Staying Grounded: Don't Skimp on Spring Traction

Picture it: The snow starts to melt on your sidewalk or the trail, only to reveal a layer of clear, hidden ice. Or, there’s snow packed so firm it might as well be clear blue. Then, after a few days of warming weather, a flash freeze turns all the running water to ice. Because hard, slick surfaces can cause some nasty slips and falls, traction is obviously important during the colder months, and it is also vital to hiking safely during late winter and early spring.

Courtesy: Yaktrax
Courtesy: Yaktrax

Traction for Everyday Use

The very bottom level of winter traction is what you need for taking the trash out, walking the dog, or checking the mailbox to see if that new EMS purchase has arrived. During your standard daily activities, it’s still possible to encounter some slick ice that requires just a bit more traction than your boots themselves provide. That extra edge may prevent an unexpected slip resulting in a twisted ankle or broken wrist. As examples, Yaktrax and STABILicers provide sturdier footing in just about any day-to-day situation.

These products’ limitations typically lie within their actual gripping capabilities, however. Items like Yaktrax and STABILicers don’t have teeth that really dig into ice and grip it well. Instead, they merely sink into the surface, mainly where it’s softer, to deter any unwanted slips. When you start getting into hard-packed snow and actual ice accumulation, you’ll need some real teeth for a stronger grip.


A Little Burlier

Heading off-road? You might want something sharper and stronger. Taking a walk at the local nature preserve, heading up a well-traveled mountain for a quick hike, or even peak-bagging a 4,000-footer in the Northeast on a hard-packed trail requires more grip than Yaktrax can provide. This is due to the fact that the ice (and even hard-packed snow) found during a hike tends to be much thicker and harder. Therefore, you need something more aggressive to safely and securely grip the ground, because sitting on the surface won’t provide much security.

That’s where products like Kahtoola MICROspikes and Hillsound FreeSteps6 come into play. Similar in design and functionality, both of these devices feature longer, tougher spikes. These products work great on hard-packed trails, and even on a good amount of softer ice that you’ll encounter on open summits or highly traveled trails.


For the Real Steeps

Unfortunately, MICROspikes and FreeSteps6 don’t cut it every time, and that’s where actual crampons come into play. Often, glass-like ice that coats an entire open summit is far too hard for these to bite into. Or, it’s too steep for them to grasp, which can result in slipping and falling at very inopportune times. For such occasions, full crampons are the way to go.

When it comes to crampons, there are essentially two categories to consider. The most expensive (usually $175 and up) is designed for mountaineering or ice climbing. Products like the Black Diamond Contact Crampons are some of the toughest, most aggressive models on the market. However, unless you are going to be doing these specific activities, slightly less-aggressive crampons still give you dependable traction in treacherous conditions without overdoing it. Falling into this category are the Hillsound Trail Pro Crampon, the Kahtoola K10 Crampon, and the Grivel G1 Crampon. All offer a much more aggressive spike to hold onto that hard ice, giving you peace of mind and increased safety as you trek along the icy Ridge Trail heading up Giant Mountain.

Ice and Snow?

Last but not least, it’s time to talk snowshoes. Easily the most indispensable of all winter traction devices, snowshoes are what make winter hiking even remotely possible. When there’s enough snow on the ground, they prevent you from sinking in and from using more energy than necessary to head down the trail. Even then, realize they’re not legally required for walking the trails, except in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks Wilderness, where eight inches or more of snow calls for snowshoes or skis.

But, most also include a degree of traction for when the snow firms up or gets mixed in with ice. On long day hikes where you could encounter deep snow below treeline and hard ice on a mountain summit, snowshoes with more traction, like the MSR Evos, may eliminate the need to carry a separate set of crampons.


No matter what your winter activities are, be sure to have the proper traction with you at all times, and above all, be safe and have fun!

3 Early Winter Hikes on the Kank

Fall in the White Mountains sometimes feels ephemeral. One week, you’ll be hiking along in short sleeves, admiring the stunning foliage. The next, you’ll be trudging through the year’s first snowfall, wishing you’d remembered your traction for that icy descent.

