The terms microspikes and crampons are used almost interchangeably. Fortunately, this is more often among people who are outside the industry. Since they are both traction devices on the snow, this is understandable.

However, if you are in the alpine business, you will agree this is not the same. Microspikes and crampons might have some similarities, but they are also different in many ways.

This post about microspikes vs. crampons is for you if you have questions about the two devices. To the best of our capabilities and knowledge about these two gears, we have covered every detail. Be sure to check out the section with FAQs towards the end.

What are microspikes?

Microspikes are nothing but traction devices used on ice. These are essentially metal chains with many small spikes on them. Microspikes have a very similar design to chains used on tires to enhance traction. A metal plate in the forefoot and the heel hold the chains together.

The metal of choice for microspikes is typically steel. However, microspikes also have rubber and TPE components in the construction. This is usually around the band. The rubber parts provide flexibility and make it easy to wear and take off the microspikes.

The number of spikes can range from 12 to 18 per foot in microspikes. In terms of length, it can be anywhere from ¼ to ½ inches. Although the spikes in these traction devices are not terribly sharp, they can dig into the snow to give traction.

Generally, the spikes on microspikes are set towards the inner part of the sole. This is why microspikes are excellent for terrains with gentle slopes, flat terrains, and even surfaces. In microspikes, a number of spikes are on the forefoot while some are at the heel.

Microspikes are very versatile, so you can strap them to different footwear. Since they are essentially chains, you can wrap them to any type of footwear. Apart from hiking boots, microspikes are also compatible with trainers and running shoes. This makes microspikes a great choice for walking or running on icy terrains.

Microspikes have the advantage of being light in weight. They are also easier to carry as you can fit them into a backpack with ease. These traction devices also are low on maintenance.

Best use of microspikes.

Although microspikes primarily provide traction, it is also possible to use them incorrectly. To avoid that, here are the best uses of microspikes.

  • Walking – Microspikes are the best gears for walking. It can be anything from crossing snowfields, walking over packed ice, wet rocks, and glaciers. You can even use microspikes for walking over the frigid concrete surface.
  • Hiking – Microspikes’ gentle spikes also make them great for hiking in winter. Winter hiking is a very popular activity, and using microspikes adds traction. However, you should also consider the inclination of the landscape you plan to hike. It is because microspikes are best for gentle slopes.
  • Running and jogging – Another great use for microspikes is running and jogging. Although a lot of outdoor activities cease during the winter, running and jogging are very common. Strapping microspikes to your running shoes can make it easier and safe to run even on frigid surfaces.

What are crampons?

Crampons are metal frames with sharp points. These are strapped to the boots for added traction on snow and ice. Crampons help to increase traction as well as mobility in the snow.

The other name of crampon’s teeth is points. The number of points on the crampons can range from 8 to 12. However, crampons that have up to 14 teeth are not uncommon. These points can be anywhere from half to a full one inch in length. In crampons, there are up to 10 points all throughout the metal frame. Most crampons have two points that jut out in the front while others have one. In many of these crampons, you can swap the front points into a bi-point or a mono-point and vice versa.

The primary metal for making crampons is steel. But the use of stainless steel, Chromoly steel, and aluminum are also common. Technical crampons such as C2 and C3 typically have steel in their construction. In addition, thermoplastic and nylon straps are also part of crampons.

There are three types of attachment in crampons to attach to the boots. These are step-in, strap-on, and hybrid. These are also known as bindings. Step-in and hybrid attachment or bindings are easier to wear and take off. However, they require particular types of boots, i.e., boots with welts. Crampons with strap-on attachments require some effort to attach to the boots. However, these are very versatile, and they have more compatibility with boots.

Crampons have been used as early as paleo-hunters. The modern crampon with 10 points owes their design to an English climber, Oscar Eckenstein, in 1908. However, they went commercial only 1938 after an Italian blacksmith; Henry Grivel refined the design.

Best use of crampons.

Crampons come with points that are subtle to ones that are very aggressive. Because of these, they have a different purpose than microspikes. Unlike other types of winter gears, the type of bindings, the front points, the number of points, and the materials in the crampon construction determines its use. The best use of crampons, along with the type of binding and construction material, is as follows.

  • Technical alpine mountaineering – Steel crampons that have horizontal front points are best for this purpose. In terms of bindings or attachment, all three types of bindings are ideal for technical mountaineering. The same types of crampons are also ideal for use in general mountaineering. For general and technical climbing, crampons with 10 to 12 points are the best traction gears.
  • Mixed climbing and waterfall climbing – For this activity, steel crampons with vertical front points are best. A crampon with a hybrid or strap-on binding is the right combination. For this extreme alpine activity, crampons that have 12 to 14 points are the best choice. You can even go for a crampon with more than 14 points, but this is an exceptional case. 
  • Snow walking – For snow walking, crampons that have aluminum or steel construction are the best. In terms of the front point, those crampons with horizontal front points are great choices. You should look for a strap-on binding for this activity in the snow. Additionally, the points in the crampons should be anywhere between 8 and 12.

