There are a wide variety of devices that one can attach to their footwear to improve traction when hiking in the winter or at higher elevation. Unfortunately, there seems to be a significant amount of confusion regarding terminology – you never know quite what you’ll see when you tell someone “be sure to bring traction!”
Ice Cleats – for around town use
Ice Cleats are very basic traction devices that add several small, sharp pieces of protruding metal to your sole. I’d classify the very common and well-know products from Yaktrax and Stabilicers as Ice Cleats. Once the snow and ice hits, these are easy to find and widely available – even in smaller centers – retailers often have them on a POS display right at the checkout.
This classification of device is best used in the city. In terms of suitability for hiking, they’re certainly better than nothing. They’ll help with traction on flat / level surfaces, but not much else. You’ll be disappointed – and possibly bruised – if you use just a pair of Ice Cleats as your primary traction aid while snow or ice hiking.
Since there are such a wide assortment of styles in this category, weights range widely from from 3oz to 24oz. Generally, most come in somewhere around 10oz.
Spikes – best for on-trail hiking
More aggressive than Ice Cleats, Spikes such as those from Kahtoola or Hillsound are a combination of a rubber and chain harness combined with metal spikes that protrude from your sole by at least 3/8” (slightly more than the thickness of a pencil) or more. They are perhaps best thought of as tire chains for your feet. The metal spikes will easily penetrate snow, and will even penetrate hard ice – usually enough for traction on low to medium inclines. They’re not as easy to find as Ice Cleats, as they tend to have a more specific, extreme use – they can be found at outdoor retailers and sporting goods stores. Confusingly, these are often referred to as Trail or Walking Crampons – a technically incorrect phrase, as proper C1 rated walking crampons cannot be worn on flexible shoes.
This classification of device is most suited to hiking. If you’re thinking a pair of Spikes may be good for a little extra traction around town… that’s likely overkill – they’d tear apart any type of indoor flooring, and would be damaged and dulled quickly on hard outdoor city surfaces like asphalt or concrete.
From 11oz & up. Generally 13oz to 20oz.
Crampons – for technical climbing
More aggressive than Spikes, Crampons are used in technical climbing or mountaineering applications with ratings from basic (C1) to aggressive (C3). Crampons have large protruding front points that can be kicked in to hard snow and a very rigid but adjustable bottom frame that can support your body weight when dug in on inclines. A variety of products from Grivel, Black Diamond and Petzl would fall into this category.
These are well suited to climbing, but it’s generally uncomfortable to walk while wearing them and are overkill for on-trail snow or ice hiking. If you’re thinking your hike may require crampons, then your “hike” is perhaps not a hike – you’ll likely need actual climbing equipment (ropes / harness, ice axe, etc.) and, more importantly, the training for proper use.
From 28oz up to a few lbs.