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What’s Wrong With Your Ice Grippers?

Hillsound trail crampons in slush

The last few hikes I’ve taken have been on pure ice. So, as you might imagine, everybody in our group wore ice grippers: usually heavy-duty trail spikes from either Kahtoola or Hillsound. But even with those hard-core spikes — the best you can get, short of mountaineering crampons — a few people slipped and fell.

What gives?

There are two things that can render your trail spikes ineffective. The first is when you wear the spikes for tromping over bare rock, gravel or (heaven forbid!) cement. This dulls the spikes and reduces their grip.

Ice climbers sharpen their crampons, so I suppose you could do the same… but trail spikes don’t have as much material to work with, nor do they have a solid frame you can use for leverage while sharpening. So it’s a much better idea to avoid dulling them in the first place.

The second issue is fit. The type of heavy-duty trail spikes I’m talking about are mounted on chains; said chains are held together by an elastomer harness that slips over the bottom half of your boot. If you can hear those chains jingling, or if the elastomer harness slips around on your boot, the ice grippers are too loose.

That means your boot can slip around inside the spikes, which introduces the potential for a nasty fall. In a way, that kind of surprise fall is even worse than if you were wearing no ice grippers at all. After all, you had the very reasonable expectation that those spikes on your feet would keep you safe.

And they will. As long as you make sure they fit, and you don’t take them for long strolls on rocks.

Photo (c) Lisa Maloney. Trail crampons comes in handy for slush and deep, sticky mud, too.