Differences between microspikes and crampons.

Although both these devices are used for added traction and mobility, they have differences. Here are the differences between microspikes and crampons.

  1. Design.

Microspikes have a straightforward design. It is typically a metal chain held together by a metal plate. On the other hand, crampons have full metal frames with a semi-rigid or flexible design.

  • Spikes/points.

In microspikes, the spikes are not very aggressive or sharp. The number of spikes is no less than 18 spread throughout the chains. Each spike can be anywhere from ¼ to ½ inches in length.

On the contrary, crampons have very aggressive and sharp points. The number of points varies from 8 to 14. Each of these points can be ½ inch to 1 inch in length. The front points can be longer. In crampons, one or two points are placed in the front of the frame. But this is not the case with crampons.

  • Usability.

Microspikes typically come with flexible rubber bands through which you attach your footwear. The rubber band is usually a quality material such as TPE or something similar. In terms of usability, microspikes do not require any effort to wear or take off. Similarly, they are also easy to transport and store. Since they are lightweight and do not require specialized carrying case, they are very convenient.

In crampons, nylon straps and metal bars are added to strap down the boot to the frame. There are three different types of bindings; strap-on, step-in, and hybrid. Step-in and hybrid bindings are easy to wear and take off. But strap-on bindings have a bit of a learning curve.

Since crampons have extremely sharp points, they need a crampon case. This is an important accessory to avoid cutting your backpack and clothes. Crampons that have collapsible features are also easier to store and transport than those without this feature.

  • Maintenance.

In terms of maintenance, microspikes are the winners. They require very little maintenance. After every outing, give them a thorough wipe down with a soft cloth. Allow them to dry thoroughly before drying them, and that is all. During the offseason, oiling them before putting them in storage will prevent rusting.

Crampons require more upkeep on the contrary. You need to sharpen the points occasionally. You also need to care for them by inspecting the screws and bindings and replace them. In some cases replacing the front points can come at a certain cost. They need a special crampon case for storage. Oiling them before storing them away for the off-season is also a must.

  • Price.

Microspikes are very easy on your wallet. They usually cost less than $20. Even the most expensive microspikes will not cost more than $50. In this regard, microspikes are very affordable.

Crampons are on the opposite side of the spectrum. The most affordable crampons have a price tag of no less than $100. They also require frequent upkeep, which can add to the overall cost. In addition, crampons also require accessories that drive up the cost considerably.

Frequently Asked Questions About Microspikes vs. Crampons.

What makes microspikes ideal for flat terrains?

The spikes on these traction devices are short and blunt compared to the ones on the crampons. Microspikes also do not come with front points, which is essential for digging into vertical columns. The spikes are enough to give you traction on a flat surface. But they are not equipped to dig into ice or grip it. 

In terms of construction and rigidity, microspikes can hold your weight to a good degree. However, they are not designed to withstand the amount of pressure and beating that crampons undergo.

So while microspikes can be your friend on flat terrains, they are not designed to assist you in climbing vertical columns. You can use them effortlessly for jogging, walking, or even running on ice.

What are the best microspikes and crampons?

The best winter gear is one that you will use consistently. This can come from a combination of a good fit, ease of use, and compatibility. With that in mind, there are many brands that offer excellent microspikes and crampons. Some of our personal favorites are listed below.

Best microspikes.

  • Unigear Traction Cleats Ice Snow Grips.
  • Kahtoola NANOspikes.
  • Hillsound Trail Crampon.
  • Kahtoola MICROspikes.
  • ICETrekkers Diamond Grip Traction Cleat.

Best crampons.

  • Black Diamond Stinger crampons.
  • Grivel 12 crampon.
  • CAMP USA Stalker crampon.
  • Grivel G14 crampon.
  • Petzl Leopard LLF Crampon.

What are the limitations of microspikes and crampons?

Microspikes and crampons are excellent devices when used for the correct purpose. However, they do have certain limitations, and we discuss them below.

Limitations of microspikes.

  • Microspikes are not ideal for use in technical climbing. Their short and blunt spikes and chain design is not enough to give you traction on vertical angles.
  • Microspikes have weight to them. Wearing them for extended periods can tire you out. The best move is to keep the spikes in your backpack and put them on only when you need them.
  • These simple traction devices are not compatible with boots above B2 grades. This means that they are not suited for technical boots.

Limitations of crampons.

  • Crampons are not ideal for walking. Their aggressive teeth, combined with their weight, can tire you out in an instant.
  • You need technical boots to use crampons. You may get C1 and C2 crampons to fit certain types of boots. However, there is no compromising with C3 crampons.
  • Crampons require regular maintenance. You need to inspect the part after every outing. The points also need sharpening, especially if there was a decent amount of rock and debris on your outing.


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