for this comprehensive review. Your model of reviewing most, if not all, of the relevant product in a gear category is much appreciated. Informed comparisons can be made by we subscribers, saving us a lot of time trying to find what fits our needs and budget.

    I have the original Kahtoola spikes and they worked well the one time I had to use them.

  5. On pure ice-glazed trails, I’ve found that metal sheet screws provide better grip than the kahtoola microspikes.

  6. This is all GREAT stuff !!! In the past I have asked REI if various crampons would work on my vasque 400 G winter hiking boots and was told no! I now know I don’t have to buy new boots and new crampons. Thank you so much !!!

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