advice / Safety

Best hiking microspikes for trekking the TMB early season

In this post I explain what hiking crampons are (also known as microspikes) and whether you really need microspikes for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. Below we discuss what type of hiking crampons are suitable for the Tour du Mont Blanc and which, in my view, are the best hiking microspikes for trekking the TMB early season currently on the market.

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Do I need microspikes for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc?

If you’re planning to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc early season then you will need to take some extra equipment, such as hiking crampons and potentially even an ice axe, to make sure you stay safe on the trail.

The TMB trail officially opens mid June. This is when the refuges open and the infrastructure to the trail is in place.

The amount of snow still on the trail mid June can be substantial in places, particularly on the cols (mountain passes) and in couloirs which tend to keep the snow for longer. Early season trekkers should be prepared for how to safely cross snow covered areas and be aware of snow bridges and even potential avalanches.

Early season equipment should include microspikes and ice-axe (and a rope depending on trail conditions).

But can’t I hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in May?

No, YOU CANNOT hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in May. The trail is still entirely covered in snow. Remember this is a high altitude trek surrounding Mont Blanc. Every town you trek through on the trail is actually a ski resort in winter – many staying open until early May. It is not possible to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc until the trail is relatively snow free – this happens around mid June.

The old local saying: “en Mai ne fait pas ce qu’il te plait” rings true which translates to “In May, you can only do what May allows you to do”.

Is hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June safe?

It’s hard to say how much snow will be on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail mid June. It depends on how much snow fell during the winter and the conditions that followed in Spring. Some years there are just scattered patches of stubborn snow that usually remains on the mountain passes every June and July, whilst other years there is still a lot of snow on the trail come June. This year there has been a lot of snow. It snowed only a few weeks ago in Chamonix and the spring sunshine hasn’t been as often. Normally the Chamonix Valley can be very hot in May. Not this year. It is estimated that there is still between 2-3 metres of snow at the 2000m mark.

It is imperative that hikers planning to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in June are prepared and know what conditions they will face. The best place to get up-to-date advice on the condition of the Tour du Mont Blanc trail is the Maison de la Montagne in Chamonix.

The Maison de la Montagne is a High Mountain Office (Office de Haute Montagne) based in the Place de l’Église in Chamonix town centre. The Maison de la Montagne helps anyone planning to depart into the mountains with up-to-date information as to conditions, weather reports and safety advice. They speak fluent English.

What are hiking microspikes?

Hiking microspikes, also known as hiking crampons, are a set of lightweight chains and metal spikes that stretch over the toe and heel of your hiking boot to give added traction when walking over ice and snow. These hiking crampons are not as aggressive (or as heavy) as mountaineering crampons and will allow you to move safely across any icy sections of the trail. Used in conjunction with hiking poles, microspikes will make you feel safe and secure when crossing these sections.

It’s worth knowing that almost all microspikes are ambidextrous so they fit into either foot – ie no left or right, and that you will not be able to take these hiking crampons on planes as hand luggage. Because of the metal spikes on hiking crampons, it’s necessary to check them into the hold.

Which hiking microspikes are best for the Tour du Mont Blanc

There are various types of microspikes for hiking, trail running and walking. Some microspikes are designed for walking on icy pavements with a lower profile. For hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc you will need more aggressive hiking crampons with spikes with larger points – the cheaper low profile microspikes are not suitable.

You may wear them only a couple of times on your Tour du Mont Blanc but when you do you’ll want them to count. You must take hiking microspikes with you early season in June and possibly also in early July, or if temperatures are low above 2000m. Generally you can normally get away with not using them on the main route but can be a real help for hikers with poor balance on slippery terrain. Microspikes are good for the alternative routes which are generally higher with more snow on early season.

Thats not to say you won’t need them on the main trail though, for example at the top of the Col du Bonhomme on stage 2, there is a particularly exposed section on the traverse immediately after the Col heading towards the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. On the right hand side the mountain falls away steeply. If there is snow on this section, I would not want to be crossing this section without hiking crampons on my feet!

Are hiking microspikes easy to put on?

Yes! Hiking microspikes just stretch over the toe and heel of your shoe. Some models also have a strap that goes over your foot. They are very easy to put on as the elastomer harness is stretchy, however the first couple of times it could take a bit more time so it’s wise to practice at home and perhaps on a couple of trial hikes before setting out on the Tour du Mont Blanc with them.

What to look for when buying hiking crampons?

Secure fit – the best hiking microspikes will have a secure fit to your boot. Loose enough to get onto your boot but tight enough that they won’t come off easily. In general it’s best to size up when buying microspikes.

