Hiking in the Snow Safety Tips: What is an Ice Axe and Crampons?

We want to make sure all of you are aware that there are dangerous conditions in the outdoors, especially where there is snow. We ABSOLUTELY recommend you take a couple mountaineering classes before you even think about going out to any place that has snow. They will teach you the proper techniques on how to use these tools. Some of the companies we recommend include Sierra Mountaineering International and REI.  


I, Phillip, have been mountaineering since 2002 and can tell you there have been times when I was only a few hundred feet from the summit, came across snow, and decided to turn back because I didn't have the proper protection (ice axe, crampons, and helmet). As a matter of fact, there have been several times I had to turn back, a few times I have had 3 or more failed summit attempts on the same mountain, which is very frustrating!

There is a saying and it goes like this:  "There are bold mountaineers and there are old mountaineers. But there are no old, bold mountaineers" -Unknown.  

You MUST respect the mountains, nature, and the wild. Be safe out there, and please pass on this information to others so they know, it could save their life.  You will need to know the proper techniques on how to use the following tools before you start hiking/climbing in snow-capped mountains.


What is an Ice Axe and Crampons?

The Ice Axe is used for self-arrest when falling and should always accompany a foot traction device.


Crampons are metal spikes (usually 10-12 spikes) that fasten to the bottom of your boot to give you traction in the snow. In-step crampons only have 4 spikes and do not cover the whole foot, so we don’t recommend these. Microspikes are not for climbing and should only be used on relatively flat hikes in the snow.

Rubber traction devices (i.e. Yaktrax) should only be used in urban environments, they will NOT give you the proper traction to be safe in the mountains. We only recommend full crampons because the spikes are much longer, thicker and will give you the protection you need to be safe.



Please be aware that sometimes the ice can be so hard that none of these tools will penetrate the ice, in which case the safest thing to do is to turn back and return another day. Remember, it’s the hike and getting outdoors that counts, not the summit. There are many hikes to choose from below snow line, so please be safe!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published