Hiking in the Rocky Mountains during the winter time is a tremendous experience — typically fewer hikers and exceptionally peaceful outings! Snow adds an extra layer of beauty to the landscape, often making an area appear completely different from past seasons. But, snow and ice create serious hazards along the trails. The risk of slipping on ice is extremely high and hikers must take extra precautions to prevent injury. Accordingly, foot traction devices (i.e., microspikes, crampons, cleats, etc.) should be a standard supplement to a hiker’s or trail runner’s winter pack in order to help with stability on an icy trail. In this blog post, we’ve curated a list of what we think are the five best winter foot traction devices on the market to help you make an informed purchase.
All of our top-rated foot traction devices are multifunctional, unisex, and perform well on a variety of terrain. However, some are optimally designed for a specific activity, such as running or backpacking. In addition, each of the featured foot traction devices vary in price points, but all are affordable. So, even if you’re not hiking icy winter trails on the regular, a small investment will save big dollars by helping prevent potential injury.
Winter Foot Traction Devices
Our Top Five Recommendations
Many people simply refer to foot traction devices as “microspikes,” which hints at the popularity of the Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System. Weighing 11oz. to 13.5oz. per pair (depending on the size), the unisex Kahtoola MICROspikes are an outstanding and versatile choice for most winter hiking and backpacking outings. Aggressive 3/8-in. stainless steel spikes easily dig into ice and snow, making ice travel a breeze. In addition, it is extremely easy to put on and remove the Kahtoola MICROspikes due to their stretchy elastic harness. When the temperatures are cold, ease of use is paramount — and these spikes are tops in that category. Simply put, we love Kahtoola’s MICROspikes and have owned several pairs over the years. Their durability, versatility, and superior performance make these our go-to foot traction device for the majority of our Rocky Mountain winter adventures.
The Kahtoola EXOspikes Traction System is the lighter weight cousin to Kahtoola’s MICROspikes. Designed more for icy or mixed condition trail running and light hiking, the EXOspikes weigh significantly less (between 6.6oz. to 8.1oz.) than many of its counterparts. Extremely packable, versatile, and also unisex, the key difference with the EXOspikes is the use of lower profile lug spikes instead of aggressively sharp spikes. The EXOspikes lower profile enhances trail running capabilities, but loses some stability without the sharper spikes. But, this is a recognized trade-off for lighter weight trail running spikes. In addition, the EXOspikes have an easy to use stretchy elastic harness system, making them simple to put on and remove in colder weather. We opt for Kathoola’s EXOspikes for all of our winter season trail runs.
Yaktrax ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip
Perhaps the other most common foot traction device you’ll hear about on the regular is Yaktrax! The Yaktrax ICETrekkers Diamond Grip Traction System uses steel alloy beads with sharp teeth to dig into ice for an aggressive grip. Weighing between 8.3oz. to 11.9oz. for a pair, depending upon size, the ICETrekkers Diamond Grips are unisex and work great with shoes or boots. In addition, the rubber harness on the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grips is among these easiest to put on and remove compared to its competitors. Indeed, this traction system certainly excels on winter hikes with icy conditions. The Yaktrax ICETrekkers Diamond Grip Traction System is an excellent and versatile choice for an aggressive spike, but it’s just not quite as aggressive as the Kahtoola MICROspikes traction system.
The Yaktrax Walkers Traction System is perhaps one of the most affordable foot traction devices on the market (typically retailing for $20.00). Functional on both snow and ice, the Yaktrax Walkers are best suited for packed snow conditions. In other words, these wouldn’t be our go-to winter backpacking foot traction system. However, Yaktrax Walkers are a fantastic option to pack for emergencies. They only weigh between 2.0oz. to 4.0oz. for the pair! The weight savings comes from a spike-free design that uses coils to grip into slippery terrain. Similar to other foot traction devices, an elastic harness makes for easy on/off. Our bottom line here — we love these Yaktrax Walkers because they’re affordable, lightweight, and simple to use!
Hillsound Trail Crampons
The Hillsound Trail Crampons are a fantastic option for hiking and backpacking when conditions call for an aggressive spike. With 2/3-in. spikes, the Hillsound Trail Crampons are easily the burliest of the five foot traction device options on our list. Though with bigger spikes, these crampons are far heavier at around 16oz. for the pair. That said, since the Hillsound Trail Crampons are designed to tackle tough winter terrain, these are not intended to be lightest anyhow. With features such as an elastic harness and velcro strap for optimal fit, these crampons are extremely easy to use. Indeed, with superb value and versatility, we love the Hillsound Trail Crampons when our Kahtoola MICROspikes just won’t cut it.
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