I ditched the snowshoes while hiking up Blue Hill Mountain last week. There just wasn’t enough snow for them to be useful. The trail had been packed by previous hikers, and in some spots, the stone steps leading up the slope were completely bare. So I stuck them in the shallow layer of snow beside the trail, prayed that no one would be unkind enough to steal my scratched up snowshoes, and continued up the mountain in my hiking boots.
“Do you want to wear your cleats?” my husband Derek asked as I trudged uphill, avoiding patches of ice.
“Nope!” I replied stubbornly, eager to get up the mountain.
Of course, it wasn’t long after that, while enjoying a view near the top of the mountain, that I slipped on a slope of glare ice and landed flat on my back. Fortunately, my backpack and the snow cushioned my fall. I wasn’t hurt in the least. In fact, it was quite funny. But I was lucky. It’s can be quite painful to fall on the ice.
So I sat down on the old concrete foundations of a tower near the top of Blue Hill Mountain and put on my favorite ice cleats for hiking — Kahtoola Microspikes.
But those aren’t the only ice cleats I have. Oh no. Ever since I got into winter hiking, I’ve been testing out different types of ice cleats. My husband, too, wears ice cleats while adventuring with me, and also for work. So by now, we have an embarrassingly large supply of ice cleats floating around in our mudroom closet.
So since this winter has been especially icy, I thought it would be a good time to share what I’ve learned over the years about ice cleats, also known as crampons or ice grippers or Stabilicers. A number of readers have emailed me about the topic, so I think there must be some interest.
First and foremost, different ice cleats are designed for different uses.
My personal favorite for hiking are Kahtoola Microspikes because they are rugged, made of chains, metal spikes and stretchy rubber. The spikes are aggressive enough to bite into most surfaces, and the rubber part fits around the sides and tops of my boots so they don’t fall off. I’ve never had them fall off. This product is also convenient to carry. It collapses into a tiny ball. However, these types of ice cleats are a bit overkill for sidewalk walking. And if you don’t need them, I suggest not spending the $70 on them.
For walking on sidewalks or driveways, I prefer STABILicers Walk, which are made by the Maine company 32North and only cost $22. Due to its popularity, this product is for sale at a lot of local outfitters. However, if you’re doing a lot of hiking, where you’ll be walking through some snow and over rough terrain, I do not suggest this option because they sometimes fall off, and it wouldn’t be good to be halfway up a mountain and realize you’ve lost an ice cleat. Made out of rubber, STABILicers Walk stretch over your boot, clinging to the sides. I love this product for walking down my driveway or on an easy trail. A few years ago, the company started making them in bright colors (not just black), and that makes them easier to find if they pop off in the snow.
If you’re doing some winter hiking and would like stick with a Maine company, 32North makes some other great options, including STABILicers Hike XP (for most winter hiking, $53), STABILicers Maxx (for ice fishing and working, $58), STABILicers Hike Macro (for the most rugged hiking conditions, $79). My husband wears the STABILicers Hike XP and loves them.
Anything more expensive than that are likely crampons used for mountaineering and ice climbing. These types of crampons are constructed with large metal spikes that are only suitable for places with a lot of snow and ice. I have a pair of Black Diamond crampons that I hardly ever have the opportunity to use.
There are plenty of other brands than those that I mentioned, however, I do not have experience using them, so I can’t suggest them. But here are a few final tips about selecting the right ice cleats for you:
-I’d stay away from the ice cleats that have springs or coils of metal on the bottom rather than actual metal spikes or studs. While working as a retail employee at a local outfitter, I heard from several customers that ice cleats with springs or coils don’t provide enough grip in icy situations. They can, however, be helpful when walking on packed snow, but that’s about it.
-Ice cleats usually come in different sizes. Wear your winter boots while picking them out so you’re sure to get the right size. Remember that your winter boot may be so bulky that you actually need to go up a size.
-Some ice cleats are easier to put on than others. Some actually require quite a bit of arm strength to stretch them onto your boots. So consider your own strength and try them on in the store before purchasing them to make sure you can do it on your own.
If you’ve any specific questions for me about winter day adventures and gear, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d do my best to point you in the right direction!