Beginner advice: Snow, slush, ice hiking advice- crampons/ microspikes

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Home Forums General Forums Winter Hiking Beginner advice: Snow, slush, ice hiking advice- crampons/ microspikes

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    Mike H
    BPL Member


    Hi all,

    Have been backpacking for a few years now but only once in snow.  In that case, it was cold enough for the snow to be crusted over and it was not too deep.  Microspikes worked very well.  This past weekend, I hiked in deeper/ slushier snow and things were much different.  Hoping for some advice.

    I went hiking on the San Bernardino Peak Trail (Southern California).  I really struggled on the sloped portions of the trail where you travel across the slope (v.s. up or down the slope).  Normally, without snow, there is a mostly flat trail cut into the side of the hill.  With the snow and slush and ice, even with some footprints from other hikers, it was very easy to slip/ slide.  Kick-stepping worked ok but after 3-4 miles of this, my energy was slowly being drained and it began to get less effective.

    I had brought microspikes but when I spoke to someone on the trail, who brought both crampons and microspikes, they said the microspikes were of no use because of how deep the snow and slush was.  Snow was mostly soft and fluffy about 6-12″ deep.  Slush and ice below that.

    Speaking to the rangers at the station to pick up my permit, we discussed the conditions and they told me I’d be ok for a while but then would probably need crampons.  We all agreed I’d turn around if it got too bad, which I did after about 5 miles – about a mile short of my destination- Limber Pine Bench.  At that point, I was breaking trail using my the track on my watch to know which way to go.  So, combine all those things, and it was best for me to go back.  No worries.  Still had a great time.

    So my question is what type of traction device would be the best choice for these conditions if microspikes don’t work.  Crampons come in a variety and some need specific boots.  I don’t see myself mountaineering – climbing ice sheets etc- but would definitely be going back to the snow and conditions I experienced this past weekend.

    Thanks for any advice.

    Pics for those interested:


    BPL Member


    Check out Kahtoola KTS Crampons.

    at times I have carried my spikes, crampons and snow shoes.. Obviously wearing one of them..

    Tom K
    BPL Member


    Look for ultralight aluminum crampons.  They generally weigh about 20-21 oz.  Camp and Stubai are good brands to check out, for openers.  One thing to make sure of is whether the bindings will fit trail hikers.  A lot of them are designed for beefier footwear, and might not be comfortable with softer, low cut shoes.

    For 3 additional oz, you might take a look at Kahtoola’s KTS Crampon.


    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    For steep winter routes in the kind of conditions you described, I’ve found the Camp 490 Universals to be more than adequate – and extremely light. I wear them with winter trail running shoes.

    Mike H
    BPL Member


    Thank you all for your quick replies.  I’ll take a look at those choices.  I’m excited to get back out there before the snow melts (after the muscle soreness goes away :) ).

    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    @ Mike

    I have a pair of the Grivel AirTech Light strap-ons that are very similar to the Camp490s.  Just make sure they fit well on the footwear you will wear in the backcountry.  You can put them on and walk around your backyard, etc.

    At the end of a season or two, if you are walking on slopes where there is rock or dirt under the snow and ice, you might have to take out a file and re-sharpen the aluminum points.

    Ralph Burgess
    BPL Member


    For what you’re doing, I think the Kahtoola hiking crampons are the best choice, either KTS or K-10.   Since you won’t be on very steep technical terrain you don’t need the kind of front points that stick out horizontally from your toes, they are a hazard for hiking.   The front points on the Kahtoolas are bent down.   And if you’re taking them to wear most of the day, rather than on your pack for occasional use, steel is tougher than aluminum for a minimal weight penalty.


    In conditions like you describe – soft snow over slush/firmer layer, I’d probably just boot it. Unless it’s really solid below the upper layer, crampons may not do any better than microspikes. If the soft layer is deep, no sort of spiky thing is going to find traction for you.

    You say that kick-stepping was working for you, so your soles were finding purchase in the underlayers. Working on your kick-stepping technique would provided the greatest benefits in terms of traveling efficiency. Of course, it’s also helpful to go with a group so you can rotate trail-breaking duty and minimize fatigue.

    Adam G
    BPL Member


    My guess is that your shoes were not adequate. It’s really hard to sidehill in trailrunners or softer boots on slippery compacted snow. You really need a boot with a stiff sole. A mountaineering boot does well in those conditions because it lets you edge in. If you wear crampons or microspikes, they often will just cut up the snow underneath you and make it crumbly. You have to get the entire sole on there to compact the snow.

    And yes, kicking steps is exhausting no matter how you do it. Look into the rest step. It helps a lot to minimize fatigue.

    Charlie Brenneman
    BPL Member


    This is the answer I’ve been looking for while researching traction gear. I don’t expect to winter hike regularly but the Sierras got dumped on so a June/early July high route will probably be covered. Looks like 12oz microspikes are a waste of time if a light enough pair of crampons will perform so much better and I can wear my typical hike shoes (Bushidos or Moab Speed) with them. My worry was breaking the crampon if I didn’t wear a stiffer boot. Prefer not also buy new shoes in addition to crampons and ice axe.

    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Microspikes work fine for icy trails that are not steep.

    But for slopes covered with snow and ice when on a trail or off trail, using crampons gives you better traction. Just make sure the strap-on crampons fit your shoes/hiking boots.

    And if they have aluminum spikes, at the end of the season you might need to file them to restore the points.

    I have Grivel AirTech strap ons. My wife uses the Kahtoolas.

    It might be time to take a self-arrest class at your local mountaineering clinic.

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