Running in the winter is dangerous; darkness, freezing temperatures, wooly mammoths, and the most perilous menace… ice. Fortunately, a company called Kahtoola produces a crampon-lite traction wrap called MICROspikes that slips on as easily as a sock over any shoe. Although they provide great traction, I recommend checking out alternatives due to weight and discomfort.
Packs (5 X 5¼ X 2¼) 59 in3
Weight 12.2-15.6 oz.
Now, winter is a time that running in the morning is actually running at night because the sun didn’t rise yet. Wearing a headlamp helps you get seen by cars and avoid large object like trees, but spotting ice with your consciousness still stuck to the pillow can be a real challenge. This is especially true after snow dusted the stuff that sunlight polished the day before. Enter MICROspikes, Kahtoola’s metal teeth-on-a-chain traction control for your feet.
MICROspikes are not that micro, but they are a smaller version of the mountaineering claws for your feet called crampons. Basically, they are chains with small metal teeth on them attached to an elastic band that fits over any shoe. They come in red or black and range from Extra Small to Extra Large with a handy sizing chart on the website. The rubber is designed for cold temperatures and the chains are heat treated 400 series stainless steel with 10-12 spikes, 3/8 (1 cm) long on each foot depending on size.
PERFORMANCE - I have been using the Kahtoola MICROspikes for two years now and they have exceeded my expectations.
They grip ice like they grip asphalt. I actually feel more confident on any terrain with these on. I first wore these with a 30 lb. pack on my firs solo overnighter in New York’s Catskills and was worried as the ground was a combination of frozen runoff pouring over slimy rocks. As I tested each step with caution, I was pleased to discover that I can step on frozen grass, ice, or even algae covered rock and not slip.
DURABILITY - The materials are made to last.
My main concern was that I would use these seasonally and that the metal would rust and the rubber would crack. After two years, I have to say that they barely look like anyone has used them at all. The rubber is still elastic with no dryness or cracking, and the metal does not show any oxidation. My secondary concern was that friction would rub the teeth down or my weight would flatten the teeth out and make them into slippery ball bearing causing me to skate down the next tilted shale. Fortunately, the wear and tear on the teeth is barely noticeable and none of them are bent despite heavy use, including almost daily wear in the Yukon working at a dog sledding kennel.
CONVENIENCE - Easy to slip on and off, but add noticeable weight.
The first time, it may take you a minute to put them on, but they are as easy to slip on as a sock. The rubber remains easily elastic even when temperatures reached -40º C/F and there’s a tab on the end that is the back that you can easily use with heavy winter mitts. In addition, I had no problem fitting them over shoes that ranged from sneakers to heavy arctic condition boots. However, I will admit that they are definitely a burden in terms of size and weight at nearly a pound each and I rarely bring them if I am backpacking anywhere longer than a day hike (that’s when I bust out the crampons). Basically, I would not recommend this as a backpacking accessory because my philosophy is to travel light; you can check out the NANOspikes that are half the weight, but I have not had a chance to test them out yet.
COMFORT - Blister inducing.
If you are on your feet all day, jog with these, or carry heavy loads, you’ll get blisters. The chains attach tight enough so that the spikes put pressure on the sole of your foot in specific places repeatedly. After a while, this feels like you have a cherry pit in your shoe and adjusting does not help. Much like breaking in your feet after a spell of not running, your feet will respond by blistering up and form callouses, if you can muster through it. I had no choice when I was in the Yukon as it would take me over a day to get to the general store and there was no guarantee that they carried an alternative. So I took it like a man, but would not recommend these for moderate to heavy use unless your boot has a heavy sole.
CONCLUSION - Based on weight and discomfort, I would not recommend the Kahtoola MICROspikes unless you plan on tossing them into the back of your truck in case of emergencies, where they’ll at least definitely last.