Gear Reviews: Traction for Running in the Snow and Mud
Winter in the Pacific Northwest tends to bring a couple challenges to runners, lower temperatures and inclement weather. Lower temps can be solved with the right apparel and even the rain can be conquered with the right Gore-tex based shoe, which everyone seems to have now, but snow and ice… that is another story. Traction becomes impossible as the ice hides under fluffy new fallen snow and even the walk down your front steps can feel as dangerous as taking on Everest, but fortunately there is an answer. A number of companies make traction devices specifically targeted to road and trail runners, we had a chance to put a few models from these companies through their paces.
Everyone seems to know the Yaktrax brand, they are named after the sure footed Yak after all and the only takeaway really is that their designs were literally born in the Himalayas.
Yaktrax Run – $40.00
The Yaktrax Run was always my favorite. It was my first personal traction device and always held a special place in my heart. Unlike many of the products we reviewed, these are made specifically for runners. The primary body is made of a high strength natural rubber with an anatomic left/right design. This is actually important as it tends to mirror the profile of your shoe itself fairly well. On the front portion of the sole, you will find a plate with multiple carbide steel spikes. These are perfect for your toe off, giving even more traction. On the heel, the Run features 1.4mm steel coils which provide general traction. Still definitely one my favorites as these mimic the running profile very well, are super light, and there is something about that toe off that just really works. The forefoot strap additionally holds the unit in place really well. They weigh in at 331 grams.
Yaktrax Pro – $30.00
The Yaktrax Pro is the slightly less expensive model and features an all coil bottom, still featuring the 1.4mm coils. It also has a forefoot strap to better hold the unit in place during use. I would say these skew to slower runners and even walkers. The Run give you the ability to actually run at your normal pace, but the Pro definitely skews more recreational. Weight for the pair is 215g.
Kahtoola as a brand was really created after a slip and fall event for its founder, so literally created out of necessity and understanding. They have a broad lineup, but we took a look at the lower end models which skew better for runners.
Kahtoola NANOspikes – $49.95
So while the Yaktrax Run was my favorite, the Kahtoola NANOspikes give them a run for their money. They feature a multi-piece rubber design with one piece actually covering a large amount of the upper on your shoe. So while they don’t have the strap, this design means they don’t need it. In terms of the sole design, they went with all spikes and no coils sitting on upward facing traction plates. The spikes in this case are made of tungsten carbide and they also feature a heel tab which makes getting them on very easy. Just like the Run, I also find these allow your foot their most “normal” running cadence and performance. All Kahtoola spikes also feature a nice little carry tote as well and the weight here is 236g.
Kahtoola MICROspikes – $69.95
The Kahtoola MICROspikes take things to a whole new level. They are really all about traction and they have a very similar elastomer harness to the NANOs, but that is where things end. From there, you move into a stainless steel welded chain design with 12 spikes on each foot that are each 3/8″ in height. You can run in these, but I would say reserve these for slower trail runs where you have significant mud and snow involved. The all chain design definitely results in a little more sloppiness and movement, but they do provide significant grip. These also include a tote and the weight on the large pair is 372g.
Hillsound was founded by outdoor enthusiast, but more importantly were tested in the ultimate way… in the Himalayas by sherpas on the trails around their homes. You know these things are bulletproof and they warranty them to back that up. In Hillsound’s case, the chains all meet on central connection points which also provide grip as well.
Hillsound Freesteps 6 – $39.95
The Hillsound Freesteps 6 is really the lowest end model they make, yet still rivals the intensity of the Kahtoola MICROs. The upper is made of a rubber elastomer, but the base features 21 stainless steel spides each measuring roughly 1/4″. These are honestly tough to run in unless you are going very slow and on pretty gnarly terrain. In terms of weight, you are looking at about 345g.
Trail Crampon Ultra – $69.95
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra take things to a whole different place. The 18 heat treated steel spikes on here are between 1/2″ and 2/3″ They also feature a velcro strap to hold it in place, yet the shoe has no define strap return location which I found odd. They also feature a wider heel plate for descents and welded double link chains. These weight a whopping 422g making them the heaviest and most intense of the bunch. Carry bag is included.
My go to now sits somewhere between the Kahtoola NANOspikes and the Yaktrax Run. I like the weight of the NANO, but some of the features on the Run are hard to pass up. This includes their anatomical design as well as the forefoot strap. You really can’t go wrong with a lot of these, but you really need to analyze the terrain prior.