10 Best Winter Traction Devices & Crampons for Hiking 2024

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A hiker wearing the Hillsound Flexsteps with trail running shoes
Hillsound FlexSteps – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Whether you’re trekking in the depths of winter, or traversing north-facing slopes in spring, a pair of traction devices offers surefootedness and peace of mind in slick conditions. We’ve researched 40 sets of spikes, studs, and chains, crossing ice with confidence in 12 pairs to find the ones with the best traction, ease of use, durability, and weight. After 10,000 miles of thru-hikes and day trips, we have recommendations for all sorts of conditions.

If you are really starting out early (or going late) in hiking season, you may also want to consider a pair of snowshoes. For everyday stability, a solid pair of trekking poles is the way to go for uneven trails and water crossings. And if it’s your first camping in wintery conditions, we have you covered with our checklist for cold-weather camping.

Quick Picks for Traction devices & Crampons

Check out this quick list of our favorite traction devices, or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.

Best traction device for hiking overall: Kahtoola MICROspikes ($75)

Best traction devices for trail running: Kahtoola EXOspikes ($65)

Best lightweight traction devices: Snowline Chainsen Trail Light ($70)

Best budget traction devices: Yaktrax Diamond Grip ($55)

Comfortable & durable traction devices: Hillsound FlexSteps ($75)

Most aggressive traction devices: Kahtoola K-10 ($120)

Ultralight, minimalist traction devices: Snowline Chainsen City ($30)

Heavy-duty traction devices for hiking: Hillsound Trail Crampon ($85)

Low-profile traction devices for urban use: Kahtoola NANOspikes ($55)

Affordable & durable traction devices: Yaktrax Chains ($30)

What’s new

The CleverHiker team has been kicking and picking across ice and crusty snow to get a grip on the best traction devices for winter adventures:

  • The classic Kahtoola MICROspikes are our favorite overall for their excellent balance between ease of use and effectiveness in most slick conditions.

  • Not far behind are the Kahtoola EXOspikes, which are lighter and less aggressive than their MICRO sibling but still very effective when you need to cross icy patches of trail.

Kahtoola MICROspikes

Best traction devices for hiking overall

Price: $75

Weight (Pair): 11 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Hiking & backpacking; mixed mountain terrain with rocks

Pros

  • Aggressive traction
  • Durable
  • Relatively compact

Cons

  • A bit expensive
  • Heavier than some

The Kahtoola MICROspikes were the first traction devices designed specifically for hikers – a lighter, more approachable version of crampons that work with any shoes. They’re what you’ll find on most hiker’s feet when the snow gets too hard and compacted to travel by snowshoe on high-traffic mountain trails. We like MICROspikes for their aggressive traction and well-balanced ratio of strength to weight. The chain links also make them pack down a bit smaller than those made with more rubber material. There are lighter and cheaper options out there, but you won’t find better quality and durability for mixed mountain terrain than the MICROspikes.

Kahtoola EXOspikes

Best traction devices for trail running

Price: $65

Weight (Pair): 7.3 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Trail running & hiking; mixed ice & hard surfaces

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Shock-absorbing
  • Excellent value

Cons

  • A bit bulkier than some
  • Less aggressive traction

The Kahtoola EXOspikes are our favorite ice cleats for runners and those looking for lightweight traction to wear with flexible footwear. The carbide studs are super grippy on ice, and their low-profile design makes walking feel natural and comfortable. They won’t make your feet sore like some toothier spikes can when worn for long periods, and they’ll even help soften your impact when running. While the EXOs don’t have quite the same bite on inclines as larger spikes (like the original MICROs), they’re more versatile for everyday wear on terrain from sidewalks to soupy winter trails with patches of snow, ice, and bare ground.

Snowline Chainsen Trail Light

Best lightweight traction devices

Price: $70

Weight (Pair): 6.4 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Trail running, hiking & backpacking; packed snow & ice

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Fairly aggressive traction
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • A bit expensive
  • Not as durable as some

The Snowline Chainsen Trail Light traction devices keep weight to a minimum without skimping on grip. These babies are designed with short, ergonomically-placed spikes for comfortable hiking and trail running. Amazingly, they’re about half the weight of Kahtoola’s popular MICROspikes. Their lightweight chains and thinner harness make them a bit more prone to breakage, so we found that it’s best to avoid rocks and take them off to cross expanses of bare ground. That said, the tradeoff in durability is well worth it for runners looking to minimize energy-sapping weight on their feet and backpackers needing lightweight slip protection for early-season conditions in high-alpine country.

