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Traction Devices

Traction devices are particularly important for adding extra security when walking, hiking or running on mud, snow and ice. As we wait for the mountains to thaw, it’s likely that we will see a lot of all of those conditions over the next month, so choosing the right pair and making sure they’re packed for your adventures will go a long way toward making your outings a lot more fun and safer through mud season.

Traction devices are simply a device that straps onto a normal shoe or boot and adds traction via spikes, studs or chains.

When looking for the right traction devices for your specific uses, there are a few things to ask yourself before selecting a pair:

  1. Determine what exactly you want to do with them. If you want to strap them on your running shoes to walk pathways in the city, you will need different devices then if you are wearing sturdy boots and traversing across snow and ice at high altitudes.
  2. How secure do you need the traction devices to be? The more aggressive terrain that you are using them in, the more robust your traction device needs to be.

Traction devices can be generally classified in the following categories:

1.    Studded

Usually a basic piece of rubber (either strap-like or a whole boot sole) with a few to many metal studs mounted on it. Generally poor for hiking, but useful in an urban setting when slipping on icy pathways is undesirable. Many companies manufacture these, and they are usually inexpensive. (Not stocked in the store.)

2.    Trail Running

Traction devices designed for trail running are designed to fit a softer shoe without collapsing it. They offer lots of traction at the front and less traction in the back to compliment a running action. Usually not particularly aggressive and best on frozen pathways rather than hiking trails. If you run a lot in winter then a dedicated pair of studded running shoes would be a better investment.

3.    Chain Style Traction Devices (ie: Ice Trekkers)

Ice Trekkers are particularly valuable for use on mixed and soft surfaces. Because they allow use of the boot’s rubber as well as the edges of the chain to grip they are able to transfer from rock to snow, mud, and ice surfaces which makes them exceptionally versatile for split season hiking. They do suffer from limited traction on hard packed ice surfaces, so care must be exercised.


4.    Trail Crampons or Microspikes

Microspikes are a brand name of toothed strap on crampon that has become the catch-all name for these kind of hiking crampon, but there are a number of good devices available under this category. They are distinguished from chain style crampons by the longer teeth attached firmly to the chain base. These traction devices are significantly more aggressive in their traction than other units and, as such are the go-to for most hikers. Traction on hard ice, snow and mud is exceptional, though their limitation is that they offer no traction on rock and will slide off. They are generally better used midseason but tend to be the ‘one device to do everything’ choice for most users.

5.    Full Hiking Crampon

Hiking crampons are designed for glacier travel and aggressive hiking terrain when sliding is not an option. They work especially well when traversing snow and ice for extended periods and are specifically designed to work with flexible footwear like hiking boots – they will still work with a mountaineering boot, but doing so would lose all of the flexibility benefits that assist in longer hikes.

Their rugged design also allows them to better withstand wear and tear and will last significantly longer than other light crampon types.

6.    Mountaineering Crampons

Mountaineering crampons are designed to be used with mountaineering boots (non flexible soles) and work well in varied terrain at high altitudes when absolute safety and traction is required and slipping is not an option. These are particularly robust and will take an enormous beating but tend to be more expensive. They do not work well with hiking boots (though some may be made to if necessary).

7.    Climbing Crampons

Climbing crampons are designed to be used for ice climbing with tools and ropes. Some can double as mountaineering crampons as well, but most are very specifically designed.

Please feel free to come in and check to see which option may be best suited to your particular uses. if you are interested in learning more about traction devices and our team will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

For more info on crampons check out this article from REI, “How to Choose Crampons”