The entire city was an ice rink. A half-foot of new snow, followed by a freak warm spell with meltwater running on the sidewalks--then a refreeze--had swirled in to create the worst conditions imaginable for running outdoors.
But La Sportiva, an Italian company known for its boots and climbing shoes, had a solution. A new product, the A.T. Grip Hobnail kit, allows runners to add industrial-strength traction to their soles via the application of 20 screw-in spikes.
For the sake of this column, over three days, I ran about 25 miles on mostly glare ice. My dog, tethered on a leash at my side, slipped and crashed a dozen times. I fell down not once.
The $40 A.T. Grip kit (www.lasportiva.com) comes with its namesake hobnail spikes and a tool to screw them into rubber lugs underfoot. Large, razor-edge threads cut in and sank into the lugs on the sole of my test shoe, the La Sportiva Ultranord.
Once in place, the hobnails poke out less than a quarter-inch. But arrange the spike pattern right--I put a couple points up front, four on the midfoot, and three further back--and you can create a shoe that will rarely slip, even on glaze ice.
For my first attempt, I placed five hobnails on each foot, but traction was only just adequate. At home, I used up the remaining spikes, applying 10 hobnails to each shoe. The setup was not slip-proof. I did slide and readjust for balance several times on the glare sidewalks around my home. But, as stated, I never crashed. The hobnail kit did its job of keeping me upright.
On pavement, the spikes crunch and grind. They will dull slightly after some use. A bit of cement is fine in between snow and ice, though they are not made for year-round use. La Sportiva includes its screwdriver tool so you can apply and remove the spikes as conditions demand.
Be careful before putting the spikes in place. The hobnails are made to work on shoes with fairly thick soles and tread lugs. They could screw straight through the sole if you're not watching. This potential scenario made my favorite trail runners, a thin-sole Inov-8 model, not candidate for the spike add-ons. But with the Ultranords, which are a mid-weight, waterproof trail shoe, the hobnail kit did not disappoint.
For me, with this kit and the right clothing, cold temps and icy sidewalks no longer matter. Now, step aside and shut the door when I leave. I'm heading out for a run.
Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.