Yaktrax Diamond Grip

Best budget traction devices

Price: $55

Weight (Pair): 11.2 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Walking & light hiking; mixed ice, gravel & hard surfaces

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • Not as durable as some
  • Less aggressive traction
  • Fit not as dialed in
  • No stuff sack included

The Yaktrax Diamond Grip are some of the most affordable traction devices on the market, especially since they’re often on sale. They have independently-swiveling steel beads strung on aircraft cable, which prevents the buildup of snow and ice. The Diamond Grips are some of the best performers on transitional surfaces that are often interlaced with snow and ice, like rock, gravel, and concrete. For that reason, we like them for urban walks and light hiking on tame terrain. These traction devices have a much better track record for durability than Yaktrax cheaper offering with the coils – the Walk – but the steel cables on these may also eventually rust or fray. To lengthen their life, allow them to dry after each use. The Diamond Grips offer a great balance of quality and price for those who’ll only use them occasionally.

Hillsound FlexSteps

Comfortable & durable traction devices

Price: $75

Weight (Pair): 12.3 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Walking & light hiking; pavement & groomed trails

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Comfortable
  • Secure fit
  • Easy on/off

Cons

  • A bit heavier/bulkier than some

The Hillsound FlexSteps deliver durability, comfort, and a secure fit at an affordable price. The flexible plates and small steel spikes feel unobtrusive when worn with lightweight shoes, and we hardly notice them after miles of hiking on hard-packed snow. They’re easier to put on than some of the stretch harnesses due to the wider opening, and the velcro strap across the top helps hold them securely in place – even if you posthole. We also love the riveted attachment points that won’t come undone like links on chained models might do under stress. There are cheaper, more packable, and more aggressive options out there, but we really like the FlexSteps for their simplicity and dependability.

Kahtoola K-10

Most aggressive traction devices

Price: $120

Weight (Pair): 1 lb. 7.6 oz.(Size Reg.)

Best Use: Hiking & non-technical mountaineering; hard ice & snow

Pros

  • Very aggressive traction
  • Felxible
  • Secure fit
  • Easy on/off

Cons

  • Expensive
  • A bit heavier/bulky
  • No stuff sack included
  • Overkill for casual use

The Kahtoola K-10s sits somewhere in the middle between a shoe chain and a full-fledged mountaineering crampon. The ¾-inch spikes are ideal when you need serious traction to traverse glacier ice, crusted snowpack, or steep alpine snowfields, but they’re overkill for most casual winter hikes. The biggest upside of this type of hiking crampon is that it allows you to wear a comfortable, flexible-soled boot versus conventional crampons that require a rigid mountaineering boot (often made of plastic). The K-10s still aren’t as capable as technical crampons, but they’re much lighter, more packable, and they’re a great happy medium for low-angle mountain climbing and high-alpine routes.

Snowline Chainsen City

Ultralight, minimalist traction devices

Price: $30

Weight (Pair): 3 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Walking & light hiking;pavement & groomed trails

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Ultralight
  • Very compact
  • Easy on/off

Cons

  • Not as secure as some
  • Less aggressive traction
  • Less durable than some

If you’ve been hesitant to pick up traction devices because of the cost or you know you’ll only use them occasionally, check out the Snowline Chainsen City spikes. These are so small and light that you’ll hardly notice them in your fanny pack or daypack, but you’ll be glad you have them when you hit a iced-over section of trail on your daily walk. The simple harness slips over your heel and toe, so proper sizing and a tight fit is everything with these. As the name implies, the Chainsen City are better for tame urban walks than mountain trails. We don’t recommend running in them either because they don’t have as secure a fit as others. That said, we love how light and affordable the Chainsen City are and they still pack a punch when it comes to traction on ice.

Hillsound Trail Crampon

Heavy-duty traction devices for hiking

Price: $85

Weight (Pair): 15.7 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Hiking & backpacking; mixed mountain terrain

Pros

  • Aggressive traction
  • Durable
  • Secure fit

Cons

  • A bit expensive
  • Heavier/bulkier than some

The Hillsound Trail Crampons are all-around solid performers for hiking in mixed mountain terrain. They’re similar to our top pick, the Kahtoola MICROspikes, but they have slightly longer spikes that sit on plates instead of chains to help disperse your weight more evenly. There’s also a velcro strap to increase the security of the stretchy harness. The Trail Crampons are slightly less expensive than the MICROs, but they’re almost 4 oz. heavier and a tad bulkier when packed. Nevertheless, the Hillsounds are an all-around excellent choice if a small increase in weight doesn’t concern you and you like the extra-secure fit the additional strap provides.

