The newly upgraded Kahtoola Microspikes ice traction system turns any walking shoe into stable footwear on ice and snow, taking the terror out of a winter walk. Whether it’s an icy sidewalk or snow-covered trail, Microspikes make all the difference. Instead of tentatively sliding towards destruction, the sturdy spikes provide a rock-solid grip. Upgrades for 2015 include added strength and lighter materials.
Unlike bulky over-boots, Microspikes are compact and relatively lightweight, weighing now weighing just 11.8 ounces (compared to the previous weight of 13.6 ounces) for a medium size. They slip over a shoe or boot easily with no laces or straps to fool around with. A wide, stretchy elastomer ring slides over the top of the shoe and around the heel, while the spikes, which are attached to short lengths of chain, fit into place under the footwear. The 3/8 inch spikes are crafted from heat-treated 400-series stainless steel, which are visibly thicker and are reported to be more durable by users on hiking forums, compared to their competitor, Yak Trax XTR. Microspikes come with a handy carry bag that has a place to write a name. This is helpful if more than one person who wears different sizes have their spikes stored together.
The elastomer harness is now 38% lighter and has a lower profile so it is easier to pack down, The eyelets have been reinforced and the toe bale is now integrated into the elastomer so it is more comfortable. Otherwise, the popular design is unchanged from the original.
Walking along a path in Alpine Meadows, crunching pine needles and cones under my feet in the third winter of major drought, I approached a tongue of glistening ice with trepidation. Three weeks earlier I had fallen on icy slopes while skiing, severely bruising my ribs, and the thought of falling on them again was extremely unappealing. I tentatively placed the Vibram sole of my hiking boot on the ice and eased my weight onto it. It was immediately apparent that I couldn’t gain any purchase on the surface. My boot slid around, sending me careening toward safety on a patch of dirt nearby. A larger patch of ice loomed large in the distance. I slipped the Microspikes over the soles of my boots and tried again. It was a completely different sensation. My feet felt secure on the slick ice, like I was walking on asphalt. I took a step to test the grip. It was solid so I proceeded confidently forward, striking out toward a meadow. I found it easy to walk to walk around the edges, where the snow was only a few inches, but bogged down when I got to deep snow with a breakable crust. I couldn’t expect the spikes to do the job of snowshoes so I headed toward firmer ground and enjoyed a long hike on the packed trail. I didn’t want to take the Microspikes on and off when I got to snow-free sections and found that the spikes weren’t noticeable, sinking easily into the soft loam. The trail continued alternating between snow, ice and dirt but the spikes handled each equally well, adding traction when needed. When I reached a paved road I hesitated, but gingerly walked across in my spikes. When I examined them at home they were none the worse for wear, whereas the Yak Trax XTR, which I had treated similarly, showed some evidence of slight bending with the thinner steel spikes.
Kahtoola is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, which can receive 100 inches of snowfall a year. Founder Danny Giovale was inspired to fill a need for better traction devices during a slide in the Dolomites on a visit to Italy. Founded in 1999, the company launched in 2001 at the Outdoor Retailer show with their first product, Kahtoola Traction Systems (KTS) crampons. In addition to crampons and Microspikes, they also offer Nanospikes for urban runners, with tungsten carbide nubbins that bite into slick sidewalks and roadways.
Microspikes add a whole new dimension to winter activities, especially during light Sierra winters when it’s too warm to ski in the afternoons, but snow still covers the trails. With the 2015 enhancements Microspikes are now even lighter and stronger than before.
Available in Fall 2015 from Kahtoola for $70. The 2014 version is available now for $65.