Do I Need Crampons or Microspikes for Kilimanjaro?
Crampons and microspikes

To be honest, climbing Kilimanjaro does not necessitate the use of any technical equipment such as crampons or microspikes since most of Kilimanjaro is walkable and you only encounter snow and ice at the summit. Most routes can be tackled with just trail shoes or boots, without any additional attachments on your feet. However, there are certain times when the mountain experiences a significant amount of ice near the summit. This ice can be found below the rim of the crater and around the summit area, specifically from Gilman’s Point (18,600 feet) and Stella Point (18,885 feet) up to Uhuru Point (19,340 feet). During these periods, for the safety of all climbers, it is advisable for visitors to bring a traction device for their footwear in order to prevent slipping on the ice.

The spikes on crampons have a range of lengths, and the longer and more pronounced they are, the steeper terrain a crampon will be able to handle. Although in assessment, microspikes are limited to traction on moderate slopes, they can add significant safety to what would have been a sketchy scramble in just your boots or a steep section of compacted snow.

To the newcomer, crampons and microspikes can look very similar to each other and be hard to distinguish what the differences are. One way to look at it is to see microspikes as an overgrown chain built onto a rubber and plastic footplate, whereas crampons are designed specifically to be attached to a walking boot and have a multitude of points coming off a plate which is strapped to the sole of the boot.

Crampons and Microspikes

There is a lot of confusing information online, and it can be hard for someone who has not used either before to understand what will be best, especially when taking into consideration the weight and bulk of crampons. This guide aims to thoroughly answer that question and arm you with all the information you need, so you can make an informed decision.

When researching this guide, the most common question people have when climbing Kilimanjaro is “Do I need crampons for climbing Kilimanjaro, or will microspikes suffice?” Understandably so, as finding the correct answer can be the difference between a successful summit attempt and not. Both crampons and microspikes can add a lot of safety to your climb and plenty of added security on the steeper sections.


Microspikes, also known as micro-crampons or traction cleats, employ a sophisticated system of spikes and chains in order to dig firmly into icy landscapes. These spikes are interconnected to chains and attached to an elastic harness. The upper section of a microspike neatly stretches over hiker’s shoes or boots, ensuring a secure fit for this remarkable device. You may find these wonderful microspikes available for purchase at Katoola at a cost of $70.

microspikes Kilimanjaro


A crampon is a traction device that is comparable to a microspike but with a more significant and determined presence. It possesses metal teeth that firmly grip onto the ice in order to provide exceptional traction. However, unlike microspikes, the points on a crampon are noticeably longer, sharper, and sturdier. These specialized tools are primarily utilized by mountaineers when navigating snowy and icy terrains of alpine peaks. A diverse range of crampons are manufactured by the renowned company, Petzl.

Crampons Kilimanjaro

Microspikes are recommended over crampons for use on Kilimanjaro.

Tranquil Kilimanjaro closely monitors the icy conditions on the mountain in order to determine the necessity of using microspikes. This occurrence is extremely rare, with microspikes only being required on two occasions since our operations began. Rest assured that crampons or microspikes will not be necessary for your climb, unless otherwise indicated by the trail conditions. If you have any doubts regarding the need for traction device footwear, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for further clarification.

Factors to Consider

Another thing to consider is how often you may wish to use your traction devices in the future and what type of conditions they will be used in. This can be specific to your intended grammar or future hikes back at home. Crampons provide far superior traction and support on ice, compared to the moderate traction provided by microspikes. Thus, if you plan to head to destinations with icy conditions often and are more focused on ice climbing than general winter hiking, it may be more cost-effective in the long term to invest in crampons.

Factor to consider terrain and conditions on Kilimanjaro. After doing research on guiding companies and seeking recommendations from those in the know, we decided on the Western Breach Route to get to the summit, the most difficult and dangerous of all the routes. A significant portion of our hike would be on scree or ice, with the final ascent up the Western Breach being all ice. With that in mind, I debated between purchasing either of the two step-in crampons which I have mentioned before. Microspikes did not appear to be adequate for our needs given the potential icy conditions. A good general rule to follow is this: For any route which involves a significant amount of steep ice, crampons are required. For routes involving minimal time on ice or ice that can normally be avoided, microspikes can be adequate. This rule should be useful to those considering the same question for their own trips.

