Winter Traction 101

Camping & Backpacking / Climbing / Footwear / Hiking / Ski & Snowsports / ZZBLOG POSTS

Winter is the season of traction. Not needing to worry about your feet moving in a direction you don’t want while you’re walking on snow or ice can go a long way towards making your winter experience a pleasant one. Luckily, there are ways to make that happen. But which type of traction device you want is dependent on what you’re expecting it to handle. Here’s your guide to picking the right tools to keep you solidly planted this season.

For a lot of people, the extent of their outdoor adventures in the winter might be walking their dog or shoveling the driveway, and just a little extra grip will suit them fine for moving around on flat to gentle, icy or snowy pavement. YakTrax Pro are the perfect option to slip over your shoes or boots before you head out to the mailbox or even walk around town on a wet winter day and they can easily be stored in a glove box. The Pro version features a velcro strap over your foot for a little added security.

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For anyone headed off the pavement and onto the trails in the winter, Kahtoola MicroSpikes are a must-have for the backpack. Beefier rubber to surround your boot with burly chains and tiny spikes gives you all the grip you need climbing up icy trails, without needing to worry about them being ripped apart underfoot by rocks, sticks and dirt. They’re perfect from early season when there’s just enough snow to make things slippery without needing snowshoes, all the way to mid-winter walks above the treeline.

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Things get a little more serious as you get on steeper terrain. Although MicroSpikes will work fine in most situations above treeline, they might not offer the control you want on the sheet ice approaching the summit of Mount Marcy, on really steep terrain, or on the snowfields and jagged rocks of the Northern Presidentials. At that point, it’s probably time for a full crampon like the Black Diamond Contact. These 10 stainless-steel points can be worn on just about any boot and strap on securely enough for serious mountaineering endeavours (a friend wore these up Mount Rainier) and even light front-pointing on steeper ice. Walking in crampons takes some getting used to though, so an easy recommendation would be a tall pair of gaiters. Holes on those are more manageable than holes in pants.

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Of course, the next evolution in winter is to just go steeper, into the realm of ice climbing. Although there are crampon options that can handle both mountaineering and light vertical ice, the best at either have differences. Vertical ice crampons have stronger, sharper and more aggressive front points and they attach differently to boots – often requiring dedicated footwear. Like most, the Petzl Lynx feature a toe bar that sits in a groove at the front of most mountaineering and ice climbing boots, and they snap down onto a ridge at the back of the boot, keeping them more solidly in place than a strap-on crampon. The Lynx, however, also give climbers the flexibility to easily move between different length front-points and even between dual or mono points, based on the conditions and type of climb.

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Regardless of what you’re doing, good traction makes just about everything in the winter a little bit easier and quicker. Just know what option is best for what you want to do.

View all EMS’s winter traction accessories online, here.

Ryan Wichelns


Ryan began climbing Adirondack peaks at age 13. An avid skier, rock and ice climber, and mountaineer, his passion for the high places hasn’t slowed. He’s since become an Adirondack 46er, spent three weeks hiking, biking, and paddling to bisect the Adirondack Park, and climbed Mount Rainier along with countless other weekends outdoors in the Northeast. Ryan is a junior journalism major at the University of Rhode Island with hopes of writing about his future adventures and making climbing into a career. Follow him on Twitter @ADKSherpa!