I have a secret. I’ve hiked a lot over the years. I’ve been snowshoeing too – where the snow was deep and required them. However, I have almost 100% avoided HIKING on snowy trails. I guess you could call me a fair weather hiker. I’m pretty inexperienced when it comes to hiking on anything but dirt trails.
I guess another “shame” I bear is that I have been largely out of the hiking game the last couple of years due to back pain and “life” issues. That is changing this year though. I plan to hike as much as I possibly can during my summer break from college. Come fall it will be back to lots of homework at a real job.
In Washington, the hiking season is short. The snow doesn’t melt from the higher elevations until what feels like mid summer. Heavy rains can come to the mountains in the fall and snow can show up as early as October. Basically, if you stick to the no-snow-in-the-mountains window, your hiking season is around three months long – July through September.
I am not settling for only three-months of hiking this year. Chester, Gretel, and I have already started to hike some of the higher elevation trails. That means that we have encountered quite a bit of snow though. The snow is typically packed, icy, and/or slushy. It’s not appropriate for snowshoes but hiking it only in boots will land you on your ass…or off the side of a mountain!
Wearing traction devices on your shoes is necessary in these situations. I owned a pair of “traction devices”. They were kind of like the cheapie cable tire chains. I thought I was good. I was proud that I was prepared. I was so wrong.
I recently hiked one of the steepest trails in Western Washington with Chester and Gretel. The trail climbs to an elevation of 4,841 feet. We hit snow about a half mile from the summit. (PS….click the link to find out about the mailbox)
I put on my “traction devices” and pushed on past the snow line. Hiking uphill wasn’t so bad. I did slip back some with every step but I wasn’t worried. On the way back down though, it was a real problem.
My “traction devices” were basically useless. They didn’t dig into the snow at all. I fell on my butt – hard – about 5 times. Not only was it painful but I found myself on a luge of sorts – sliding in a track down the mountain.
Looking back, it was quite comical. Chester was out in front of me so when I fell I careened right for him. I didn’t want to run him over so I kept yelling “Go! Go! Go!” while trying to dig my feet into the snow and flailing my arms.
Anyway, I learned my lesson and was NOT doing that again. When I got home, the first thing I did was hop online and buy a pair of Hillsound Trail Crampons (affiliate link – I get a few pennies if you buy it to support this blog – at no extra cost to you). Trail crampons fit over your shoes like my other “traction devices” but they have 1/4 – 1/2 inch spikes (mountaineering crampons have 1+ inch spikes which are usually overkill for spring trails) that dig into the snow and grip.
I’ve hiked some other snowy trails since the “luge” incident armed with these babies. They are amazing! I have barely slid since I started wearing them. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need to stop and take them off when I encountered breaks in the snow. They did fine in the dirt. I barely noticed that I had them on…even when I was walking over rocks!
I found some pretty raving reviews online for the Hillsound Trail Crampons when I researched them. The Hillsound website says they were “tested in the Himalayas”. Sounds impressive, no?
The crampons were really easy to put on my shoes and the spikes are made with heat-treated carbon steel so I don’t expect them to wear down anytime soon. The part under your shoe is made of two separate plates so it conforms to your shoe and flexes when you walk.
I am taking these on every hike where I might encounter late spring or early fall snow from now on.