This winter season has been a little light on snow here in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean traction hasn’t been required out on the trails. Ironically with less snow I’ve needed more traction [less snow = more ice!] so it is safe to say the traction devices mentioned below have been given a run for their money on the trails.
You’ll notice that this review focuses on “traction devices” that are easily removed from nearly any type of winter footwear — running shoes, hiking boots, winter boots. There is no mention of snowshoes, the ultimate winter traction. This is intentional. While snowshoes are great for breaking trail and taking on deep snow the more modern traction devices have evolved to become essential on any trail that has already been packed out. In most cases we are doing our trail running and day hiking on packed out trails so we’re focusing on the removable traction devices.
Moreover, these traction devices are great options to have stashed in your pack on every winter adventure. One of the bigger challenges of winter trails is their unpredictability. A trail may start out just a little snow and miles from the trailhead become an ice luge…no big deal, if you have a set of traction devices in your backpack!
In short, we highly recommend investing in some variation of traction device if you’re headed out on snowy or icy trails [or sidewalks!]. You will discover more confidence in your movement on slick terrain and may even feel comfortable exploring more.
This review digs into the details of three different brands of traction devices, breaking down two models for each brand. Please note that these brands create more than just two models and we have linked to some of the other options. The terrain and conditions in your area will have a direct impact on which traction device is best for your adventures. Also, these traction devices were used primarily on trail running shoes [Brooks Cascadia GTX] and hiking boots [Merrell Moab 2 Mid].
Black Diamond Traction Devices
The Black Diamond Blitz traction device is a new, lightweight design with short [8mm] stainless steel spikes under the forefoot. This minimalist design was created to provide traction where you need it most — when you dig your toes into the terrain. This is ideal for packed out trails on less aggressive terrain [ie: not ideal for icy downhill as you can’t kick in your heels].
What We Loved: The Blitz Spike is incredibly lightweight and so easy to stash in your trail running pack, just in case. The single strap across the top of the shoe’s toe box fits comfortably without pulling the shoe in around your toes.
- What We Would Change: These are best used as “just in case” traction, not your go-to traction. If you’re taking on snowy or icy trails on the regular you’ll want to invest in traction that covers both your forefoot and heel.
- Fit + Ease of Use: They fit true to size [check the chart for women’s vs men’s sizing] and are very easy to slip on/off your shoes so you don’t need to worry about wearing down the spikes on dirty/pavement.
The Black Diamond Distance Spike traction device offers stainless steel spikes chained across the forefoot and the heel of your trail running shoe or hiking boot. There is a DWR [durable water repellent] treated “hood” that covers the toe of your shoe. The Distance Spike has a total of 14 8mm long spikes across the bottom, providing solid traction on both uphill and downhill terrain.
What We Loved: The softshell “hood” that goes over the toe of your shoe helps to hold the Distance Spike in place while also providing a little extra protection against the elements. This ‘hood” also helps to distribute the pressure of the traction device so your toes are not feeling the squish.
- What We Would Change: The “hood” on the Distance Spikes has minimal stretch which helps keep it secure but it has a narrow design that doesn’t quite fit over wider toe box shoes [such as Altras]. This narrow fit also makes it harder to fit these spikes over hiking boots.
- Fit + Ease of Use: The spikes are on the cusp of fitting true to size but definitely size up if you’re on the edge of the size chart. I wear a size 10.5 shoe and the medium barely fits over the heel and the cord holding the heel spikes in place may not withstand the wear and tear of being on the end of the sole. Overall, easy to pull on/off your shoes and quick to stash away in your pack.
Additional Black Diamond Traction Devices: Access Spike Traction
YakTrax Traction Devices
The YakTrax Pro traction device is a tried and true piece of winter gear that is designed to take on snow packed trails or icy sidewalks. The YakTrax Pro uses steel coiled around rubber to provide traction across the whole of your foot. This gives you a closer-to-earth feel when you’re moving along variable terrain. There is also a strap across the top of your foot for additional security beyond the rubber edging.
What We Loved: The wrapped coil makes this set of traction easy to harmlessly toss in your pack. The strap across the top of your foot makes it easy to swap between slightly different sizes of shoes/boots [or share with a friend/spouse] without worrying about the traction slipping off.
