The Gear Junkie: Kahtoola MICROSpikes

Getting a good grip on ice and packed snow is a perpetual challenge for hikers and trail runners who brave the winter months. I have friends who thread quarter-inch sheetmetal screws into their soles, banking on the traction of a dozen inverted Phillips heads biting frozen ground to keep them upright on the trail.

Kahtoola Inc., a small company in Flagstaff, Ariz., has an alternative solution to assuage slipping this winter with its MICROSpikes, a footwear accoutrement that cinches on with a rubber noose to position 10 stainless-steel spikes directly down off the sole.

The company (www.kahtoola.com) built this category-defying product for ice, packed snow, wet rocks and scree--any solid surface where your foot could slip. The 3/8-inch spikes sit linked on a crisscrossing grid of chain, eight on the forefoot, two under the heel. A "shoe harness" made of stretchy rubber flexes as you step in, then cinches tight around your foot. There are no buckles or straps, so they go on quick and fit clean.

Paired with waterproof trail-running shoes, I tested the MICROSpikes last month on woodsy jogs and ice-ridden slopes. On the foot, they fit tight and do not slip. The spikes bite into ice to provide solid footing, even on a hockey rink. For running, the setup does little to interfere with your stride.

One caveat: Wet snow can stick and ball up on the spikes and chains, causing a loss of traction. Avoid introducing room temperature MICROSpikes to snow, as this exasperates the balling phenomenon.

Kahtoola sells the MICROSpikes in four iterations to fit feet from youth size 1 through men's size 14. They cost $59 a pair and in the adult sizes weigh around 7 oz. apiece.

For wilderness pursuits, these pseudo-crampons are packable and light enough that a few people (me, for example) will be tempted to employ them for easy mountain climbs. They fold up so small that you can keep a pair in a jacket pocket.

Some people will employ MICROSpikes for pedestrian tasks like shoveling a driveway. Others might climb mountains. For me, the best use--where these grippers seem most at home--is on a winter trail packed with snow and ice, cutting a line in the woods, navigable and non-slippery for miles to go.



Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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