Terrain and Conditions on Kilimanjaro

In comparison to other alpine environments, Kilimanjaro often has far more variability in terms of snow and ice conditions. The weather is influenced by the mountain’s close proximity to the equator, and it can result in situations where climbers will be traversing through several different types of terrain in a single day. There is potential to start in a rainforest and finish in a sub-zero glacial zone. Due to this unusual setting for a high altitude mountain, no one can truly predict what kind of conditions they will encounter on Kilimanjaro. This is again where it is best to be prepared for anything. On the off chance that a certain type of crampon-friendly terrain is encountered while only having microspikes, you may end up regretting that your decision. Considering the need for proper preparedness and the unpredictability of conditions, it is reasonable to lean towards bringing crampons.

The terrain and conditions on Kilimanjaro can influence the choice between crampons and microspikes. In general, it is usually advisable to bring crampons over microspikes. With that said, the biggest advantage to using microspikes is that they are lighter and they take up less space. This is appealing for someone who might be hesitant about bringing crampons, or who might not be able to utilize their crampons effectively. However, the fact remains that the higher you go on the mountain, the colder and icier it will become. This means that snow and ice conditions will constantly be changing and it is possible that difficult conditions could be encountered at any point during your climb. In this regard, it is to your advantage to be prepared for the worst. While microspikes can be very useful for lower sections of the mountain, they may prove to be inadequate on summit day. Failure to make the summit may result in regret that you were not properly equipped.

Difficulty Level of the Chosen Route

The Rongai route is a good choice for those looking for a less strenuous climb and is another good one for acclimatization with a gentle ascent. This remote route has low traffic until the merging with the Marangu route.

The Marangu route is the easiest and shortest route on the mountain. It is the only route that offers huts for sleeping (though camping can be used) and it is often considered to be the most comfortable in terms of facilities. Due to the hut, it suffers from the worst acclimatization and therefore has the lowest success rate. Walks are generally very short and the ascent is steady.

The seven established routes on Kilimanjaro offer very different experiences to their climbers. Some are very short and have poor acclimatization potential. Some are very scenic but too crowded. Some are very easy and have a 95% chance of a successful ascent, and some are very difficult and have a 50% chance of a successful ascent. Your chances of a successful ascent, and therefore the selection of a good guide and adequately long itinerary, increase as the route becomes more difficult. It’s clear therefore that your probability of success is best with the more difficult routes.

2.3. Personal Experience and Comfort Level

General comfort and the enjoyment of your climb is the most often overlooked factor in crampon selection. Crampons with horizontal front-points may be best for technical ice climbing, but they are often both awkward and tiring to front-point for long periods on moderate slopes. Fine gauge rear bail crampons may be great for climbing frozen waterfalls, but can be nearly impossible to fit securely to a flexible sole boot. Know your own climbing style and tendencies and select a crampon that best suits the climbing that you are likely to encounter. I can remember various long slogs on moderate angle snow slopes, where I cursed having brought too technical of a crampon, simply because I felt it was shameful to not do the entire climb in a technical manner. The end result was tired legs and a slow pace, making the climb less enjoyable than it might have been with a more suitable equipment choice.

If you are an experienced mountaineer, it is likely that you have encountered a plethora of unique snow and ice conditions, which you have found to favor one type of crampon or ice cleat over another. If you are generally happy with the performance of a particular type of crampon in most conditions, you are likely to find that the same crampons will work equally well on most any route on Kilimanjaro. The key here is selecting a crampon that is best suited to the conditions that you are likely to encounter and which will be the most comfortable on your feet.

Choosing the Right Equipment

Understanding the Differences between Crampons and Microspikes

Crampons and microspikes are attachments to footwear that provide added traction on ice, snow, or mixed terrain. They are both great additions to your gear for any alpine or mountaineering outing. They are used similarly, and each excels in certain environments. There are two main differences in function and design that you should be aware of.

Crampons are designed to penetrate the ice by utilizing the body weight of the person wearing them. An area of high pressure under the crampon material melts the ice, allowing the crampon to penetrate and create a solid bond. It is this bond which holds the person in position. The more rigid the bond, the more confident the person will be in movement. The slope angle, ice type, body weight, and terrain being climbed all determine the type of crampon needed.

Microspikes utilize an entirely different approach. By using the concept of small spikes, or providing traction through the use of surface area ice penetration. They require a method for ensuring they don’t pull from the footwear. This is achieved through the use of a series of both horizontal and vertical chains combined with eyelets that lock the chains in position. The direction and angle of the chains, number of chains, and chain links have been determined through extensive research and field testing to provide a durable, long-lasting, and user-friendly product. The elastomer harness is what makes microspikes so functional. It is this harness that provides a glove-like, easy on and off secures the device to the footwear.