Luckily, the period from late fall into early winter is the perfect time to explore the region around the Kancamagus. Specifically, the leaf-peeping crowds have dissipated, while the temperatures and conditions remain comparatively pleasant. For those looking to experience the Kank beyond the overlooks, here are three hikes from the highway that offer something for everyone.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The Hancocks

One of the most popular hikes off the Kancamagus is the 9.8-mile lollipop loop hike of both South and North Hancock. Leaving from Hancock Notch Trailhead, this hike ticks off two New Hampshire 4,000-footers via the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. It remains fairly low in elevation, reducing your chances of encountering snow and ice, and stays in the trees for a long portion, keeping you from prolonged exposure to cold wind. And, because this hike gains and loses the majority of its elevation in short, sustained sections, it’s not surprising to find yourself done with the almost-10 miles a little bit faster than anticipated.

Deciding which direction to hike the Hancock Loop Trail is the hardest part, however. As a tip, head to South Hancock first. It’s a little bit easier to traverse from the South to the North Peak than vice versa, despite the latter actually being higher than the former. Also, North Hancock tends to have better views. Specifically, a large slab here gives you a chance to enjoy a snack as you look out at the Osceolas and the Sandwich Range. Thus, doing it this way lets you save the best for last.

However, summiting South Hancock first also leaves the day’s steepest part for the descent, which can be an adventure in slick or snowy conditions. So, to prepare, don’t forget to bring MICROSpikes and trekking poles.

Credit: Tim Sackton
Credit: Tim Sackton

The Tripyramids

Accessing the Tripyramids from the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead lets you tick off two other 4,000-footers: North Tripyramid and Middle Tripyramid. At about 10 miles round-trip, with almost 3,500 feet in elevation gain, hiking the Tripyramids is much like the Hancocks. Specifically, hikers spend the majority of their time at lower elevations, protected from the elements by the forest. In fact, even their summits are mostly forested, allowing hikers to find shelter from cold weather around the day’s highest points.

While the views here aren’t going to make any “best of” lists, you can look out at Waterville Valley from North Tripyramid, while Middle Tripyramid offers a nice sight of its sister to the north and Passaconaway and Whiteface to the west.

Hikers approaching from the Kancamagus should be prepared for steep terrain. And, even in dry conditions, the section of trail connecting the two summits can be challenging. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the trek being below treeline, temperatures and conditions change from the parking lot to the summit, so pack accordingly.

Credit: Ben Themo
Credit: Ben Themo


For hikers looking for a little less mileage, there is Hedgehog Mountain via the Downes Brook and UNH Trails. Although you won’t ascend a 4,000-footer, it will get you to the top of a “52 With a View” peak, and delivers greater vistas and more exposure than its taller neighbors. In fact, at just 2,532 feet, Hedgehog is the shortest “52 With a View.”

Because of the lower elevation, Hedgehog is perfect for those late fall days when snow and ice are starting to accumulate on the higher summits, but you’re not quite ready for hiking in full-on winter conditions. Those tackling Hedgehog are treated to an almost five-mile loop trip that delivers moderate grades, open slabs, and great views of the Presidential Range and Mount Chocorua. Much like when you hike the Hancocks, the hardest decision of the day—other than how long to lounge on the ledges—is which direction to go. We’ve always liked to go clockwise, which allows us to tackle the ledges earlier in the day while our legs are still fresh.

A word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by the minimal elevation. Hedgehog delivers terrain similar to the region’s larger peaks. Because of this, pack not just for the trek, but also for the season. Still bring traction devices for potentially icy terrain, a windshirt for the exposed ledges, and a puffy coat for the summit, in addition to other essentials.


Just because the leaves are almost all off the trees, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the hiking boots away. Now is one of the best times for hiking in the Whites, so get out for a short trek before snowshoes become required gear. Already took one of these hikes from the Kank? Tell us about your trip in the comments.