Kahtoola NANOspikes

Low-profile traction devices for urban use

Price: $55

Weight (Pair): 8 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Walking & road running; pavement & groomed trails

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Comfortable
  • Shock-absorbing

Cons

  • Less aggressive traction
  • Not ideal for rugged terrain or inclines

The Kahtoola NANOspikes are a high-quality, yet affordable choice for urban walking and running. The low-profile grip and flexibility makes them compatible with almost any shoe and comfortable enough to wear all day. Ultimately, we prefer the upgraded EXOspikes for trail running, but the NANOs provide a smoother transition between slick and dry surfaces with their smaller, less numerous carbide studs, so they’re great for mild, around-town outtings.

Yaktrax Chains

Affordable & durable traction devices

Price: $40

Weight (Pair): 10.8 oz.(Size M)

Best Use: Walking; mixed ice, gravel & hard surfaces

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Durable
  • Easy to pack
  • Works well on transitional surfaces

Cons

  • Heavier than some
  • Less aggressive traction
  • No stuff sack included

If you’ll only be walking (not hiking or running), the Yaktrax Chains are a durable and affordable option. They’re made of square chain links with plenty of edges to bite into ice and a ladder pattern for stability on looser snow. What’s truly amazing is that each link is individually welded. That makes the metal components of the Chains pretty darn indestructible! If you have a little room in the budget to upgrade, the Diamond Grips listed above are a little more versatile and trail-ready. But the Chains are more durable long-term and they’re a screaming deal. In addition, some may appreciate that there’s nothing pokey about them, which makes them easy to pack without nicking your backpack.

KAHTOOLA K-10 – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

What’s Most Important to You in Traction Devices?

PRICE

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a functional pair of traction devices, but we’ve found that you generally get what you pay for when it comes to durability. High-end traction devices tend to have more engineering behind them for a more dialed-in fit and better performance during technical activities like running or backcountry hiking.

WEIGHT/PACKED SIZE

Winter hiking is vigorous exercise, so reducing the weight on your feet can help save energy with every step. Keeping weight and packed size to a minimum is also important if you’ll be carrying your traction devices in a backpack on multi-day trips. Certain situations, like glacier travel or steep ascents, may warrant the need for burlier traction devices with more aggressive spikes. Heavier models tend to be more durable because they’re made with more robust chains and harnesses.

Best heavy-duty traction devices

SNOWLINE CHAINSEN TRAIL LIGHT – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

USE

When deciding on a pair of traction devices, it helps to think about the type of terrain you’ll encounter most often. If trail conditions are inconsistent (hard ice, soft snow, rocks, mud), a pair of spikes designed for mixed terrain is your best bet. If you’ll be running or walking on hard-packed surfaces with bare spots (concrete, gravel, etc.), flexible traction devices with low-profile spikes will be the most comfortable. For non-technical mountaineering involving steep climbs and glacier travel, you’ll want a pair of hiking crampons with larger spikes and secure bindings.

Best hiking crampons for alpine terrain

FOOTWEAR COMPATIBILITY

Some traction devices are more compatible with hiking shoes or trail runners, while others are better suited to hiking boots and insulated winter boots. Some models will work with all types of footwear, but it’s critical to check the size chart carefully to make sure you get the proper fit.

Critical Traction Device Considerations

STORAGE & MAINTENANCE

Traction devices are generally built with rust-resistant metals, but they should be removed from their stuff sack and allowed to air dry completely after each use to keep them at their best. Elastomer harnesses should be kept out of direct sunlight when stored since UV light will cause them to age more quickly.

Kahtoola MICROspikes – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

WATCH THOSE SHOELACES

We’ve learned that it’s really important to tie and tuck shoelaces securely to avoid catching them on the spikes of traction devices. To avoid painful mishaps, make sure to double-knot your laces and fold all loops under the tongue of your shoe/boot before setting out on any hike.

Snowline Chainsen Trail Light – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

BE PREPARED FOR REPAIRS

Most of the traction devices on this list are built tough, but your spikes will take quite the beating in mixed terrain with rocks, snow, ice, and other transitional surfaces. We recommend carrying a small multitool with pliers and possibly a few zip ties in case you need to do a minor repair while you’re out. To prevent breaks from happening, avoid stepping on rocks when possible and take your traction devices off when crossing expansive stretches of dry trail, gravel, or pavement.

Snowline Chainsen Trail Light (LEFT), Yaktrax Diamond Grip (MIDDLE) & Kahtoola MICROspikes (RIGHT)