Winter Traction Devices – Advice from a Canadian

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

Winter is quite possibly the most beautiful season in Banff National Park. Every winter, a blanket of snow and ice transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland with breathtaking snow-covered peaks and frozen lakes. However, this beauty comes with its challenges, especially when it comes to outdoor recreation. This is where winter traction devices come in handy.

The trails and paths that are so inviting in the summer become snowy, icy and even treacherous in the winter months. This is where winter traction devices become essential. Whether you’re an avid winter hiker, a casual walker, or someone who loves to explore the outdoors, having the right winter traction devices can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your visit to Banff.

We recommend using traction devices such as micro spikes for winter hiking in Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country.
I’m wearing Kahtoola MICROspikes for winter hiking.

Winter traction devices such as snowshoes, Kahtoola microspikes, and Yaktrax provide the stability and grip needed to navigate icy terrains safely. These devices are designed to prevent slips and falls, helping you enjoy your winter adventures with confidence.

We have been enjoying winter in Banff for decades and have personally tried every form of winer traction device discussed below. Each of them has it’s benefits, so read it through to find the traction device which suits your needs best.

In this article, we will explore the best winter traction devices for recreation in Banff. We’ll discuss the features and benefits of snowshoes, Kahtoola microspikes, and Yaktrax, helping you choose the right gear to enhance your winter outdoor experiences in Banff’s stunning wilderness.

snow falling on girl in pink jacket while snowshoeing on Lake Louise easy snowshoe trail
Snowshoeing is so much fun!

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If you are visiting Banff in winter, traction devices are only part of the story. Don’t miss our Banff winter packing list to make sure you are prepared!

This post contains compensated links.

Winter Traction Devices for Banff National Park

There are three types of winter traction devices that you should consider for your trip to Banff National Park. Which type of traction device you choose depends on what type of winter activities you plan to do in Banff.

Kahtoola MICROspikes

Our top recommendation for the most useful winter traction devices for visits to Banff are Kahtoola MICROspikes. Take a look at the steel spikes on the bottom of the Kahtoola MICROspikes and you’ll see why we love these traction devices so much. They are a scaled-down, recreational version of the hiking crampons you’ll see on mountain expeditions.

micro spikes are better than yaktrax for a winter walking and hiking in Banff National Park, Canada.
The bottom of my Kahtoola MICROspikes.

We’ve owned Kahtoola MICROspikes for many years and are very happy with their effectiveness and sturdy construction. We frequently use them in place of snowshoes while enjoying popular winter hikes around Banff. They allowed us to hike up the slippery slopes of the winter trails with confidence due to the excellent traction they provide.

Read More

Winter is such an amazing time to visit Banff. Don’t miss our list of the best things to do in Banff in winter.

When to use Kahtoola MICROspikes

Kahtoola MICROSpikes are our go-to winter traction device for most of our winter activities in Banff National Park. Due to their small size and better traction on icy terrain, we use them for almost all of our winter hiking.

Celine Brewer wears microspikes for winter hiking in Banff National Park.
Celine wears her Kahtoola MICROspikes on a beautiful winter hike in Banff.

They are an especially good choice for winter hikes on popular trails when the snow on the trail will be hard packed. In these conditions, snowshoes are unnecessary, making the much smaller and lighter micro spikes a great choice.

Another great use for Kahtoola MICROspikes is walking on sheer ice, such as when you are doing an ice walk. There is no equal to the effectiveness of the microspikes on solid ice – none of the other winter traction devices even come close.

Dan Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, wears a pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes while on an ice walk near Banff, Canada.
Micro spikes works especially well on solid ice.

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There is an ice walk not far outside Banff National Park which is the most fun you’ll ever have in your Kahtoola MICROspikes. Get all the information you need about the Grotto Canyon ice walk.

When not to use Kahtoola MICROspikes

There are two winter conditions in Banff National Park which make using Kahtoola MICROspikes less ideal.