Comparatively, both crampons and microspikes can prove advantageous. However, the dispersion of weight provided by microspikes makes them the ideal traction device for people on foot in urban and rural areas with ice and snow conditions, where icy terrain can be very unforgiving. As close as you can get to tire chains for your feet, microspikes are excellent for elderly people wanting to get out in th

Evaluating the Need for Crampons

There is an old saying that the necessity of crampons for a mountain climb can often be determined by how much one discusses the possibility of taking them. This statement holds some validity; if you are truly concerned about whether crampons will be necessary for a climb, it would be best to err on the side of caution and bring them. On the other hand, there is no need in taking crampons (or other items of equipment) that will not be needed, as extra weight will only serve to slow you down. So we must accurately evaluate the likelihood of requiring crampons for our Kilimanjaro climb. The first step in doing this is obtaining reliable information regarding weather and snow conditions on the mountain. The conditions on Kilimanjaro can vary considerably from one month to the other, and from one year to the next. It would be unwise to make an assumption about this year’s conditions based upon the experiences of someone who climbed the mountain several years ago. For this reason, guidebooks can often be misleading sources of information. Your best bet is to gain up-to-date information from a reliable source. This may be easier said than done, but the staff at the hotel you are staying at in Moshi should be able to provide you with information from their most recent clients. These days, the internet should also be able to yield some useful information, particularly from the websites of companies that offer guided ascents of the mountain. On a final note, it is important to recognize that conditions can still be unpredictable and there is some element of luck involved. This is why it is essential to be well-prepared for a variety of conditions.

Assessing the Suitability of Microspikes

Understand that the terrain and conditions in crossing the Great Barranco will not always be the same and change year on year. Some groups will leave you feeling that our recommendation was correct and microspikes were not needed, while others will feel that it was an absolutely necessary piece of gear. Given that we generally can’t predict the conditions several months before a climb, it is probably better to carry them and have them just in case. Weight is not a significant issue on this mountain as it is on technical alpine climbs or expeditions into lesser-known ranges. Climbers carrying microspikes probably won’t regret it. They are still far lighter and less cumbersome than crampons and don’t require high cut boots for a secure attachment.

Given the right conditions, microspikes are a perfectly feasible alternative to crampons and we would say we have used them more frequently than not on the stone scree and volcanic ash of Kibo. The real defining point is the hardness of the ice when it has formed on the higher reaches of the crater. If a group is pushing for the summit with knowledge that there is certain ice, or they feel the need to explore the North Western Ice field area, it would probably be better to have crampons. An assessment can be made at Crater Camp or above to see whether the ice is hard enough for safe crampon travel, and if it is not, merely descend to the lower parts and use microspikes.

Final Decision and Preparation

The last phase should be training. This can be as simple as taking a short hike wearing your gear, to actually planning a climb where you know the conditions will be suitable. This will allow you to become comfortable and confident with your decision. Remember, confidence is key when climbing, and having the right traction and experience with it can prevent lots of frustration and possible accidents on the mountain.

Regardless of what you choose, a good place to mentally prepare yourself is to understand how each piece of equipment is properly fitted. This way, after making the decision, you can start to visualize yourself climbing with it. You can then make a more accurate guess if the conditions are suitable for what you have chosen. This also allows you the ability to experiment and adjust different techniques for climbing various steepness and terrain.

Making the final decision between crampons, microspikes, or nothing depends on a few different factors. A general rule of thumb is to bring both the former for any climbs from late September to the beginning of March. If you are visiting in the off-season, the decision comes down to understanding what the conditions will be like. If it has been a very dry season and the temperatures won’t be too cold, you may be able to get away with using microspikes. They are less of a hassle and less dangerous than crampons. However, if you are unsure what the conditions will be like, it is likely best to bring the more heavy-duty equipment. Going without any type of traction device in these conditions is usually not safe, as it can be quite icy and snow coverage is unpredictable. Always ask your guides for advice, as they know the mountain and its conditions better than anyone.

Making the Decision: Crampons, Microspikes, or None

During the wet season, conditions are very different. Normally, only taking a reliable pair of boots is required. However, during extended periods of precipitation, some trekkers may opt for microspikes. Due to the nature of unstable weather on the mountain, it is highly recommended that all climbers take the aforementioned pair of boots and microspikes to avoid being caught out in the rain on the higher slopes without a means to safely descend. If a heavy snowfall is encountered, the climb should be discontinued and reattempted during a fairer season at a later date.

