Traction devices like ice cleats, microspikes, and crampons make it easier and safer to enjoy winter hiking and walking.
When the trails get icy, keep going with traction devices! After testing several makes of ice cleats, spikes, and crampons in town and on mountain trails, we’ve selected our favorite traction devices for different types of terrain. Learn the difference between ice cleats, microspikes, or crampons and when to use them.
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Ice cleats come in a variety of styles using studs, screws, or metal coils for traction. These traction devices are suitable for walking on even terrain (snowy/icy pavement, or hiking trails with little elevation gain). Since they’re light and low-profile, you hardly notice them and can walk naturally. They will click-clack on cleared pavement, however, and shouldn’t be worn inside as you’ll ruin your hardwood/lino floors.
Note for hikers: Ice cleats do not perform well on uneven terrain, so if you are looking for more aggressive traction devices, consider spikes and hiking poles.
For walking around town, I recommend Kahtoola EXOspikes. They boast the same TPE elastomer harness of their more rugged sibling, Kahtoola Microspikes, but have 12 tungsten carbide studs instead of sharp spikes. The EXOspikes are light and low-profile so you can walk naturally, and the tungsten carbide studs are very effective on snowy/icy sidewalks. To put them on, put the toe of your boot in the front of the cleat and stretch the rubber harness around the heel of your boot. The tab at back makes it easier, and the harness retains elasticity up to -30C! Available in black or blue, from XS to XL at MEC and Amazon. Tote bag included.
Kahtoola EXOspikes Traction Devices are recommended for: sidewalks and paved trails.
Olang Boots, “the boots with grips,” have built-in traction to blend function with fashion. Patented pivoting grips allow you to have spikes when you need them (and flip them to the other side when you don’t). These work very well on city sidewalks as long as you don’t get too much snow or dirt stuck in the bottom of your boots. Keep the provided pocket tool on your keychain so you can flip the cleats without getting your hands dirty. Find them at Olang Canada, Sporting Life, Sole to Soul, and other high end shoe stores.
Icer’s XT are the ice cleat of choice for Canada Post and many tour companies. The Vibram foot bed is flexible and provides traction and insulation from the cold, and the replaceable metal screws offer good traction. These cleats attach with two adjustable straps so they aren’t as quick to put on and take off as the other types (some people find fastening straps easier than stretching a rubber harness though), but are more durable and offer great traction. We used these on the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk Tour and found them great on the snow covered paved trail and frozen creek bed, but had to take care on uneven terrain. Available at Amazon (occasionally), Lee Valley Tools – Calgary & Edmonton, and Canadian Great Outdoors.
Icer’s XT are recommended for: sidewalks, paved trails, and light hiking. They’re also a good option for people with arthritis in their hands.
Yaktrax Pro are popular, good quality ice cleats that are reasonably priced, easy to put on and remove with an over-the-foot strap to keep them securely attached. The steel coils feel strange underfoot to me though (compared to studs/screws), so I prefer other types of ice cleats. Available from Amazon, MEC, and Sport Chek.
Yaktrax Pro are recommended for: sidewalks and paved trails.
Ice Cleats for Kids
Yaktrax 8001 Walker are one of the only ice cleats that come in size XS and stay on. Sizing: Women’s 2.5-6 / Men’s 1-4.5. Recommended for: sidewalks and paved trails. Parents recommend securing them with zipties if they’re a bit too big. Available on Amazon.
Spikes (hybrid crampons)
Kahtoola MICROspikes are my go-to for winter and shoulder season hiking. Whether I’m walking a frozen creek bed or hiking up that icy section on Prairie Mountain, my microspikes get me where I need to go. Twelve 3/8″ (0.95 cm) long stainless steel spikes dig in to packed snow and ice to prevent slipping and are very low maintenance! I give them a rinse now and then so dirt doesn’t wear down the elastomer harness, but have been using my microspikes for several months a year for over five years now and they’re still in great shape. Snow typically releases well from the chains, but if it’s around freezing, snow may ball up underfoot.
A tab on the heel helps you put on and remove the spikes, and a handy tote bag means you can keep the spikes in your backpack until you need them without poking everything in your bag (or getting the inside of your pack dirty). They are on the pricier side, but worth every penny because they get you outside year-round! Available from Amazon, MEC, and Camper’s Village.
Kahtoola Microspikes are recommended for: hiking.
We have also tested the Hillsound Trail Crampons (above) for two seasons and found them to be great on icy trails. The Hillsounds boast eleven 2/3-inch (1.7 cm) long carbon steel spikes, stainless steel chains, an elastomer harness, a strap across the top to prevent the ice cleats from shifting (though they should not move around if you purchase the correct size), and tote bag. Hillsound is a Canadian company based in Vancouver, BC. Purchase Hillsound Trail Crampons at Amazon, Hillsound, and Sport Chek.
Hillsound Trail Crampons are recommended for: hiking.
These kid-sized spikes are affordable and made of stainless steel so they won’t rust. 14 spikes provide traction and a velcro strap keeps them in place. I like that a carrying bag is included. The silicone (NOT rubber) harness stretches to fit over boots, but as with all traction devices, check the size chart before you buy. If they are too big, they won’t stay on and if they’re too small, they could break when overstretched. Small fits size 13-3 kids’ boots, and Medium fits size 3.5-7 boots. Available on Amazon.
High Stream Gear spikes are recommended for hiking.
For pitchy trails covered in packed snow and ice, the Kahtoola K-10 Hiking Crampons will give you all the traction you need and stay in place all day long. I have used these crampons – the lightest on the market – on winter ridge walks and didn’t experience any slipping and sliding. They are easy to walk in, but they are sharp, so use caution around kids and pets.
Ten 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) long spikes made of 4130 chromoly steel bite into ice and snow, while the stainless steel LeafSpring® Flex Bar allows the crampons to flex with flexible footwear so you can “move fast and light over non-technical terrain.” (Note: these light crampons are not intended for mountaineering.) The K-10s have a 2-strap binding system that allows you to secure the front and back separately and get the perfect fit. Once you have adjusted the size, simply buckle and unbuckle the bindings to fasten or remove them. Snow Release Skins (SRS) are included, but I haven’t tried them yet.
While the K-10s do not come with a tote bag (sold separately), you can buckle the crampons to your backpack when they’re not in use. Make sure to dry them before storing them (wipe with a cloth) to prevent rust.
The Kahtoola K10 Hiking Crampons are recommended for: steep winter hikes (Please check the avalanche report and research your route before heading out!).
Size matters. Will you be using traction devices with runners, hiking boots, or winter boots? Check the size chart and manufacturer’s recommendations, and size up accordingly to ensure the traction devices will go on easily and stay on. Most cleat/crampon sizes correspond with shoe size, but Icers cleats correspond to the actual length of your boot.
Consider ice cleats with replaceable screws/studs to be friendly to the environment and your wallet (it’s better to repair your cleats than replace them).
Which traction devices look best to you?