Gear in Review: Traction Options

Photo showing three different kinds of traction devices that can be worn on footwear.

Who on earth needs three different types of traction for footwear? Apparently I do. As I’ve gotten further into my hiking life, I’ve been slowly collecting gear. While I try to be methodical about what I purchase, it all adds up. I have been trying out variations of a few pieces of gear. With winter in full swing in Minnesota having traction for your feet becomes a thing in just getting around some days. Then add to that when the weather turns your favorite trails to compacted snow or ice.

This all means I have a collection of options that I’ve been using for the past few years. I’ll break them down below. All of them are made of a flexible rubber that stretches around your footwear and a metal wire, bead or chain that provides the grip. Each has what I’ve found to be a core use. So let’s get to it…

Yaktrax Pro

The Yaktrax Pro is built for walking or running on slick sidewalks and trails. The rubber outer band wraps around your footwear. Under the foot, the rubber wrapped with a 1.4mm steel coil that has a ridge that provides the grip. The Yaktrax website says that the boot offers 360 degrees of traction with the skid lock coil system and a removable strap that secures it to the footwear.

My personal take is that the best use of this traction option is for day-to-day on light snow and ice. My original reason for the purchase was for my mile walk to the train during my commute to and from work. When I first got them, the ridges on the coil were still sharp and grabbed hold giving me a solid step.

Over time, if you aren’t diligent in removing them when the primary surface is pavement under that snow or ice, the ridges get worn down and they will lose the grip on icy surfaces. I’ve had mine for two years and over that time, they have lost the solid grip, but still give me a boost in traction when I’m on trails where packed snow makes the surface a bit slippery, but it’s not deep enough for snowshoes. I have found that they aren’t as effective as they originally were, which is not unexpected.

WHAT I LOVE:

The extra bit of grip on my daily winter commute and on packed snow when I’m hiking is really nice. I haven’t tried them on muddy surfaces, but I’d expect that they would perform similarly. The strap that secures across the top of the boot means that they aren’t going anywhere.

WHAT I’M NOT A FAN OF:

While the coil still has grip on some surfaces it’s frustrating that it has diminished for the price point. Don’t get me wrong, I still use them, so I’ve gotten my money’s worth from them. I just don’t see purchasing them again with other options are are out there.

TECH SPECS:

Retailer Where Purchased: REI
Specs: The natural rubber webbing is wrapped in a 1.4mm coil of high strength abrasion resistance steel which contains 70% recycled content. The weight of 4.7 – 7.6 oz. per pair (depending on size) makes them a light weight option for every day use.

PRICE POINT:

$30.00 USD at most retailers and on the Yaktrax website.

Yaktrax Diamond Grip

The Yaktrax Diamond Grip traction has become my go-to option for just about any time I’m on hard pack snow or ice. They are comprised of a natural rubber outer band that stretches over your footwear and two rings of aircraft grade wire that are covered in alloy steel beads that have faceted edges. The rings are held to the rubber frame by heavy duty chains attached to large rivets. I’ve used these on just about every imaginable winter surface.

As I’ve used them, I have found that they perform best on hardened ice and well packed snow. So far, I have only had a few times where I questioned if the grip was enough. Those were times when I was climbing up steep, icy inclines with minimal footholds. Even then, paired with my trekking poles, they gave me a solid footing that made it possible for me to make the climbs.

These also grab hold of snow, even unpacked snow, for a solid grip in warmer conditions. I’ve used them on my commute to work and day hikes. They’ve held up well so far and don’t seem to have lost grip, even when I’ve been less than diligent removing them when I do hit pavement while outdoors. I know I need to be conscious of allowing them to dry out before packing them up so they don’t rust. I’ll be curious to see how they hold up over the next few years.

WHAT I LOVE:

The Diamond Grips have offered the best overall traction for multi-purpose use. The grip is solid, they are easy to put on and take off. They are also easy to hang to dry without taking up a lot of space.

WHAT I’M NOT A FAN OF:

These are one of the heavier options I have, but I don’t find that weight noticeable on my boots. The beads are sharp so to dry these out, I have to be careful where I hang them so that I don’t rub a hole or abrade a surface like the exterior of my pack or my car interior. I didn’t realize at first that I needed to be aware of drying them out so they did get a bit of rust that has since been worn off from additional use.

TECH SPECS:

Retailer Where Purchased: REI (I used my annual dividend so these were virtually free)
Specs: The natural rubber webbing provides the base for chains and eyelets that are made of zinc coated steel. The case-hardened beads are strung on aircraft-grade steel cable. The weight of 8.3 – 11.9 oz. per pair weight (depending on size) is a reasonable option for every day use.

PRICE POINT:

$45.00 USD at most retailers and on the Yaktrax website.

Kahtoola MICROspikes®

The Kahtoola MICROspikes® are the most robust in my collection of traction wear and they’ve earned their place. As I tried both of the Yaktrax options, I realized that there were still conditions where I’d need an option that not just kept me from sliding on snow and ice, but something that would grab hold of whatever I throw at it. The Kahtoola was recommended to me as exactly what I was looking for. I’ve not been disappointed.

Kahtoola, based in Flagstaff, AZ has a narrow line of products. They’ve found their niche and focused on providing a small line of crampons and spikes that are used primarily by alpine athletes. As soon as I saw these, I knew that they would be perfect for the winter conditions here in Minnesota for my hiking adventures. The spikes mean that these are meant for natural surfaces, not pavement.

I’ve used them on light ice, deep snow and on steep, slippery inclines in winter. The grip that the spikes offer is solid. For someone that has a bit of a fear of falling on steep inclines when I’m hiking during dry summer conditions, these have earned their place in my gear closet because the offer me peace of mind that I’m going to have solid footing when I need it most. Especially in winter.

I’ve been told that they make a great companion for muddy conditions as well and will look forward to testing that on Minnesota’s infamously muddy spring and fall trails.

WHAT I LOVE:

Simply put, these offer the grip I need in tough winter conditions. I know that if I put these on my boots for winter hiking, that I can walk confidently on nearly every terrain.

WHAT I’M NOT A FAN OF:

The weight. I know it’s due to the substantial spike material and chains, but I’d love have something a bit lighter and more compact.

TECH SPECS:

Retailer Where Purchased: These were a gift to me. Looking to buy? Head to the Kahtoola website or your favorite local retailer.
Specs: The 12 heat-treated 3/8-inch stainless steel spikes are attached to stainless steel chain and links that allow for independent movement that helps shed snow build up. The chains are attached to an elastomer band with durable TPU reinforced eyelets and an integrated toe bail. The weight of 11 – 13.5 oz. per pair weight (depending on size) is a reasonable option for uses where it’s the best option. Best of all, the product is backed by a 2-year warranty that the Yaktrax don’t match (theirs being limited 6-month warranties).

PRICE POINT:

$69.95 USD at most retailers and on the Kahtoola website.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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