On a high elevation glacier such as Kilimanjaro, poor footwear can easily make or break your trip. Whether or not to bring crampons or microspikes is entirely dependent upon the time of year the trek is being made. During the dry season, it is unlikely that any traction will be needed, though weather is variable and may well still be encountered. In the event of a heavy snowfall, each climber should either have their own pair of crampons or share a set between two climbers. Attempting to share a single pair of crampons between more than two people is simply not practical, and any attempt to do so indicates a misunderstanding of the complexities and rigours of high-elevation alpinism. If any snow has fallen, crampons will be needed and quotas on group gear should not be filled. In the event that only one or two climbers in a larger group possess crampons, snow conditions will quickly transform a pleasant hike up Kibo or the Western Breach into a frustrating and hazardous battle to ascend snow without proper traction. Providing each climber has their own set of crampons, the climb can continue as planned, and no other special equipment will be necessary.

Acquiring and Testing the Chosen Equipment

Acquiring adequate crampons or microspikes is important. Quality is closely related to durability. In some cases, a company may modify a crampon from a hiking crampon to an ice climbing or mountaineering crampon in name only. The potential Kili trekker would do well to peruse a reputable source for gear. Note that good crampons will be uncomfortable to walk on hard surfaces in, and that all crampons will scratch wooden or tile floors – many a trekker has had to explain the gouges in the kitchen to an angry spouse. All aspiring Kilimanjaro climbers should bring their crampons to an outdoor ice-covered slope and check to make sure that they adequately bite into the ice. Always carry a simple crampon repair kit consisting of any necessary tools, wire, and spare parts to Kilimanjaro. A crampon can easily be rendered useless if a screw is lost. With high-quality gear, it is advisable to test everything in a real-world scenario before attempting any repairs. The potential Kilimanjaro climber should choose a pair of crampons which yields the best grip in such conditions with the least amount of balling snow. Due to issues regarding weight, cost, and infrequent use, very few companies have manufactured crampons specifically for trekking shoes. That said, it is quite possible to find a good crossover hiking/mountaineering crampon. Anyone wearing a plastic boot will want a crampon with a strong frame and horizontal front points for maximum security while front pointing. A pair of crampons and good quality microspikes can easily run into over 200 dollars new, but both are commonly available used.

Properly Fitting and Adjusting Crampons or Microspikes

The ideal use of crampons or microspikes requires a snug fit to prevent any movement of the crampon or microspike on the boot. This is achieved by purchasing the correct size crampon or microspike for your boot size. With the crampon or microspike attached to the boot, step down on a rock or ledge with your crampon or microspike-equipped foot. Ensure you step with your entire body weight and stand on the one foot. This will drive the points of the crampon or microspike into the ice or rock, providing increased comfort in the area of the toe bale. Most of your weight should be on the crampon or microspike-equipped foot. This may require the other foot being lifted off the ground or holding onto something with your hands. Mark the position of the back of the boot and adjust the length of the linking bar so the back of the boot is in the correct area of the crampon or microspike. This will prevent the crampon or microspike from being too loose or too tight. The last thing that you want is to have an object that is too short or too long for the intended purpose. This could lead to bending the crampons or microspikes and render them useless or unsafe.

Training and Familiarizing Yourself with the Equipment

Crampons are fairly intuitive to use for walking up and down slopes, providing good grip and stability. The 12-point variety will often prevent slipping on relatively steep ground, although it is best to practice footwork on front pointing and traversing across a slope. More technical skills include step cutting on very steep or hard ice, and using the front points for ice climbing. These skills require sound basic knowledge, as misuse can prevent maximum effectiveness of the crampons and even be dangerous. Step cutting often saves energy and is effective, but if done incorrectly can create an unsafe slope. Ice climbing can be necessary to surmount a short section, although front pointing must be done carefully as any slippage could lead to a fall. Rear pointing (i.e. using the section of the crampon on the heel of the boot) is also useful in descent on steep ground. All of these skills can be very dangerous without proper instruction and supervised practice. Becoming a proficient crampon user can take considerable time, and the novice climber should aim to practice the aforementioned skills in a variety of situations.

When you have obtained your crampons or microspikes, it is important to take the time to familiarize yourself with them and practice using them ahead of time. This is integral in making a good, informed decision in the first section of this chapter. Furthermore, practice can highlight any problems with fit or suitability of the equipment on your boots, potentially leaving time for a solution to be found before the initial climb. Safe usage, including walking techniques up or down different slopes and methods of arresting a slip or fall, are not intuitive and require practice to do safely and efficiently. Being competent in the basic use of your particular device will allow you to focus on more advanced skills as you climb.


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