Page 1 of 1

snowshoes or snowboots with crampons

Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 1:36 pm
by phobos718
Ok so I have decided this year to not stay holed up in my apartment this winter. Never liked winters bite but this year I will bite back.
Been an avid hiker my whole life and climbed several catskill peaks. Having said that I have never hiked in the winter or in snow.
Are snow boots with crampons preferable to snoeshoes or the other way around? Is it personal preference? Does it depend on the hike or trail your on?

Re: snowshoes or snowboots with crampons

Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 5:38 pm
by Jon
Depends on terrain and conditions.
In the winter you will encounter ice and snow.

If you have ever seen people walking around on glaciers with crampons and they don't sink, that's because it's ice not snow. Snowshoes are going to allow you to traverse deep snow. The snow here doesn't get packed down much so even with crampons you will still "post hole", where your foot is going to go down deep enough that you have to expend 10x the energy to get it out of the hole, and you break stride. Also if one person post-holes a trail, than future snowshoers won't have as much buoyancy and will sink or damage their snowshoes. The snow here rarely gets frozen solid. With snowshoes you can ride on top of the snow, keeping stride. When there isn't enough snow, you risk damaging your snowshoes. So this is one of the best ways to get around in deep snow, but you need a minimum 6 or 8 inches of snow before you can use em. However snowshoes also have an incline limit. After a certain incline they stop becoming practical and kick-stepping into the slope will be a better method. Taking your time to plan your route, and stopping to change to the appropriate gear is one of the key elements of winter hiking. The terrain will vary much more in the winter with just slight changes in slope and elevation.

Also you still have to wear a snow or waterproof boot with snowshoes. Your feet will still be coming in close proximity to the snow, and are often buried under a 4 or 5 inches of powder. You're not sinking the full 24 inches to the trail floor, but you still need to keep feet dry and warm. Lots of people also wear gaiters with the snow boots to keep the snow that's flying all over out of their boot. Also recommended are a pair of ski or trekking poles with snow baskets for stabilization. A lot of times you tilt at awkward positions when snowshoeing, and having good balance and momentum or poles helps from falling. So yah, snowshoes, boots, poles, gaiters should you want a fully snowshoeing setup. It can set you back some places also sell package deals. Or you just get only the snowshoes and you get a little wet and fall a bit?

For times when there isn't so much snow, the snow is really packed, or on extremely vertical slopes...
On these forums we have had a few discussions about micro-spikes versus crampons. I would say at least have something for ice traction. There are times when you won't want to wear your snowshoes (little snow, or steep slope, super packed trail) but you still need traction. These are times when ice-traction gear in whatever form you prefer is going to come in handy. Often people will use it in the late fall/early winter because there is ice build up from freeze-thaw of precipitation, but not enough snow to snowshoe. There can be giant "pools" of ice in the middle of any trail, and sometimes skirting around them is difficult. If you only have snowshoes, sometimes you can get across icy patches with the crampon on that, but you might risk damaging because they're not cushioned by snow. I wouldn't want to wear snowshoes on rock or vertical, because they are often wide and clumsy. Sometimes you might be on a really popular trail, and it's very packed snow so you only need something for traction, I would suggest crampons in this case as well, since I still slide a lot with the micro-spikes.

You can get crampons for any type of boot nowadays. You don't have to wear snow boots or mountaineering boots. Just I would suggest a water-proof boot that fits well so that you can have good stability and also keep dry. If you are wearing crampons you should also get an ice axe and learn how to use it. Ice axe and winter trekking poles are going to save you a lot of energy otherwise spent stabilizing yourself. Also the glissade down is the best part!

I would suggest getting all of this gear if you want to travel in winter. I know it sounds like a lot, but having more stuff lets you carry on across more varied terrain. If you just wanted to buy snowshoes, then in early winter you might risk damaging them or just not hike. When the snow hits you will be fine climbing the packed trails and lower viewpoints, but if you come up to a steep wall of ice, you're better off turning around and heading home. If you only buy the crampons/microspikes the reverse is true, you will be fine in the early and late season when there's more ice and less snow, but when the large snow accumulates you won't be able to get more than 100 meters down the trail post-holing before you turn around and go to the bar.

Re: snowshoes or snowboots with crampons

Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 7:12 pm
by phobos718
I asked for insight and insight I got. Thanks very much for your detailed answer. I have a much better picture of what to expect and a better understanding of the gear. Seems like its time to break the piggy bank.

Thanks again, much apprediated!

Re: snowshoes or snowboots with crampons

Posted: Tue Dec 02, 2014 10:54 am
by mike
Nicely said Jon. I generally only use snowshoes and microspikes. Crampons become important for steep hikes, like the Devil's Path, when there is a lot of ice. Snowshoes and microspikes are a requirement, and crampons are optional. But, if there is a thick ice glaze, then crampons becomes a requirement for steeper trails.

Re: snowshoes or snowboots with crampons

Posted: Wed Dec 03, 2014 12:18 am
by bikenhike
I rarely use crampons in the Catskills. It really needs to be icy and steep.