By Scott Boulbol
If we are facing another epic winter, and we hope that we are, especially in the Eastern states people will be slipping and sliding all over, filling emergency rooms with broken wrists, head wounds and the like. Winter traction gear is a growing category, and these often-pocketable little wonders can keep people walking and even running through the toughest winters, whether for survival or for sport.
While these seemingly no-brainer products are still far from ubiquitous, they’re steadily becoming a winter standard for a range of consumers. Technology has of course made them lighter, easier to put on and take off, and less intrusive to the stride. And each season we see options more focused on a specific consumer or end use rather than a one-size-fits all approach.
“Winter hiking and running can be a great way to stay mentally and physically healthy through a cold winter, if you can avoid injury,” said Kahtoola Founder Danny Giovale, Flagstaff, AZ. “Adding appropriate traction to your footwear so your shoes or boots are properly adapted to winter conditions is the way to do that. Considering its importance in daily life, it’s no surprise there are so many traction aid products available.”
Added Steve Couder, VP Sales Implus Outdoor (Yaktrax), “I see growth in the category coming from new innovative products that are designed for specific activities such as running, mountaineering, safety/industrial, etc.”
Every year the trend is lighter and faster, but recent seasons have seen improvements in user-friendliness, foldability/transportability and wider uses like fishing/river traction and ski boot traction. “Hikers in the outdoor community…want a less aggressive version of ice climbing crampons,” said YooRa Kang, Hillsound’s Sales and Marketing Coordinator.
Brands have made innovations in materials and in the design of spikes/wires and harnesses that allow for use-specific characteristics. For instance, running models use tiny, ultra-hard (often tungsten-carbide) spikes to improve grip, which minimize feel and weight. Backcountry models, on the other hand, offer deep spikes and thick chains to dig in various directions, without as much concern for weight or underfoot feel.
While many models are designed for focused pursuits, another trend is versatility. Hillsound’s FreeSteps6 ($40; Med 320g) features a multi-purpose tread design that works on- or off-road (although it’s a bit too intrusive for running unless the pavement is totally covered in packed powder), and even on wet, slippery, mossy rocks — adding fishing to its list of uses. There are 21 stainless steel spikes, about .8cm long, secured stainless steel chains, and held with elastomer straps. They even claim invasive species will not adhere, so eco-minded fishers can rest easier.
If plans take you further off-piste, their Trail Crampon ($60; Med 460g) would be the better option, with 11 heat-treated, carbon-steel spikes, 1.5cm high. There’s a Velcro instep strap which helps hold the elastomer straps in place especially in deeper snow, while underfoot plates help keep the spikes in place on uneven footing.
Founded by Danny Giovale after he almost slid off an icy Italian peak, Kahtoola’s products are highly focused. The NanoSpike ($50; Med 226g) is their new, dedicated running model, and it follows the light and sleek trend. Ten spikes made from ultra-hard tungsten carbide (same stuff used in ski pole tips), provide a surprising amount of grip, even on pure ice, but remain quite stealthy underfoot. Patent-pending eyelet reinforcements provide extra strength for metal loops that hold them together. But they’re light and highly flexible – easily stuffed in a pocket or small pack. They’re also easy on and off, and will fit over runners and light hikers. But at this size, there’s no reason these wouldn’t also work well for walking to work as they even fit over dress shoes.
On the beefier side, the brand’s renowned MicroSpike ($70; Med 338g) is more of a trail hiking option, with 12 one-centimeter spikes per foot made from heat-treated stainless steel. Updates to this year’s model include the same eyelet reinforcements of the Nano, plus new innovations that shaved 13 percent of the weight and 50 percent of the bulk from the previous model.
One of, if not the, the original portable traction brands, Yaktrax sees growth opportunity in the work shoe market. “This season Yaktrax is addressing the needs of the growing safety/industrial market with the introduction of the Heeltrax, a traction product made specifically to help people who drive trucks, climb ladders, or anyone working outside where the use of full sole traction aid might interfere with their ability to drive or do their job,” says Couder. “We’re working on even more specialized products for the safety/industrial market next season from both the Yaktrax and ICEtrekkers brands.”
The new Heeltrax ($30; M/L 138g) fits over only the heel even of work shoes with a pronounced heel or flat. Tungsten carbide steel spikes provide grip on ice without much protrusion. The thermoplastic rubber harness can withstand cold temperatures and combined with a Velcro instep strap, keep the spikes in place.
Under the same Implus Outdoor umbrella as Yaktrax is ICEtrekkers, and their Spike ($20; 164g), targeted at more general use like city walking or daily chores. But these can also fit over large boots for activities like ice fishing. The tungsten carbide spikes are low profile and lightweight, but not made for heavy trail or backcountry use or high-intensity sports. Each spike is secured within rubber molding like a golf cleat, and it’s all in place with a natural rubber harness and Velcro strap. There’s even a reflective strap for visibility.
The newly designed Sure Fit binding system and contoured outsole provide a more secure fit and better performance on the new STABILicers Hike XP ($30; M 1.4lbs./pair), which the brand calls their most dynamic product yet. Easily replaceable cleats prolong the product’s life, and work with the sticky rubber for better grip in varied terrain. Dual straps, one across the forefoot and one high over the instep, plus a robust thermoplastic harness, provide stability and traction and remain functional and strong in extreme conditions, according to the company testimonials. These are designed for hiking on challenging terrain with larger boots.