Kahtoola Microspikes


Heavier-duty, lightweight shoe-chains

When I met up with my normal winter hiking crew this season, everybody but me had Microspikes. After I fell twice on the icey trail (and I’m an agile hiker!), I came out of it with three gouges on my left hand. So I went ahead and got a pair. The next weekend we did an 8.5 mile hike on trails that were 30 percent ice. I wore my Microspikes, as did all but one of the other ten hikers. We saw only one other person farther up the mountain — a thin, gray-haired trailrunner with headphones on. As he zoomed past with a nod and a smile, I saw he was also wearing Microspikes. The first time I was able to run down a completely ice-covered hiking trail and feel secure, I said, “That alone was worth it right there!”

Prior to purchasing the Microspikes, I vetted them against other products in the same category, including the previously-reviewed Yaktrax or STABILicers. At $60 retail (I found mine for $44), Microspikes are expensive, but for anyone out on real trails, they’re the best. Yaktrax are the low-end, low-durability cheap version. STABILicers’s cleats are OK (and fine for walkways and everday use, as the previous reviewer says), but for more rugged terrain, the Microspikes are preferable. Easy to put on, they’re much lighter than STABILicers (14.4 oz vs. 28.5 oz for a comparable size — almost a full pound lighter!). They also grip ice much better. I’m not speaking from direct experience; just echoing the voice of experience I discovered from my research. BackpackGearTest’s reports alone were particularly convincing. I’ve actually run and tried my best to slide with them on, but just cannot at all. Still, they are low profile enough that you can wear them on all trail conditions aside from persistent rock/pavement.

Of course, none of these products are intended to compete with crampons, which excel in exceptionally-high vertical grades and when ice is very hard. They do not have the flexibility in range of use that Microspikes do, however, and are much heavier. Microspikes are not ghetto crampons either; they’re the best of a set of products that fill a different, more diverse niche.

While Microspikes are tough, they’re not without their flaws: they can gather snow under some conditions, do not provide any additional edging and some people report rubber grommet failures/tears over time. In the case of the latter, Kahtoola will ship a replacement pair to you — and if you’ve sent in the undamaged one with the damaged one, they will even send the good one back to you so you’ll have a spare.

Honestly, I was hoping to find a better-competing product to the Microspikes. It’s unusual to find such a monopoly in hiking/backpacking stuff. But I believe they have risen to prominence for a reason.

-- Adam Skinner 03/4/09