If you are planning on hitting the trails after an overnight heavy snowfall, then micro spikes are not your best choice. Breaking the trail in deep snow isn’t much fun in microspikes as your feet will go straight through the snow. In these conditions, snowshoes would be a better bet.

a young girl walks through deep snow wearing snowshoes in the Canadian Rockies.
Walking through deep snow like this would not be fun in micro spikes.

If you plan on spending most of your Banff winter vacation in the Town of Banff, then you likely won’t need a winter traction device as robust as the Kahtoola MICROspikes. If you are walking on cleared pavement (like a sidewalk, street, etc), the big crampon spikes on the Kahtoola’s are quite uncomfortable. For these in-town winter conditions, Yaktrax are a much better option.

Hiking Johnston Canyon - visiting banff in winter

Recommended Tour

If you want to try an ice walk, but don’t want to shell out for micro spikes, why not try the Johnston Canyon ice walk? This enormously popular winter tour in Banff includes complimentary use of micro spikes.

Kahtoola MICROspikes Conclusion

If you are looking for good quality traction devices to use for a variety of winter activities around Banff and Kananaskis, we highly recommend Kahtoola MICROspikes. We wear them on almost all of our winter hikes in Banff National Park and neighboring Kananaskis Country.

Although Kahtoola doesn’t make any, you can still get microspikes for kids too! Our kids have High Stream Gear Ice Cleats for Kids.

A toddler slides down the icy river while on the ice walk beneath Grotto Mountain near Canmore, Alberta.
Celine’s microspikes hold firm while our kids slide downhill on the icy river.

Snowshoes

A long time ago, when we first started getting serious about winter recreation in Banff, we were all about snowshoeing. And for good reason, snowshoeing is a ton of fun! There’s a lot of excellent snowshoeing trails in Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country, which are so beautiful and rewarding in winter time.

boy laying in snow wearing snowshoes on Lake Louise Snowshoe trail in Banff National Park in winter.
Our son loves snowshoeing.

After a while though, we started to realize that snowshoeing was so popular, that all of the snowshoe trails were on hard packed snow. Unless we hit a snowshoe trail right after a fresh snowfall, we realized that wearing snowshoes wasn’t really necessary and that micro spikes are an easier choice.

When to use Snowshoes in Banff

The primary reason to wear snowshoes as a winter traction device in Banff is because they are fun. As discussed above, there are few real opportunities where you need to wear snowshoes to break trail in fresh, deep snow. Wearing snowshoes is fun and if you want to go snowshoeing in Banff, then you should by all means wear snowshoes as your winter traction devices.

If you do find yourself hitting the winter trails in Banff after a heavy snowfall, and you are the first ones on the trail, snowshoes will be your best option by far. It will still be exhausting work being the first one to break the trail in deep snow, but snowshoes will make the job easier than micro spikes.

Kids snowshoeing in Kananaskis should wear winter boots, traction devices, snow pants, a fleece top, a winter jacket, good winter gloves and a warm toque.
Snowshoes are the best traction device for deep snow.

When not to use Snowshoes in Banff

As with micro spikes, snowshoes are a terrible option for walking around the Town of Banff. The streets and sidewalks will be cleared in a timely fashion after a snowfall, so you won’t need to wear snowshoes around town.

Don’t wear snowshoes in Banff just because you think you need to because you are going on a “snowshoeing trail”. Most winter trails in Banff are popular enough that the snow on the trail will be hard packed, making snowshoes unnecessary.

girl in white jacket and pink toque snowshoeing the Penstock trail in Kananaskis.
Snowshoes are unnecessary on popular trails as the snow is hard packed.

Read More

The best snowshoeing in Banff is found in the Lake Louise area. Check out our favorite Lake Louise snowshoe trails.

