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Winter Traction

Written by George Fisher

Image for article Winter Traction

Sooner or later the ice and snow will be with us, and when this arrives it is good to consider if you’re equipped to tackle winter terrain. Clearly, ice and snow make the fells a lot more slippery underfoot so I will give you some information on what footwear is appropriate during the colder months.

The first questions that you need to ask are, where am I going, and what are the conditions there? For a low level walk your existing summer footwear is likely to be ok.  However, if you use shoes then you may benefit from ones that are waterproof. Boots will give you extra protection and support, which you may find useful and well as offering extra insulation.

If it’s icy then the ideal accompaniment will be the new Kahtoola Micro Spikes. The older model has been very popular in previous years, and the new version is lighter yet stronger.  The beauty of these is that as well as coming in a wide variety of sizes, their stretchy ‘frame’ allows them to attach securely to just about any footwear, whether that’s walking boots, wellingtons or street shoes.

Though Micro Spikes will be a substantial benefit on the fell, their short spikes don’t grip on powdery snow as well as they grip on ice.  The next step up in grip also comes from Kahtoola in the form of their KTS (Kahtoola Traction System).  At first look these appear to be similar to conventional crampons, but have a few important differences.  The centre bar is far more flexible than on a conventional crampon.  This allows them to flex with a summer fell walking boot in a way that a more rigid conventional crampon would not be able to.  With two different sizes, each of which is adjustable, they will fit most fell walking boots easily using their quick and simple straps. This allows them to be used with your existing summer boots rather than needing to buy separate winter boots.

However conventional crampons attached to winter boots do still have some distinct advantages. Winter boots have stiffer, more substantial soles than summer ones.  This gives you a firmer, more stable platform on which to stand. You will need this on steeper, snow covered slopes, where steps may need to be kicked in to the snow, or your weight will be supported by only part of the sole or some crampon points.  Crampons also have forward facing front points, allowing them to be kicked in to a slope as a way of ascending.  This is very useful in winter climbing, but can also be used in winter walking on slopes that aren’t considered climbing terrain, but are still relatively steep.

Despite the advantages of these various additions to your footwear, slips can still occur.  That is why it is important to consider other tools as well.  Trekking poles are an ideal way to add stability on any terrain up to steep slopes.  They provide extra points of contact on ice or snow, which will substantially increase your security as well as taking weight off tired legs!

If you encounter terrain where a trip may result in a slide, having something to stop you is very important.  Used correctly, an ice axe will allow you to ‘self-arrest’ where you use the pick of the ice axe to bite into the snow and prevent a slip having more serious consequences.

Finally if we do get a ‘big freeze’ and the pavements become treacherous, then Petzl Spikey Plus street crampons will fit to most footwear and can be simply taken on and off as needed.

If you would like further information on winter safety or equipment, then please pop in to store and have a chat with one of our members of staff.  Don’t forget to pick up one of our free Winter Safety leaflets containing additional advice.  The leaflet also provides information on a number of Winter Skills Courses from our recommended providers. They will give you the skills to use winter equipment safely, and maximise your enjoyment of the ice and snow.

Have a great winter!