Article By Adam Janke

Feature Photo Credit Steven Drake of Annuli Collective

Mountain hunting requires that the hunter, and his or her gear, can handle a wide mix of terrain and weather conditions. From the early season to the depths of winter, we must be prepared to survive—and adapt—to everything from layer peeling heat and constant sun exposure, to frigid glassing sessions in subzero temperatures with nothing more than a stunted alpine fir for a windbreak.

Thankfully, modern technical apparel and the layering systems that many brands have built their businesses upon, have made our jobs as mountain hunters far more comfortable, if not easier, than ever before. In today’s marketplace, it is reasonably simple for the mountain hunter to research, select and purchase everything they’ll need apparel-wise for virtually any terrain and weather they may encounter over the course of a season.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for mountain hunting boots. In a perfect world, we’d all have a quiver of boots to select from that ensured that regardless of the temperatures, terrain or conditions, our footwear would be ideally suited to the challenges of the day. This is just not pragmatic from a budgetary standpoint, and worse, the realities of backpack hunting dictate that the boot decision we make at the outset of the trip is the decision we are stuck with until we’re back home.

As every mountain hunter knows, you can leave the trailhead in summer conditions and wake up to a foot of snow, even in August. Shoulder season hunts in October and November are notoriously dangerous, even more so in mountain ranges impacted by coastal air flows. Terrain that was grippy and scalable the day before can become greasy and treacherous with the all too common swings in temperature and ambient humidity. And if you’re traveling to hunt, a proven boot that has served you well in your home terrain may not be up to the task of a new species in a new environment.

Further, as has been noted in this column in the past, many popular (non-hunting dedicated) boot brands design most of their boot line-up to perform best during the peak hiking (not hunting) months of the year: July, August, and September. Rubber sole compounds that grip like a mountain goat’s hooves in dry conditions can become as effective as hockey skates in cold and wet terrain.

ABOVE: Photo Credit Steven Drake of Annuli Collective

The fact is, if the prepared—and responsible—mountain hunter wants to go afield confident in the versatility of their footwear “system” they must become comfortable navigating the realm of universal traction devices and, depending on species and terrain, crampons.

It is my contention—based quite honestly on poor decision making in the past—that regardless of when and what you’re hunting, if it involves true mountainous terrain, some form of externally attached traction device is as critical to your pack list as your optics, weapon and ammunition or arrows. The exact device or devices you choose to add to your kit will depend on the boots you currently own (or intend to own), the typical species you pursue, and the environmental conditions (terrain, temperatures and ambient humidity) you tend to encounter in any given season.

That said, if you have a hunt planned that is based on a draw tag or a once-in-a-lifetime expenditure, this article will still be applicable. It would be unfortunate to burn that opportunity you’ve been waiting or saving for because your footwear “system” (or lack thereof) kept you back in camp because you lacked the confidence to stay in the hunt, or worse, survive the conditions you were faced with. Given the relatively minimal cost of these devices, this is a purchase I feel all mountain hunters should be budgeting for.

So, in this article I will attempt to clarify and outline the options available for most boot types and most species and conditions the dedicated mountain hunter is likely to consider in their lifetime.


As the term suggests, this type of device can be mounted on virtually any footwear, from flexible trail runners to stiff mountain boots and everything in between. Typically constructed of a combination of rubber and metal these traction aids slip-on easily with minimal effort and are held in place by the tension provided by the elasticized rubber harness that wraps around the lower-half of your footwear.

The metal bases are usually built with small teeth-like spikes, cleats, or beads that cover the bottom of your smoother soled footwear and provide additional traction on packed snow, thin ice, slush and frost covered moss or grass, and mud. They are an excellent choice if your hunting often finds you using creeks or rivers to access the high country.

Most of these devices pack near flat and weigh less than a pound, qualifying them, in my opinion, to always have a place in your pack, assuming you hunt in terrain where the weather can swing drastically from one day to the next.

As versatile as they are however, these traction aids are NOT sufficient for semi-vertical or vertical terrain as they lack the critical toe points that you will find in proper crampons. If you tend to hunt in terrain that is more sloped than vertical, with plenty of ridges, benches, bluffs and saddles to ease your ascents and descents these are a viable do-all choice. It should be noted that these devices are prone to shifting off the sole of the boot with extreme loads, especially when descending in high-angle terrain.

From a boot perspective, there are no specific features necessary (in terms of boot construction) to make use of these traction aids. Simply slip them over the boots and keep hiking.

As for specific models, the most readily available and proven options are the Kahtoola Microspikes, Icetrekkers, or Korkers Ice Cleats.

ABOVE: Photo Credit Steven Drake of Annuli Collective


If your hunting seasons often find you chasing goats or sheep, especially in the late season, crampons are an invaluable—and potentially life-saving—tool that should not be disregarded. In vertical terrain where bluffs and ledges are the norm or mixed alpine terrain involving glacier travel, or treacherous high-angle slopes that often hold weather and moisture, crampons can quickly become the most important gear you carried afield. I have personally hunted areas in the late season where crampons were necessary during our ingress up a frozen solid, yet flat, valley bottom. Without them, we would not have managed to access the goat terrain we’d traveled across the province to hunt.