Weight – weight is always important on multi-day hikes! The best hiking crampons you can buy will be lightweight. Make sure you pay attention to this when you are looking to buy – it’s worth paying a little bit extra for lightweight kit – every gram counts on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Traction – what are the number of spikes on the crampon? The more spikes the better the grip. Also consider what is the strategic area of cleat positions over the sole? Remember you will need hiking crampons with aggressive spikes so the low profile cheaper options won’t be suitable. Even microspikes with aggressive spikes come in varying degrees of size so pay attention to spike size.

Top strap – some hiking crampon models come with a top strap which can add to a more secure fit

Bag – most microspike models come with a carry bag which is essential to carry your hiking crampons in. But look for extra useful details on bags – some come with a handy loop so you can clip them to your backpack, others are ventilated so that the hiking crampons dry quicker after use. The best hiking microspikes will have both of these details which can be way more practical than just a bog standard basic shell bag.

Construction material – most spikes on hiking crampons are built from stainless steel and are heat treated to increase strength. Typically stainless has lower thermal conductivity than most ferrous alloys, so is less prone to balling than other alloys. however a few more expensive models are

Heel loop – the best hiking microspike models have ingeniously added a heel loop which hugely helps to put on the microspikes easily when standing up.

Reinforced eyelets – some more expensive models have reinforced eyelets which means the crampons should last a lot longer. The eyelets are generally considered the weakest part of a hiking crampon with cheaper models snapping at this point regularly.

Best hiking microspikes for trekking the TMB in 2024

Without further ado lets discuss the best crampons for hiking the TMB in 2024. As always there’s a huge range of hiking crampons on the market varying in price and quality. My opinion is not to buy super cheap – the last thing you want crossing snow on the trail is for a chain to snap. Buy decent quality and you’ll have a reliable pair for years to come.

Here are my top 3 microspikes that I’d want with me when hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in June.

Kahtoola MICROspikes 16

  • 3/8 inch (1cm) stainless steel spikes
  • 2 year warranty
  • 12 spikes per foot
  • integrated toe bales
  • 449g (11 oz)
  • elastomer harness
  • reinforced eyelets
  • stainless steel flex chains
  • heel tabs – easy to get on/off
  • award winning design

Award winning Kahtoola MICROspikes 16 come highly recommended for the Tour du Mont Blanc. With 12 aggressive 3/8 inch (1cm) stainless steel heat treated spikes. What makes the Kahtoola stand out from the competition is the fact they’ve reinforced the eyelets (the attachment points from the harness to the metal chains holding the spikes in place) with a hard plastic inset where metal meets rubber. Eyelets are the weakest point on the hiking crampon where cheaper versions will fail every time. Another great feature is the heel tab. I love that Kahtoola actually invented hiking crampons after a near fatal fall in the Dolomites – this safety device has since saved many people from falling to serious injury or death. Hats off. Kahtoola are one of the best crampons for hiking.

Hillsound Trail Crampon I Ice Cleat Traction System 

  • 2/3 inch carbon steel spikes
  • 2 year warranty
  • 11 spikes per foot
  • integrated toe bales
  • 526g (18.5oz)
  • elastomer harness
  • velcro top strap to ensure secure fit
  • ergonomic plate design for weight dispersion
  • carry bag included

These Hillsound trail crampons are seriously robust with 11 x 2/3 inch carbon steel spikes for superior traction. Utilising an ergonomic plate system designed to reduce muscular fatigue by weight distribution these trekking crampons, tested in the Himalayas are a good choice for trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc early season. I like the addition of a velcro top strap for extra secureness.

Grivel Explorer Anti-Slip Micro Crampon

  • available in 4 sizes
  • 14 spikes per foot
  • integrated toe bales
  • 452g (size M)
  • elastomer harness
  • steel points with anti-corrosion treatment
  • back lace to facilitate the fit
  • carry bag included

Grivel is the brand you’ll see the most in Chamonix. Grivel was founded in 1818 with the Grivel blacksmiths on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc. These crampons have actually come from the factory in Courmayeur which is actually on the TMB. You will however need these bad boys before getting to Courmayeur so we suggest ordering them online (you can buy them on Amazon even in the US) or you can buy a pair in Chamonix if you have a few days before you set off. This the pair I have – they’ve lasted me for years. In my opinion these are one of the best crampons for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.

2 Comments

  • Buzz Burrell
    May 30, 2024 at 2:26 am

    Kahtoola invented this category of pull-on crampons (“spikes”) which was one of the most significant inventions in the outdoor industry, so I greatly respect them. However Black Diamond likely improved the technology:
    https://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_US/shop/traction-devices/

    Reply
    • tourdumontblanchike
      May 30, 2024 at 6:43 am

      Hey Buzz. Great to hear from you. I love the story behind Kahtoola inventing these as a safety device because of a nearly fatal fall in the Dolomites. Thanks for the Black Diamond tip. I haven’t tried Black Diamond’s micro spikes yet.

      Reply

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