Using micro crampons and mini spikes for winter hill walking

Posted by Dan Middleton on 23/01/2016
Stay safe in your winter adventure © Stewart Smith Photography/Shutterstock.com

Micro crampons or mini spikes have become a popular alternative to walking crampons with many winter hill walkers, but do they offer enough security for the changeable ground conditions found in our winter mountains? Discover what the experts think in our article below, and make up your own mind.

What are Micro crampons or mini spikes?

The term covers a range of different products which provide extra grip in snow and icy conditions. This is usually achieved using a combination of underfoot chains and short metal spikes. Some models offer little more than a chain, others are almost (but not quite) a full walking crampon - the most popular lie somewhere in between.

Chains and spikes of a popular mini spike © Kahtoola.com

Why are they popular?

Short spikes make walking on flat icy or snowy paths much easier and more comfortable than when wearing a walking crampon. Combined with a fast and simple attachment system and the ability to be used on softer, lighter footwear than a walking crampon this makes them an interesting option for those intending to travel on non-technical terrain, particularly well-pitched mountain footpaths. The ability to be fitted to fell running and approach shoes also opens up options for climbers and runners.

What are their limitations?

Walking crampons meet a PPE standard which includes a minimum strength of the points, frame and attachments. Mini spikes do not, so although many are well made it can be a bit of a lottery whether they will stand up to the knocks and scrapes of a full day out in the hills.

Shorter, less aggressive spikes provide less grip than a walking crampon does on hard refrozen snow or ice, especially when the surface is sloping rather than flat. Much of the support provided by a walking crampon comes from the fact that it has to be mounted on a fairly stiff and supportive boot, with the crampon frame working to provide lateral support - you don't get this support and control with mini spikes on a soft shoe or boot, making a slip or slide more likely.

What do the experts think?

We spoke to Elfyn Jones (BMC Cymru) to get his view on mini spikes - Elfyn is an active member of Llanberis MRT which covers Snowdon, a very popular objective for winter hill walkers.

"The Rescue team will actually carry mini spikes with us in winter, to give to people whom we are called out to rescue but who are without crampons to help them get down off the hill. There isn't much point giving them crampons as their boots often aren't suitable and mini spikes are better than nothing.

Mini spikes are often fine for most of a days walk in soft snow but problems occur when conditions change, as they often do. An easy ascent up sun-softened snow can become much more arduous and challenging in descent if the temperature has dropped and the snow refreezes and surfaces ice up.

It's also about considering the consequences of a slip or fall. If a slip would result in nothing more than a bruised bum and ego, mini spikes are probably an appropriate choice of kit. If, however, as is the case on most of the footpaths on Snowdon,  the result of a simple trip or slide can be a long slide or fall over a drop onto steep ground and rocky slopes. On this terrain there is little chance to arrest a slide using an ice axe self-arrest, so your safety relies on not slipping in the first place. A good boot and walking crampon will be far better at ensuring this under all possible conditions, so this is what we recommend people choose."

Make up your own mind

Of course, much of the joy of hill walking comes from the freedom and lack of rules - you can do whatever you want! Experienced winter walkers may well be able to make sound judgements based on a route and the conditions and choose to use mini spikes, but when compared to walking crampons, mini spikes often won’t provide the necessary security when winter walking in the high mountains. Whatever equipment you choose, carefuly consider your route and the conditions, and always be ready to turn back before you get out of your depth.


JOIN THE BMC: 5 reasons hill walkers should join the BMC

Join online today by Direct Debit and save 50% on your first year's membership.

WATCH: What does the BMC do for hill walkers? on BMC TV

GET THE KNOWLEDGE: BMC resources for hill walkers

  • Hill Walking Essentials DVD: Follow Fredelina and Ben as they learn essential skills and techniques for the British mountains. Buy it now in the BMC shop.

Follow the BMC's hill walking Twitter feed: @BMC_Walk


« Back

Post a comment Print this article

This article has been read 17739 times

TAGS

Click on the tags to explore more

RELATED ARTICLES

The Ten Commandments of winter walking
3
The Ten Commandments of winter walking

A scripture-inspired guide to surviving and thriving in the British hills as a walker this winter. Go forth and play.
Read more »

Essential winter know-how
1
Essential winter know-how

Heading for the hills this winter? Whether you're a seasoned winter warrior or just taking your first icy steps, we've got a mountain of essential skills & equipment advice right here on the BMC website.
Read more »

Winter solstice: 4 walks to enjoy the long night
0
Winter solstice: 4 walks to enjoy the long night

Winter is coming! To get you in a festive wintery spirit, but not into the spirits just yet, we’ve come up with four of the best night walks to enjoy winter solstice – the shortest day of the year and the astronomical beginning of winter.
Read more »

Post a Comment
Posting as Anonymous Community Standards
3000 characters remaining
Submit
Your comment has been posted below, click here to view it
Comments are currently on | Turn off comments
3
1) Anonymous User
04/02/2016

I find my micro spikes to be very good on icy paths or on hard-packed snow. No slipping at all. But they are no good on steep slopes. So I often carry my crampons as well. I find that I use the micro spikes much more often than crampons.
2) Anonymous User
05/02/2016
A good, balanced article. Microspikes are definitely not a substitute for real crampons if you know in advance that you will be crossing snowslopes. However, they are great for winter walking trails around alpine resorts and they are a good lightweight option for carrying on mutli-day hikes and treks where you wouldn't expect to need crampons but you might come across icy patches on high passes, snow-covered gullies, or even steep muddy descents.
A few additional comments:
- the Kahtoola microspikes (as pictured) provide better grip than Yaktrax
- the sizing is important (they want to fit very tightly)
- make sure you buy the real thing, not a cheap imitation manufactured from low-quality steel (as available in places like Kathmandu)
3) Anonymous User
11/04/2016
I took my wife up Snowdon on Saturday (9 Apr), we took crampons/spikes and walking axes just in case (snow was forecast)...
Just as well really, the last 200m of the Pyg track was awash with walkers (approx 100), unable to go up or down the track due to the layer if snow and ice that had been dumped...
Most people were wearing trainers and had no winter clothing or equipment yet insisted on ascending the most dangerous part of the track on their hands and knees, with return trips sliding down on their bums...

signs at the Pen Y Pass car park stated 'winter conditions above 700m' - had it included a poster of suitable equipment/dress then a potential mountain rescue call out could have been avoided
Something that Llanberis mountain rescue or the park authorities could easily sort out

In our case crampons for me and snow spikes with axe for my wife proved enough for a safe summit and descent - if only for a 200m use.

RELATED ARTICLES

The Ten Commandments of winter walking
3

A scripture-inspired guide to surviving and thriving in the British hills as a walker this winter. Go forth and play.
Read more »

Essential winter know-how
1

Heading for the hills this winter? Whether you're a seasoned winter warrior or just taking your first icy steps, we've got a mountain of essential skills & equipment advice right here on the BMC website.
Read more »

Winter solstice: 4 walks to enjoy the long night
0

Winter is coming! To get you in a festive wintery spirit, but not into the spirits just yet, we’ve come up with four of the best night walks to enjoy winter solstice – the shortest day of the year and the astronomical beginning of winter.
Read more »

BMC MEMBERSHIP
Join 82,000 BMC members and support British climbing, walking and mountaineering. Membership only £15.72.
Read more »
BMC SHOP
Great range of guidebooks, DVDs, books, calendars and maps.
All with discounts for members.
Read more »
TRAVEL INSURANCE
Get covered with BMC Insurance. Our five policies take you from the beach to Everest.
Read more »