- What We Would Change: When compared directly with spiked traction you will notice a difference in your ability to gain ground. They work great on packed snow but if you’re taking on truly iced trails you may want more aggressive spiked traction.
- Fit + Ease of Use: The YakTrax Pro fit true to size and you can comfortably size up a bit for boots while still using them on your trail shoes [the strap across the top of your foot is essential in this sizing!]. That said, the strap does pose a bit of a hurdle when it comes to slipping this traction device over your shoe. You’ll likely need to take off your mittens and put a little work into the on/off process.
The YakTrax Run traction device takes the steel coils of the YakTrax Pro and adds a diamond of carbide steel spikes under the forefoot. This design gives you more aggressive traction when digging your toes into icy terrain. Combined with the steel coils across the heel this layout of traction provides you with solid uphill and downhill control on snow-packed trails and icy sidewalks.
What We Loved: The mix of coil and spike is just enough to give you a little extra confidence when on more variable terrain [ie: ups/downs] while still keeping your closer-to-the-earth than the full blown spike traction devices on the market.
- What We Would Change: The added straps across the toe box seem a little excessive, especially with the amount of rubber support around the sides of the traction device. The “Y” straps are removable, something I’d recommend doing if you feel secure in the traction devices as extra straps do make it harder to put the traction on.
- Fit + Ease of Use: The YakTrax Run does fit true to size and, similar to the YakTrax Pro, can easily be swapped between shoe styles if you take that into consideration when doing your initial sizing [the straps help here!]. The Run traction is easier to put on/take off simply because the flat “diamond” under the forefoot helps flatten the traction when sliding it on.
Kahtoola Traction Devices
The Kahtoola EXOSpikes is a lower profile spike traction built off the foundation of the well-known MICROSpikes. The upper rubber securely holds three layers of traction to your footwear of choice – tungsten carbide tips, aluminum steps, and TPU lugs. This layering system is designed to provide various levels of traction on anything from icy terrain to uneven packed snow to variable snow-dirt trails.
What We Loved: If you’re familiar with the traditional MICROSpikes you will immediately notice that the EXOSpike feels similar on your foot — secure, durable — but gives you a closer-to-the-earth feel when you’re on the move.
- What We Would Change: Be sure to use the sizing chart and consider sizing up if you fall right on the cusp of sizes. The upper rubber fits very securely and when worn over the soft uppers of trail running shoes you may notice the EXOSpikes pulling the shoe’s upper into your toes.
- Fit + Ease of Use: The EXOSpikes fit true to size and can be easily swapped between shoes/boots of similar sizes. It is easy to slide them on or take them off with the rubber being very stretchy, although it may squish your toes when you’re wearing trail running shoes with softer upper materials [GTX material tends to help provide support *against* the rubber].
The Kahtoola MICROSpikes are made with durable rubber uppers and welded stainless steel chains with spikes across the entire sole of your shoe/boot. The spikes are 10mm in length and designed to bite into icy terrain providing solid traction on anything for slick ice to hard packed snow. With spikes across the forefoot and heel, as well as rugged chains between, you will be able to get purchase on nearly any terrain.
What We Loved: You can pack these along for any potentially snowy adventure and know you will be able to take on any trail conditions. More often than not they will be more traction than you need but if you’re a “better safe than sorry” explorer you’ll want to pack these along!
- What We Would Change: These spikes are a bit heavy [11-13.5oz] compared to other spikes on the market. You will also want to remember their stuff sack so you can stash them without worrying about ripping into your other gear/food in your pack.
- Fit + Ease of Use: The MICROSpikes do fit true to size with a different sizing chart for hiking boots and insulated boots. I used the “hiking boots” size chart for size for trail running shoes with success and you can pretty confidently size up to get a little extra room for your toes when wearing trail running shoes [see EXOSpikes review]. We have both medium and large in our home and with a trail running shoe size 10.5 I’ve had success in both. They are easy to slip on/off, which I do by hopping on one foot at the end of our deck on regular basis.
Additional Kahtoola Traction Devices: NANOSpikes Traction