What to Bring - Traction devices
Screws - One of the oldest traction devices involves placing screws or short nails directly into the sole of the shoe. This actually works quiet well as long as the screws are the correct length and have an "aggressive" head that will grip the ice. Some companies now produce screws for this purpose. A bid drawback is that the shoes cannot be worn inside at any time. Also, if conditions change you are stuck with the traction whether you need it or not.
Stabilicers - This is one brand of device that attempts to emulate the screws in the soles but eliminate some of the problems. This method includes a Vibram sole with pillars that contain screws. The screws are easily replaced. The device attaches to the existing hiking boot or shoe with Velcro straps which allows it to be used on a variety of footwear. The device can be applied or removed as needed. These work well where areas of ice and clear trail alternate. They allow good balance. They do come in different sizes but one size accommodates several show sizes.They do not work well where there is a lot of consolidated ice for a long distance as the screws are not aggressive enough.
Instep crampons - These are inexpensive devices that place four points in the instep of the hiking boot or shoe. The points are longer and more aggressive than screws. They attach by a strap and, therefore, are compatible with a wide range of footwear. There is nothing wrong with these in moderate ice conditions except that there is a limitation to the area of the show that must contact the ice. Also, the number of points is limited.
MicroSpikes - Kahtoola popularized this device which is probably a copy of older devices and since has been "improved" by several manufacturers. A heavy "rubber bands has chains connected to it. The chains are connected to spikes. The rubber band stretches to fit around the shoe and places the spikes under the forefoot, instep and heel. They do come in different sizes but one size accommodates several show sizes. These are good for most conditions where hard packed snow or ice is present. They will slip easily on bare rock. They do grip very efficiently and can catch on small roots and branches. There has been some question about the durability of the rubber bands on some brands. The Xtremes made by Yak have a similar design but add an anti-balling plate on the bottom. This helps to prevent clumps of snow which can be a problem with other models and allows the spikes to center better on the forefoot and heel.
Full crampons - This is a considerably harder category to discuss due to the variety of devices available and the number of companies that make them. Everyone has their own favorite type and company. These crampons may be aluminum or steel with 10 or 12 points. Twelve points usually include 2 forward facing points used mostly in ice climbing and may not be needed for hiking. Aluminum is lighter while steel may retain its "edge" longer and is more durable. Some crampons attach via a mechanism that will only work on "crampon compatible" boots. They attach very firm but require special boots. Other crampons have as series of plastic or fabric straps that will hold the crampons on most any shoe. Most come in sizes but will adjust to fit a range of shoe sizes. Most should be fitted and adjusted ahead of time. You should definitely practice putting them on and taking them off BEFORE you really need them. Remember that you may want to keep your gloves on under actual conditions and should "practice" that way. My first pair of crampons (I still have them!) were a ten point pair made of aluminum from Stubai. They have a set of LONG fabric straps that attach the crampon to the shoe. I have only needed to use them twice which is a good thing! The straps are a nightmare which make the crampons slow to attach and detach. My new pair is the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro Regular which has plastic straps to attach them to the boot after the initial length adjustment is dialed in. The manufacturer describes them as "X-shaped polycarbonate harness system minimizes pressure points". They even come with an allen wrench and several "keepers" to prevent the straps from opening in deep snow. They have easy ratchet-buckle bindings with 10 points of heat-treat S50C carbon steel.
Snowshoes - None of the traction devices above will prevent you from sinking thigh deep in snow. When you need to walk in deep snow, you should be wearing snowshoes. These are required for winter hiking in the Adirondacks and recommended in the Catskills and other hiking destinations. You may think you can hike without snowshoes and you may be right. Walking on a trail without snowshoes invariably leaves "postholes" behind and will make you the object of "intense frustration" on the part of properly equipped hikers. Modern snowshoes are much smaller and lighter than the older models. Newer shows are made from a combination of metal and plastics with manufacturers and users looking for the best grip on the lightest shoe. The type and size of snowshoe you will need depends on the type of terrain you will hike and your own weight including your pack. Lighter hikers can use a 22" or 25" model while heavier hikers with heavier loads will need longer shoes. Follow the manufacturers suggestions. Most companies have a line of snowshoes that starts with beginners models for flat terrain. If you are going to hike on rolling, hilly terrain you will want and intermediate model which will also work on flatter areas. Anyone intending to hike mountains will be disappointed unless they purchase a snowshoe designated for the mountains. These shoes have the most aggressive grips which are absolutely necessary for steep terrain. Many have a heel lift bar which can be elevated during steeper climbs to relieve fatigue in the lower legs. Of course, the more specialized the snowshoe, the higher the price. You may be able to rent snowshoes at a local store like Morgan Outdoor in Livingston Manor. This will allow you to try them out before purchasing. I am constantly searching for the best snowshoe and, therefore, have a variety of different makes and models. These include the Atlas 12, Crescent Moon Gold 10, MSR Lightning Ascent, Tubbs Adventure, Tubbs Flex Alp, and Tubbs Mountaineer. All but the Tubbs Adventure, which are 30", are snowshoes meant for climbing mountains and are 25" models. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses with none of them being perfect. The MSR's have the best grip but have terrible bindings. The Crescent Moons have the best bindings but the grip is less aggressive. The Atlas have a grip almost as good as the MSR's and have a much better binding. The Tubbs Alps is mostly plastic which makes it noisy on the trail but it is light with a good grips and good bindings. I like the Mountaineer which is a more "traditional new" model.
What to Bring - General
A small pack with water and a snack is a good idea. I carry between 2 and 3 liters of water and
several different "bars". I don't like to eat much at all when I hike but I have know experienced
hikers who seem to be able to carry and consume actual meals. I also bring a towel, compass, maps,
first-aid supplies, bug repellant, a GPS (most times), waterproof matches and a knife (no guns!).
As the days grow shorter, I also carry an LED headlamp just in case I need a little light to
walk by. Just remember that the weight of all items increases in direct proportion to the distance traveled.
- Toilet paper
- Extra clothing
- First aid supplies
- Waterproof matches
- Fire starter
- Heavy Plastic Bag
- Duct tape