It’s been almost 4 years since I purchased Kahtoola’ Microspikes and seems high time I updated my review to reflect all the snow and ice they’ve seen along the way.
To cut to the chase, I absolutely swear by these. Sitting somewhere between those flimsy winter traction systems and full on crampons, Microspikes are great for hiking in snow and light ice, giving amazing grip to any existing shoes or boots without much hassle.
Curious why? Sweet! Read on for my full take…
How Microspikes Work
Microspikes are not a traditional crampon which you would use on say a glacier or climbing up a serious snow slope, nor are they basic like cheaper track devices, instead they offer a middle ground to aid your winter adventures. The design is simple: 12 points, each 3/8ths of an inch are positioned around the bottom of the system and linked with a stainless steel chain. A metal toe bale holds the front securely in place and it all connects in to a rubber top which slips around your shoes to hold it in place.
Unlike crampons, no special boots are needed (though waterproof ones are an obvious advantage) and putting the spikes takes just a minute or two. They are however pre-sized Small – XL which means you can’t just hand them off to a friend unless you both have about the same shoe size. They’re also about $70 so considerably more than a basic footwear system.
The chain design means there’s a bit of give around each spike letting them grab into slush, packed snow and light ice without catching. They aren’t super large or sharp and don’t have front points for taking on more solid ice like crampons but that means they’re easy to walk on and don’t require much of a learning curve. In short, they grab into the snow and ice in places where boots alone won’t cut it but before things start to get technical.
Taking on Ice & Snow
I’m quite comfortable on snow after spending several years playing on alpine climbs and glaciers. With good boots, even packed snow and light ice can be tackled but as things start to freeze up, good luck walking up and especially down. More so, it’s just a lot of extra work sliding around.
This is where microspikes excel. The modest points are enough to breeze across the frozen bridge at Oregon’s Multnomah Falls or keep you from sliding on a slushy snow hike up Yosemite’s Four Mile Trail to glacier point. I’ve taken them out on many occasions, often just to get better purchase on a trail that would be manageable in winter boots but a pain. That’s a good use but not really a $70 reason.
What made me a believer was actually my very first hike using Microspikes. That day, I wandered out to Eagle Creek Trail in the dead of winter… If you’re not familiar, the trail is a narrow carved out path that often sits right along a rather high cliff. At points along the way, chains are fastened into the rock and those are for the summer crowds!
Despite sheets of ice covering just about everything, microspikes let me take on the trail and though I certainly used those chains, it was for all intensive purposes, a walk rather than a crawl.
Since then, I’ve taken them on winter hikes to trails like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Mount St. Helens before the deep snow season. Anywhere that’s moderately frozen or a low grade climb, they are my solve when boots alone won’t work and where my crampons are overkill.
How Microspikes Compare to Other Devices
When I first bought my Microspikes, there wasn’t much like them on the market. Now, you can find a whole bunch of similar options attempting to offer their own take. I’ve purchased cheap knockoffs on Amazon out of curiosity, I’ve looked at some of the fancier brand name options and I have to say, nothing has convinced me to switch. There are alternatives for sure but I’ve yet to have these fail me (though again, they are not a full crampon, they are limits) to want to consider them.
On the lower end, there are an endless number of basic traction devices ranging from ones with a few studded points to moderate coils and even cheap spikes. Almost of these will do a lot more than no traction though it’s day and night how they compare, how well they stay on, and if they hold up (in my adventures, I’ve found an awful lot of coils left along the trail.)
The perk of more basic options is that you’re not walking around with actual spikes on your shoes (not cool to wear inside) and saving a buck but at the expense of grip and grip is what you want!
I’ve never had an issue with my microspikes coming off, freezing up and seeing as how I’m still in the same pair years later, I’d call them pretty damn solid. Presumably some of the alternatives are similarly matched and who knows, you may find a price that draws you to them but until someone shares a convincing reason (hint: comments are enabled below!), these are my go to and what I recommend.
A word of caution on knockoffs: There are plenty of quality options out there these days to price shop but the top of a sketchy trail is a terrible place to have your traction system snap apart because you cheaped out.
All the traction, none of the hassle
It amazes me how often I’m headed down the trail and hear someone comment in passing that they should have thought to bring spikes along. At less than a pound (11-13.5 oz depending on the size), it’s just an easy call to throw them in the pack on every winter adventure. Many times they stay tucked away but when it gets slick, no problem!
Along the same lines, I am a huge fan of how simple they are to put on. It’s really just a matter of flipping them up right, finding the “front” side (it’s well marked) and slipping them over your shoes. Pulling up on the front bar and the back rubber until they’re fairly taught insures they will both stay on and grab well. Even standing up, it’s maybe 30 seconds each after you get use to them and wear the rubber in a bit.
Since I’m in crampons more than anything come winter, I don’t get hundreds of uses out of my spikes but I am impressed just the same. Most gear wears down even without considerable use from the water, dirt and friction of winter but almost 4 years in and my Microspikes were good to go on my first winter hike of the season just last week.
- Category: Winter Shoe Traction System
- Utility: Typical trail ice & light snow
- Pros: Easy on / off and great traction in ice / packed snow
- Cons: Pricey versus basic options, means stepping on 10-12 points
- Style: Black & Red versions
- Price: $69.95 MSRP
- Rating: 4.5 of 5
- Official website | Buy at Backcountry.com
Have a question? Prefer an alternative option? Leave a comment below!