Hiking in the winter is a beautiful and sublime experience. It can also be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Without the proper grip, you could slip, trip, and slide your way to injury. Microspikes are the perfect traction device to keep you upright and uninjured.
In the guide below, we’ll take you through the 9 best hiking microspikes available today. Armed with one of these options, you’ll be able to grip snowy and icy trails while appreciating the understated beauty of winter hiking.
My Review Process
After decades of hiking and mountaineering, I have developed a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of outdoor travel. I’m here to share that knowledge with you.
If you live near snowy climates or expect to do any winter hiking, a pair of spikes needs to be on your radar. Microspikes encompass the wide category between regular boots and crampons, perfect for icy winter hikes and mountain ascents.
Microspikes are great. Their grip holds you in place on icy terrain, their lightweight and compact nature makes storage easy, and they help you reach places that would otherwise be off-limits until the spring or summer. Microspike traction devices help turn seasonal hikers into year-round adventurers.
When people think of microspikes, this is usually the first model that comes to mind. A relatively new player in winter traction devices, Kahtoola has made a series of superb products. The MICROspikes are their most popular offering for many reasons.
The spike layout is a highlight. There are 12 steel spikes connected via stainless steel chains that provide superior traction in snowy and icy conditions. The durable design, secure fit, and packability make this the standard for microspikes.
Kahtoola MICROspikes have two small negatives. The spikes are heavier than other models. In addition, the aggressive design isn’t the best for light snow or urban settings.
If you're an avid hiker in need of a durable and well-made traction device, Kahtoola MICROspikes are the best hiking microspikes out there.
The YakTrax Walk is my choice for the best budget microspikes. The design features a series of stainless steel coils wrapped around thin rubber tubing. The coils dig into the ground and perform well on light snow, ice, dirt, and even rocks.
In most cases, the YakTrax Walk isn't aggressive enough for the backcountry. They also don’t perform well in deep snow.
These YakTrax slip on easily, fit securely, and work well for everyday work or walks after light snow and ice. If deeper winter conditions persist, something more aggressive may work better.
Despite their name, the Hillsound Trail Crampons are closer to microspikes in design and function. They have an elastomer harness and chain-linked carbon steel spikes. Plus, while there are two small plates, they are not connected via a metal rod like the plates on crampons are.
Many microspikes excel in snowy and icy conditions, but few can handle deeper snow. With a rugged design, large spikes, and aggressive traction, this is where the Hillsound Trail Crampons shine.
Compared to other microspikes, the Hillsound Trail Crampons are bulky and heavy. But if you know you’re dealing with deep snow, this is the set of microspikes you want.
The EXOspikes are a jack of all trades model. They sit between the more aggressive Kahtoola MICROspikes and the lighter NANOspikes.
This is the best model for winter trail running or ultralight hiking on thin snow or ice. The EXO has good versatility, flexibility, and plenty of traction.
Like many similar models, the EXOs don’t perform well in deep snow or ice. The EXOs also don’t pack down as well as the MICROs. If you’re out trail running with a hip pouch or small pack, that could be an issue.
The NANOspikes are my choice for the best urban running microspike. These traction devices attach easily, feature 10 small metal points that break up thin ice, and are very lightweight.
This is the best pair of spikes if you want to run after a light freeze or snow event on paved paths, boardwalks, or roads. They can also grip mixed terrain well.
The lightweight design and small metal points don't do much for deep snow. The NANOs also can’t handle thicker ice like the EXOs and MICROs can, limiting their use for the backcountry.
This burlier offering from YakTrax has a budget-friendly price, reliable traction, and slips on easily. The additional straps are a nice touch and help cinch the device to your shoe.
The Pro performs well across multiple surfaces and varied terrain. Like the YakTrax Walk, they have steel-plated coils around a rubber tubing that provides traction.
I found that the YakTrax Pro doesn’t handle well in thick snow. Additionally, the coil design makes it uncomfortable to run in. They are one of the best hiking microspikes for frontcountry and backcountry terrain with light to medium snow/ice.
The Black Diamond Distance Spikes are the easiest to carry microspikes. They pack down small, are lightweight, and offer good traction on softer surfaces. For shallow snow, dirt, and rocks, they perform admirably.
Like other models, the Black Diamond Distance Spikes don’t perform well in thick snow or ice. Their durability in the backcountry is questionable and for what you get, the price is a little higher than I’d expect.
Still, with great packability, the Distance Spikes are good for endurance adventures.