Most applicable in winter conditions, crampons can also be incredibly helpful for edging in high angle terrain with soft groundcover that would otherwise be impossible—or at least very dangerous—to cross, even with a rigidly constructed boot. And as is well-known with goats, putting a bullet or an arrow in a goat isn’t necessarily the toughest part of the hunt. Getting to them, breaking them down safely and getting out of the hell hole they died in is usually the most exciting part of the adventure.

I made the mistake of not taking my crampons on my most recent goat hunt and was cursing this decision while trying to find a safe foothold to debone and cape out my billy while wielding a knife as I leaned into the mountain to avoid slipping into the thousand-foot abyss below me. If I’d had my crampons the front points and forefoot points would have made an immense difference in terms of my safety and comfort in that terrain.

From a boot perspective, things get a little more complicated with crampons as your boots will dictate the type of crampon you purchase. And to be clear, you MUST purchase the appropriate crampon for your boot features. The wrong crampon will not attach properly to your boots and will be useless dead weight in your pack if you do not research accurately and purchase accordingly.

There are, broadly speaking, three types of crampons to consider:


This style of crampon can be used with most boots, assuming there is adequate rigidity in the outsole to maintain a solid boot to crampon interface. Boots are that too flexible will flex within the strap system and over-time or in more challenging terrain will inevitably loosen to the point where you will be fighting to stay centered on the crampon as much as you are the terrain itself. This can critically unsafe.

These crampons are the most universal style of device but also the least secure in terms of the integrity of the attachment and therefore provide the least confidence when things get serious. They are also a serious hassle to put on and take off when wearing gloves, and are prone to loosening over the course of the day.

That said, if crampons are not a piece of gear you can rationalize using regularly, or don’t want to purchase a new set of boots just to suit crampons, but still want the added traction provided by the aggressively long points these are a viable option. Having used these in the past, I would only consider these if my budget constraints meant I had to use one pair of boots for all my hunting, or only found myself in crampon worthy terrain on a limited basis.

There are no special considerations in terms of boot construction for strap-on crampons and most good mountain boots will accommodate their usage. A boot like the Schnee’s Beartooth or the new Timberline are good examples of strap-on crampon compatible boots.

ABOVE: Note lack of heel or toe welts (grooves built into the sole).


As the name suggests, this is a blend of both a strap-on crampon and the more mountaineering oriented step-in style of devices. Hybrids provide a significant upgrade in attachment integrity (to your boots) and therefore stability and confidence in extreme terrain.

Featuring a molded toe strap, like a strap-on, the key differentiator is the heel lever that, through compression tension, locks the heel of the crampon on to your boots, kind of like a ski binding. This heel attachment is incredibly secure and makes the crampon and boot feel like a truly cohesive system that you can depend on even in the most challenging hunting terrain.

In terms of boot construction, you must own, or purchase, a boot that is built with a heel groove or welt to utilize this type of device. Many (if not most) standard hunting boots are NOT hybrid crampon compatible. The boot outsole must also fall within the moderate to high ranges of stiffness as the integral heel lever attachment must be paired with a boot that will not shift or slip out of the tension lock.

I made the switch to this style of crampon last winter and will never go back to a strap-on device. The upgrade in attachment integrity and confidence in extreme terrain cannot be overstated. They are also very easy to put on when wearing gloves and, in my experience, rarely come loose once properly attached. If mountaineering or ice-climbing are not a part of your off-season training regimen then this crampon style, in my opinion, is the best choice for the mountain hunter looking for a device that will pair with a decent selection of hunting boots while handling extreme terrain with ease.

For an example of the heel welt feature, please refer to the picture below of the new Schnee’s Granite Pro model. This boot is also constructed with a toe welt but this feature is not necessary for hybrid crampons.

ABOVE: The Granite Pro features the required heel welt/groove to accommodate a hybrid crampon.


Step-ins offer the highest attachment integrity but also require the most specific features in a boot. This crampon style is considered the standard for serious climbing/mountaineering, ski-mountaineering and ice-climbing but represents a highly specialized device for highly specialized use cases. If your off-season finds you in vertical, especially icy terrain, where ropes, climbing axes and helmets are the norm then this is the crampon style you’re likely to need—if you don’t own a set already.

Featuring both a heel lever lock and wire bail on the toe, these devices are incredibly secure when paired with the appropriate boots but it can be challenging to match the crampon to the boots as variations in heel and toe welt construction from brand to brand may result in less than perfect boot to crampon attachment integrity.

This style of crampon requires a rigid boot and aggressive heel and toe welts to accommodate the less versatile binding system. I have not personally used these and given the specific boot requirements, am unlikely to find a place for this style of crampon in my pack.

That said, I know there are many Alaskan and BC sheep and goat hunters that swear by hard shell or incredibly rigid mountain boots and in those cases, these may be the best option. It should be noted that any boot that will accommodate a step-in crampon will work with a hybrid device as well.

The new Schnee’s Teton is a good example of a very rigid boot that features a heel and toe welt that will be compatible with step-in crampons. This boot would also work well with a hybrid device.

ABOVE: The presence of both heel and toe welts/grooves make the Teton a workable choice for step-in crampons.

Posted by Adam Janke