Learn Gear Walking Boots, Crampons & Micro Spikes

Walking Boots, Crampons & Micro Spikes


The hills and mountains can be stunning in wintry conditions, with anything from a light dusting of snow to a full-on frozen summit. This article helps inform whether you need crampons or micro spikes when walking in winter, and how crampons are fitted with walking boots:


Crampons are a set of metal spikes that can be fitted to boots, giving greater security when walking over snow and ice. To be suitable for use with crampons, hiking boots need to have a semi-stiffened midsole (allowing just a slight flex), a thick leather upper and a high ankle for support. This type of boot, described by the B1 category, is the absolute minimum for use with crampons. More advanced models will include fully stiffened soles, welts for clip-on crampon bindings and higher ankle profiles. At the top of the spectrum are fully rigid technical climbing boots, which are designed specifically for hard mixed or ice climbing.

Categories Of Walking Boots

B0 Unsuitable for crampons. Most walking boots are designed to flex for comfort and are not rigid enough in their midsole for crampons. Softer uppers may compress under crampon straps causing discomfort and cold feet.

B1 Suitable for the easiest snow and ice conditions found when hill walking, using crampons more for emergency or for crossing a short patch of snow or ice, rather than a full day's walk. They have a reasonably stiff flexing sole and the uppers provide enough ankle and foot support for traversing relatively steep slopes.

B2 A stiff flex boot with the equivalent of a three quarter or full shank midsole and a supportive upper made from high quality leather (probably over 3mm thick). These boots are designed for four seasons mountaineering and can be used with crampons all day, whilst easy alpine terrain and easy Scottish snow and ice climbs can also be covered.

B3 A technical boot regarded as “rigid” both in midsole and upper. Used for mountaineering and ice climbing.

Categories of crampons

Your choice of crampons will be dictated by your boots. If you’ve already got a pair of stiff 3 or 4 season walking boots, then take them along to a shop and get a suitable pair of crampons fitted - boots and crampons must be suited to each other and adjusted accordingly.

C1 A flexible walking crampon attached with straps, with or without front points.

C2 Articulated multi-purpose crampons with front points. Attached with straps all round or straps at the front and clip-on heel.

C3 Articulated climbing or fully rigid technical crampon attached by full clip-on system of toe bar and heel clip.

Boots in the B3 category are ideal for C3 crampons and will also take C2 and C1. At the other end of the spectrum a B1 boot could only be recommended with a C1 crampon. If you don’t own any crampons yet, read our ‘Crampons for mortals’ guide on how to choose the right ones for you.

Micro Spikes & Mini Crampons

Micro spikes or mini crampons are a popular alternative to walking crampons with many winter hill walkers. They cover a range of different products designed to give extra grip in snow and icy conditions, usually using a combination of underfoot chains and short metal spikes.

Some models are minimal, while others are almost (but not quite) a full walking crampon - the most popular lie somewhere in between. Short spikes make walking on flat icy or snowy paths much easier and more comfortable than wearing a walking crampon. Combined with a fast and simple attachment system and the ability to be used on softer, lighter footwear than a walking crampon, this makes them an option for those intending to travel on non-technical terrain. They can also be fitted to fell running and approach shoes, so are suitable for runners and climbers.

Should I Use Walking Crampons Or Micro Spikes?

Walking crampons meet a PPE standard which includes a minimum strength of the points, frame and attachments. Mini spikes do not, so although many are well made it can be a bit of a lottery whether they will stand up to the knocks and scrapes of a full day out in the hills.

Mini spikes are often fine for most of a day’s walk in soft snow but problems can occur when conditions change. An easy ascent up sun-softened snow can become much more arduous and challenging on the descent if the temperature has dropped, the snow refreezes and surfaces ice up. Shorter, less aggressive spikes provide less grip than a walking crampon does on hard, refrozen snow or ice, especially when the surface is sloping rather than flat. Much of the support provided by a walking crampon comes from the fact that it has to be mounted on a fairly stiff and supportive boot, with the crampon frame working to provide lateral support - you don't get this support and control with mini spikes on a soft shoe or boot, making a slip or slide more likely.

When choosing whether to use crampons or micro spikes for winter hill walking, consider the consequences of a slip or fall. If a slip would result in nothing more than a bruised bum and ego, mini spikes are probably an appropriate choice. If the result of a trip or slip could be a long slide or fall over a drop onto steep ground and rocky slopes, mini spikes often won’t provide the necessary security. When winter walking in high mountain terrain, it is very difficult to stop yourself sliding once you have fallen, which means your safety relies on not slipping in the first place. Choose what is suitable based on the route and the conditions on the day, and always be ready to turn back if you don’t have the right equipment for the conditions you encounter on the hill.