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Snowshoes or Crampons?

My favorite trail is snowed over now but I still want to get out there. Should I use snowshoes or crampons? Or is there something in between?


My favorite trail is snowed over now but I still want to get out there. Should I use snowshoes or crampons? Or is there something in between?

Submitted by - Michael, Clayton, NY


For fun, casual, winter hiking, snowshoes are the way to go, for sure. (Crampons are for high altitude mountaineering and ice climbing.)

Another option is to learn backcountry skiing, but if you’re not already a skier, it would require a substantial investment to get started.

The cool thing about snowshoes is that there’s zero learning curve—just strap them on and start tromping.

So put these on your Christmas list: MSR Lightning Ascent ($290). They topped out in our snowshoe test for their light weight, superior traction and bomber bindings.

As for footwear, you can wear hiking boots that you already have or big, insulated pac boots (Sorel is a popular brand) for added warmth. But if you become hooked on snowshoeing, you’ll want to invest in a pair of insulated hiking boots like Lowa’s Khumbu Ice GTX ( or The North Face’s Chilkats (

And keep your eyes open this January for Winter Trails, the snow-season hiking bash that recently moved to a month-long format. You can attend snowshoeing extravaganzas all over the country and test drive gear, take guides hikes, and meet other snowshoers. For more info, go to


  1. brian-s

    Good answer from Kristen, but it’s not quite as cut and dry as she states. Snowshoes are necessary in deep snow, but if the snow is new and powdery and is LT about 6-10 inches, they will only be unnecessary weight on your feet. You’re going to sink in about that much with snowshoes on anyway (depending on the density of the snow). Also if you are on a popular trail where the snow has been compacted, snowshoes may be unnecessary depending on how deep and compacted the snow is.

    Crampons may be overkill for most hiking situations, but they aren’t only for serious mountaineering. Anywhere there are steep, icy trails they are essential. I’ve been on trails in NJ, southern NY and CT in the winter (not exactly what people think of when it comes to “mountaineering”), where I was really glad I had crampons along.

    However for the vast majority of what most people will encounter while winter hiking, Kahtoola Micro Spikes will do the trick on icy trails. The Katoolas combined with a decent pair of snowshoes should cover most of what you will encounter (depending on where you hike) .

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  2. Luke

    Sorry about the duplicate posts. The website is very hard to deal with.

    If you’re buying snowshoes at Costco for $100, be advised that you’re pretty much throwing $100 in the garbage. Replacing them and future upgrades will cost you much more than spending a bit more on a quality pair. They don’t have to be the Lightnings but but from a reputable manufacturer such as MSR or Atlas. If you’re unsure if you want to participate in the sport, go rent. REI as well as many other outdoor stores do rentals. If you plan on doing this once a year, then rental is the way to go. If you plan on doing it often, you need a product that is reliable. You don’t want to be out in the middle of the woods when the cheap plastic on your off-brand snowshoes breaks in half. Postholing back is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. Also, buy something that will last and is covered by an unbeatable guarantee. MSR will fix or replace pretty much anything for the life of their products even if it broke of your fault. Can you say that much for Costco? The cherry on top is that MSR snowshoes are made right in the USA in Seattle.

    Though I may sound like it, I am not in any way affiliated with MSR/Cascade Designs. Just a huge fan of their gear. Never been let down and their customer service is exceptional. When I stumbled on my tent after having a couple too many and broke the poles they replaced them in time for the following weekend’s trip at no charge.

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