It’s a big spooky El Nino year in 2016, so traction for getting over snow/ice is a big ticket item (for me). While most went for microspikes, I went a little crazy and went with hiking crampons. Why? I’d heard about microspikes slipping off people’s shoes on inclines. Whether or not that’s a constant problem remains unknown to me, but I didn’t really like the sound of it.
The K10’s aren’t the more up-to-date traction by Kahtoola, but they weren’t as expensive and had the same “Hey, we’ll stay on your feet” look to them. Both the K10’s and the newer versions have spikes on the bottom too! So I mean… might as well go for the route that will save me a bit of money right?
I’m not mountaineer. I bag peaks every so often, but that hardly makes me a seasoned climber. As far as technical talk and pro advice goes, you’re not going to find it here.. which is good because these things weren’t meant for climbing anyways. This is the word from me as a hiker.
For the longest time, my crampons sat on my gear shelf (the top of my dresser) looking all shiny and awesome. I felt like I was part of a secret club just for owning them, and I was dying to get out and use them. I recently had the chance to do so, and I have some things to say:
What I Learned
Before going into the goods and bads, I want to go over what I – as a novice – learned about hiking in crampons.
- They do not grant you as many super powers as you feel they do. You adhere to the side of slippery hills very well, but you’re not glued. Crampons push weights on the scale of not flying down the hill to lean a little more towards your favor, but they in no way make any promises to keep you safe. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s to a greater extent than you’d think (if you are in my old shoes of having no experience hiking with traction).
- Despite having these awesome spikes on my feet, I would still slide around a bit. I learned quickly to adjust how I was walking so more points of contact were made between my feet and the snow. Sometimes this meant I had to walk a little oddly uphill, but it also meant I got to stay on the hill. You can’t just walk casually as you usually do.
- They don’t just stab into ice. Sometimes you have to work to secure your footing (or.. almost all the time). After a couple instances where I would step on a patch of snow with ice hiding underneath, I started to test my steps a bit. If they slid around more than I was comfortable with, I’d kick into the snow a few times to create a notch for my foot to fall in.
- It’s not as awkward to walk in these things as you’d think it is.
- Very easy to throw on. When I put them on at home to make sure they fit on my shoes, I’d do it sitting down. Once I got out on the trail, it became apparent to me that sitting down on slick snow on an incline isn’t a great idea. I did it standing up, had no problems. Security is two buckles away.
- The optional rubber pads for the bottoms do an excellent job at stopping snow from building up on the bottom of the crampons. If snow builds up, it decreases the efficiency of your traction. I did not have this problem even in the stickiest snow.
- They bend with your feet. These things are extremely flexible without compromising security. I don’t feel like they’re going to break on me, but it’s almost alarming at how well they move with you. I didn’t even feel like I was wearing them.
- These things are not complicated. Adjusting them to fit the length of your shoe is one little tiny lever-pull away.
- The rear straps can pivot up or down to fit most shoes. This works well, and it doesn’t. I’ll go into that on the ‘bad’ section. But know that it isn’t cause for too much fuss.
- Buckles and snow aren’t a great mix. By the end of my second hike, I had been out in the snow for about six hours. The buckles had iced over a bit and were a little tough to undo. Fortunately this is really only a problem for the front buckle a it’s more exposed to the snow. The top buckle stays relatively snow free, so I just undid that one and slid the crampon off my foot. Problem solved.
- The top strap doesn’t work super well for trail runners despite the fact that it pivots. It was constantly slipping off over the top of my shoe. There is a little metal tab that can clip to your laces to keep it secure, but I was having some issues getting it to work after I had started hiking. If I set it up pre-hike, this will be a non-issue. What I did to alleviate this was to secure the strap around my ankle above the shoe. This was a good temporary fix, but I’d feel better if it stayed on my shoe.
This certainly isn’t an issue with boots. But I abhor boots, they destroy my feet, knees, and hips. I will never put another boot on my foot for as long as I live.
- The ever-great rubber pads that slip on to the bottom of the crampons can fall off if it’s under a lot of stress. I lost one while glissading (and you should never have these on while you glissade anyways). It makes me wonder how much longer they will stay on. They’re a bit of a pain in the ass to put on, so I feel like Kahtoola did their best to keep them secure. I don’t know what could have been done differently.
- The weight. Here we go, I know, but bare with me. Together, these things weigh 1.5lbs. For a dayhiker, weekend warrior, or even a multi-day user, this isn’t a huge deal. I’m taking these through the Sierra Nevada this spring on a PCT thru-hike. Along with my bear canister and ice axe, the added weight makes me cringe a little bit. In the end though, I’m happy to add a little weight for extra security.
- Securing excess strap can be a bit of a pain sometimes. The tab you slide the strap through is rubber, so it’s a little hard to move around. Adjusting it around in the snow with cold hands is a tad frustrating. I know they did it to keep the straps from sliding around too much, but there’s so much excess that I don’t know if it would have even been a problem.
I’m in love, but not in the unhealthy kind of way where you are absolutely incapable of separating yourself from them or refusing to see the bad about them. The kind where I was very happy to have them on my feet, and will take them with me despite the added weight and small annoyances. I trust these crampons.
Take a Look for Yourself
If I weren’t on a limited budget, I would have bought both the crampons and microspikes and evaluated which one worked better for me. There’s a lot at play this year that made me lean more towards the crampons (probable high snow year in Central California). The microspikes probably would have worked fine for me, but I just didn’t know what kind of situations I’d find myself in. Generally, microspikes will do you just fine if you’re sticking along the footpath. But what if there isn’t a footpath for me to follow? What if the footpath goes through sketchy terrain? In any case, if I were to go with something else, I’d just go with the Kahtoola microspikes. Aside from snow sticking to them a bit, people were having almost no problems with them while I was out and about hiking in the snow.
A Quick Word
People scream about Yaktrax and I saw them being recommended for the hikes I did. Keep in mind I’m not a professional, but here’s a quick word from the maker of Yaktrax:
The original Yaktrax design, Yaktrax Walk is a lightweight and easy to use ice-traction device. Perfect for pedestrians, professionals and the elderly, the Walk provides greater stability while walking on snow or ice. The Yaktrax Walk reduces the risk of falls and injuries while walking to school, work, or just to the mailbox!
People swear up and down by them, and I swear up and down that they’re crazy. In no way were they designed for snowy ascents, yet I see people recommend them from time to time regardless. You can’t put a price on not sliding down a hill while on a hike. Don’t cut corners, go for the sure thing. If I were to wear Yaktrax on a hike, it would be on a flat grade.
The only thing worse is going out there with nothing at all. On Mount Si, an alarming amount of people were going out in street shoes with no traction at all (this was after a huge snowfall). They pretty much had to either shuffle their way down slowly, or spend most of the descent falling on their ass. Just because people are out there using the trail does not grant you immunity from injury/incident. Be smart, be accountable for yourself.