The Unigear Traction Cleats are the second-best hiking microspikes for deeper snow. The aggressive spikes are fantastic, fit securely on most footwear, and handle snow well. Unigear Traction Cleats are also affordable.
Compared to the Hillsound Trail Crampon, the spikes are smaller and won’t be as supportive on steeper slopes. The Traction Cleats are also heavier and don’t handle thick ice well.
Crampons vs. Microspikes
Firstly, I should make clear that MICROspikes is actually a trademark owned by Kahtoola. We often refer to all traction devices, ice cleats, etc. as Microspikes, due to the popularity of Kahtoola's MICROspikes, similar to how plasters are referred to as BAND-AIDs.
Now, to compare Microspikes (traction devices, ice cleats, etc.) with Crampons... both Microspikes and Crampons are used to provide extra traction on snow and ice. The differences between them lie primarily in design.
Crampons are burly, with two steel plates connected by a metal bar and large, aggressive spikes. Crampons provide excellent traction for snow and ice climbing on steep terrain (45 degrees and higher). Some Crampons work with hiking boots and running shoes, but many require mountaineering boots to attach to and are meant for technical terrain.
Microspikes have smaller spike points and an elastomer harness that slips around your hiking boots. They are generally used for flatter terrain and gentle snow and ice slopes. Microspikes are also more flexible, pack down smaller, and weigh less.
Want to know more about whether you need crampons or microspikes? Check out our in-depth comparison of crampons vs. microspikes.
When To Use Microspikes
Microspikes are versatile. They can be used for various tasks in slippery conditions. Some models work best in casual urban environments, while others are designed to perform on trails and in the backcountry.
Generally speaking, microspikes are best for generating additional traction on ice and snow. They slip on easily and offer a way to grip trails and road surfaces with gentle pitches.
However, microspikes also have limits. Even the most aggressive microspikes will have trouble holding onto slopes steeper than about 25 degrees.
Some spikes work well on dirt, especially those designed to be worn for running. However, repeated use on rocks and dirt will dull the spikes. The best way to keep microspikes fresh is to limit their use to snow, ice, or softer surfaces.
Hiking Microspikes Buying Guide
When shopping for the best hiking microspikes, keep the following points in mind.
Most microspikes cost less than $100. Budget-friendly spikes can cost a fifth of that, but will likely sacrifice a bit of durability in their construction. You can usually find a versatile, well-performing set of spikes for $20-$75.
Microspikes have elastic bands that slip over the outside of your shoe. Some models have stainless steel spikes or steel-plated coils that create their grip. The lightweight options often use tungsten carbide points. In all cases, the rubber and elastic help microspikes pack down small and makes them lighter than crampons.
Not all microspikes perform the same when it comes to traction. Heavier options with larger spikes will provide traction across more varied terrain, but they may not fit onto trail runners. Lightweight options have smaller studs or coils that can provide traction on ice. However, coils don’t perform well on challenging terrain with layers of snow or thick ice.
Think about what type of terrain you're going to put your microspikes through. An aggressive design is best for challenging trail conditions and winter hikes. A lighter setup for running shoes is best for city streets and crossing small sections of icy surfaces.
Since you’re going to use microspikes primarily in winter conditions, you want a pair of microspikes that won’t break easily. Durability revolves around how quickly the spikes dull over time and how strong the elastic is. If an elastomer harness breaks, the whole apparatus won’t work. Customer reviews and independent research will help shed light on how durable a pair of microspikes is over time.
Sizing And Ease Of Use
The best hiking microspikes benefit from an easy slip-on design. You pull the harness around the hiking shoes you're wearing and snap it into place. Some models come with an additional velcro strap for a more precise fit. There are also some heavier models like the Hillsound Trail Crampon that are tougher to slip on.
Because of the elastomer and rubberized pieces, microspikes fit various foot sizes. Regardless, check each model before buying, as the elasticity only applies to a certain foot range. If you have very large or small feet, pay attention to how sizes are grouped.
Weight And Packability
Reduced weight is a major advantage to using microspikes over traditional crampons. Per pair, the selections in this guide run from 5 oz for the YakTrax Walk to 16.6 oz for the Unigear Traction Cleats.
Another factor to consider is microspike packability. How much space do they take up in your pack? A rugged microspike won't pack down as small as a trail running variety.
If you need a pair of ice cleats that can handle lots of snow and provide excellent traction, try the Hillsound Trail Crampons. Conversely, if you need a lighter pair for urban activities, the YakTrax Walks are great budget ice cleats.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.