If you’ve ever slipped while hiking on icy trails in the winter, you’ll appreciate the function of crampons– known more commonly as ice cleats, traction devices or microspikes. Hiking can be more challenging in the winter when trails accumulate frozen snow, especially if you’re hiking with just trail shoes or hiking boots without any extra gear. Crampons can make a big difference in your stability on trails and give you the traction you need to help reduce your chances of slips and falls.
You can choose from a few different types of crampons as manufacturers offer strap-on bindings, step-in bindings and hybrid bindings. But the most commonly used crampons for hiking and trail running on semi-steep or flat terrain are flexible crampons, or strap-on bindings — which is what we’ll cover in this article.
Over time, product developers have designed crampons for more specialized activities. For general hiking or “snow walking” in an inch or two of snow/ice, you’ll want a strap-on flexible construction crampon with about 8 to 10 points. For more advanced hiking on steep terrain, you’ll need a more rugged crampon with 10 points or more. For trail running, you’ll want a crampon with a lot of flexibility to it so you can comfortably run while staying sure-footed on the trail.
If you’re planning to hike on trails covered with soft and deep snow, you’ll want to skip crampons altogether and consider wearing snowshoes. Here’s an article on choosing the best snowshoes for beginners. If you’re hiking on icy trails, you may want to consider a good pair of gaiters (an added fabric that goes over your footwear to protect you from the elements, like water, snow and mud) and a pair of sturdy hiking poles with snow bucket attachments.
You can choose from a few different types of crampon frames: steel, stainless-steel and aluminum.
Steel crampons are ideal for general hiking and walking as the steel gives you great grip in icy terrain.
Stainless-steel crampons give you more corrosion resistance if you’ll be using them heavily throughout the winter.
Aluminum crampons are ideal for more advanced use, like alpine climbs but will wear out quicker on rocky terrain.
Here are seven slip-on crampon recommendations for moderate hiking, advanced hiking, and trail running:
1. Hillsound Flexsteps Crampons
The Hillsound Flexsteps slip-on crampons are a high performance chain-free crampon that will give you stability on a long winter hike and a slippery winter trail run. They’re versatile, flexible and built strong enough to make you feel secure. The rubber elastomer harness straps around your shoe or boot and the top strap adds another level of security — preventing these crampons from slipping off your footwear. I’d recommend sizing up if you wear a wider shoe or a bulky hiking boot. I wear a size 8-8.5 and an XS fits well on my running shoes and regular hiking boots, but are too tight on my winter insulated wider-style muck boots.
These crampons feature 18 stainless steel ¼ inch spikes, they’re easy to slip on and off (given you pay attention to the front and back markings). I find it easiest to pull on the front first when putting these crampons on my shoes and removing the back first to take them off — both while seated.
These Hillsound crampons also come with a carrying case, so they’re easy to transport and you won’t have to worry about the spikes coming in contact with any of your other gear if you store them in your backpack. These are my go-to crampons in my home state of Montana for both winter hiking and winter trail running. They’re light, easy to pack, easy to get on and off (even with winter gloves) and the traction is top notch.
2. HONYAO Crampons
These HONYAO crampons are an affordable slip-on crampon best for light hiking in easy to moderate ice-covered trails. These crampons feature 11 stainless-steel spikes and are made from thermoplastic elastomer, which makes them easy to get on and off. They provide good traction for hiking, but when trail running I found that they slip down a little with sprints and rugged terrain.
For the price (under $20), these crampons are a good choice if you’re hiking on flat trails for short distances under 3 miles. If you’re an occasional winter hiker, these crampons will perform just fine.
3. Yaktrax Run Traction Cleats
These Yaktrax running crampons are designed specifically for winter runners and come with a combination of replaceable 3mm carbide-steel spikes and 1.4mm stainless-steel coils. The rubber foot frame fits securely to running shoes, has a reflective heel and a side strap for safety. These crampons are versatile, too, as they’re made for running on sidewalks, streets and trails. For sidewalks and roads where there’s not enough ice or snow layer to absorb the metal, you may find these crampons feel harsh or clunky (sort of like driving with snow studded tires on clear roads).
4. Black Diamond Distance Spike Crampons
These Black Diamond distance spike crampons are high-end and built to last you for many years out on the trails. They have a soft-shell toe cover combined with a heel retention elastomer, so they fit snug — and they’re easy to get on and off. Since they have 14 spikes per side with an 8mm spike length, they offer extreme stability and traction even on rocky or harder trail surfaces.
The spikes are heat treated and made of stainless steel, which makes them ultra strong and helps combat corrosion. Like other crampons, these Black Diamond crampons are lightweight and easy to stow away in your pack.
5. Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra slip-ons are impressive and offer extreme stability on hard icy surfaces. They’re great for trail running, winter hiking and backcountry hiking in snow and ice-covered trails. Each crampon features 18 stainless steel spikes with three ⅔ inch spikes on the heel. The elastomer harness will fit a variety of footwear (even wider shoes) and are true to size. The extra strap across the top will give you extra security.
These crampons help me feel bulletproof on both gravel road running and backcountry trail running here in my home state of Montana. They grip very well and are flexible and comfortable for both jogging and sprinting. The only drawback is if you’re running in extremely packable ice, I had small clumps form underneath between the front chains while trail running. (I had to stop and pull them out.) This tends to happen on occasion, but never in solid ice and snow.
6. Kahtoola NANOspikes
These Kahtoola crampons will give you good traction on both icy sidewalks and recreational trails while walking. They’re also good for street running, but not ideal for trail running as the spikes are shorter at .21 inches. With 10 Tungsten Carbide spikes per foot (and shorter spikes), you won’t notice a harsh or clunky feel while walking on pavement.
The raised heel and extra rubber that easily fits over the top of your shoe helps these Kahtoola crampons stay in place. They’re easy to get on and off and durable enough to last you for several seasons of light to moderate winter trail hiking.
7. SHARKMOUTH Crampons
The SHARKMOUTH Crampons are a good choice for hiking while wearing your favorite winter hiking boots. With 23 stainless-steel teeth (spikes), these crampons are extremely durable with an exceptional grip. They’re made with thick silicone, which is thicker than ordinary rubber — making them ideal for stretching over your boots without having to size up.
You can confidently wear these crampons on angled terrain like backcountry hiking trails or steep driveways. And, they’re versatile. You can use these crampons for walking on solid ice, crossing icy creeks and they’ll still perform for you in extreme cold — even in temperatures around -49°F.
Suzanne Downing is an outdoor writer and photographer in Montana with an environmental science journalism background. Her work can be found in Outdoors Unlimited, Bugle Magazine, Missoulian, Byline Magazine, Communique, MTPR online, UM Native News, National Wildlife Federation campaigns and more.
Feature images by Suzanne Downing
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