Snowshoes Conclusion

In conclusion, wearing snowshoes in Banff is a lot of fun. It makes for great pictures, and you’ll feel like an explorer from days gone by. But, snowshoes are bigger, heavier and less versatile than micro spikes, plus they are typically more expensive.

So, we recommend you wear snowshoes as your winter traction devices in Banff only if you want to for the experience.

Kananaskis Snowshoeing with kids on the Torpor Trail
Snowshoeing is so beautiful around Banff in winter.

If snowshoes are for you, make sure you have multiple crampons underneath your snowshoes – some on the front toe and a pair under your heel. Also, if possible, look for a pair of snowshoes with double-ratchet bindings and avoid snowshoes with any form of buckle bindings – they tend to come undone, which gets annoying very quickly.

Yaktrax Traction Devices

If you are going to be enjoying real winter hiking or snowshoesing trails in Banff, then the two winter traction devices above are your best choices. However, if your winter vacation to Banff is more about enjoying the Town of Banff and perhaps some easy winter walks, then Yaktrax traction devices are a good option for you.

Yaktrax are a popular option for winter walking around Banff. Their spike-less design makes them more comfortable than micro spikes when walking on pathways and sidewalks, but less effective on uphill icy trails. They are perfect for walking about town in the middle of winter.

When to use Yaktrax

As we’ve seen above, wearing microspikes and snowshoes on sidewalks in winter is not recommended. This is where Yaktrax really steps in to fill a need. The sidewalks in Banff are cleared frequently, but that doesn’t guarantee they won’t still be slippery. Yaktrax are perfect for walking around town and easy winter walks without much elevation gain.

A toddler enjoys the Troll Falls winter hike in Kananaskis Country
Easy, flat winter walks with hard-packed snow are the perfect terrain for Yaktraks.

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Yaktrax would be good traction devices on most of these easy winter hikes in Banff.

When not to use Yaktrax

As mentioned above, the Grotto Canyon ice walk is one of my favorite things to do around Banff in winter. I recently went with a friend – I was wearing Kahtoola MICROspikes and he was wearing Yaktrax. There were times when I had to stop as he couldn’t make it up the uphill icy sections – the coils on the bottom of the Yaktrax just didn’t provide enough traction on the ice.

The Grotto Canyon ice walk is one of the best things to do in winter near Banff National Park.
Yaktrax were very ineffective on the Grotto Canyon ice walk.

Yaktrax are not the best choice on ice walks or on winter hikes with a steeper incline. In these conditions, you will want winter traction devices with spikes, such as micro spikes or snowshoes.

Yaktrax Conclusion

Yaktrax are by-far the most comfortable winter traction devices for winter walking around the Town of Banff. They are perfect for traction on flat, hard surfaces like concrete, which may be slippery…

Trekking Poles

No matter which traction device you use for your feet, you should consider using trekking poles to help your balance. We’ve tried trekking poles and to be honest, we don’t like them, so we don’t use them much, but we seem to be in the minority. Trekking poles are widely used around Banff and Kananaskis in winter.

It makes sense… winter hiking on snow or ice in the mountains is often very slippery and trekking poles add two more points of contact with the ground, thus greatly reducing your odds of slipping.

The Chester Lake snowshoe trail is only steep for the first 2km.
Trekking poles would have been useful on this steep winter trail.

Avoid – Steel Button Traction Devices

Our first ever purchase of winter traction devices were steel button contraptions (similar to these ones) we found at Costco. They were effectively useless on ice, so we threw them away and never tried this style of traction device again.

Winter Traction Devices Conclusion

We almost always pack both our snowshoes and microspikes, which allows us to choose what will work best when we get to the trail. If you don’t have this luxury, snowshoes will always work even if the trail is packed down! Plus you can have some fun playing in the deep snow next to the trail.

Black Prince Interpretive Trail - easy winter hike Kananaskis.
No matter how you get around, winter in the Canadian Rockies is amazing!
Standing at Aylmer Lookout Banff National Park

Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.

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