When people think of climbing spikes there are many images that come to mind: a utility worker scaling a pole, a hunter going up a tree, a ninja climbing up the side of a brick building, or a mountaineer making his way up a frozen waterfall. Surprisingly, these are all true ways that climbing spikes are used. The generic term "climbing spike" has come to embody many different types of spur, crampon, or spike that is used to navigate a wide variety of terrain.
Choosing the best climbing spike means deciding on how, how often, and by whom the spike will be used. This can greatly reduce the time needed to pick out the best combination of boot spikes and hand claws, or just boot spikes. There are specialized climbing equipment developed for many reasons. Each type has its own merits, but is not right for every user. Adept users and video tutorials may make the use of spikes and spurs seem easy to master, but it takes a great amount of practice and anyone willing to attempt this should be willing to spend adequate time training over and over again until it becomes second nature.
Tree climbing spikes
The most popular and the most widely used variety of climbing tool is the traditional tree spur. They are often referred to as gaffs or hooks as well. These heavy-duty vertical spurs extend along the inner side of the foot and below the sole of the boot and are a single, sharp spike. The lengths vary and are usually based on the type of tree or pole to be climbed. A 2" length is fairly standard. These spurs are often used in conjunction with a climbing belt, which wraps around the tree or utility pole to keep the climbers force concentrated onto the spikes. They may also be used with hand claws, but this limits the use of the hands for other things.
These are popular not only for line workers, but for hunters, tree removal experts, and lumberjacks. In most cases, these tree spurs are designed to grip the bark, but they can penetrate through to the bark and damage the tree. For this reason, they are not used by tree trimmers or arborists unless the tree is going to be removed. Because they strap on over boots, it is easy for several people to use the same set as needed. There are tall boots specifically designed to work in conjunction with tree spurs, but are not mandatory. The shank that holds the spur may be steel or aluminum. Again, this is up to the individual to decide if weight or strength is more important. Klein, Buckingham and Gecko are all popular brands and most reliable brands are able to hold a climber up to 400 lbs!
While they may be called ninja spikes, few ninjas use them! Popularized in kung-fu movies as a way to climb walls and block sword chops, these short spikes are set in a row and designed to be worn on the bottom of the shoe or boot. They are normally paired with hand claws. The real benefit to ninja claws is the affordability. A set of ninja claws are available for purchase online at retailers like Amazon for generally less than $20 for a set of foot claws. Hand claws are equally cheap.
These can be used to climb trees, but they are better as traction providers for walking in ice and snow. Outdoor winter enthusiasts use the ninja claws to provide a running start for sledding and the hand claws to provide extra momentum during downhill runs. Urban adventurers have been known to use these foot and hand claws to scale up brick buildings since the mortar joints make nice holds for the pointed metal spikes. This is incredibly dangerous and is NOT a recommended use. Again, the ninja climbing spikes are one-size-fits-most and are easy to affix to the feet and hands.
Ice climbing spikes
The use of a spike for climbing ice or scale a hardpacked snow bank is common. Some climbers use the ninja style claw, but most rely on a professional mountaineering crampon or ice cleat. These ice grippers are remarkable easy to carry and use. Many models are a simple elastic mesh that slides over the bottom of a shoe. Yaktrax makes some of the most famous and efficient types on the market today. They range from small metal coils that provide great traction for the casual user up to the Yaktrax Pro Model Cleats for Ice and Snow. Think of these as the equivalent of snow tires for your feet!
For serious climbers, these cleats are a must, but even for neighborhood walks in slippery conditions they can prevent slip and fall accidents easily. Many climbing buffs will use these crampons with a set of hand claws, but more likely they will use an ice axe. Do not risk being caught without them if you are in wintry climbing conditions. A slip and fall in the neighborhood may mean bruises or a broken bone, but a slip on a mountain can mean death.
No matter what climbing spikes, ninja claws, ice crampons, gaffs or hooks a climber decides upon the biggest problem is training. Climbing anything is dangerous and it is critical to get the proper training not only in climbing techniques but also in proper usage of the equipment needed to climb successfully. Utility workers and tree removal experts generally receive on the job training, but many hunters or sport climbers are on their own. It is crucial that the user practice extensively on short climbs with a partner present at all times. Even in the woods, the buddy system is needed. A fall may only mean a broken leg, but reaching help in remote hunting or camping locations can mean death by exposure. This use of climbing spikes should be limited to trained adults and always with a partner. Any prospective climbers should talk to other users and spend time testing models at sporting good stores for fit and feel. It is a skill that can be mastered, but it is also very dangerous and should not be entered into lightly.