The Best Winter Traction Devices

August 11, 2017

  • by
  • Peter Reese

Winter can be a wonderland when you’re able to be out enjoying it, and not trapped inside. Snow storms followed by blue bird days can leave snow sunbaked, packed, and icy—and slippery. From sidewalks to trails, sometimes your boots need a little extra traction.

Winter traction devices simply strap on or stretch over your normal shoes to offer more grip thanks to metal cleats or spikes that cut through ice and hold your foot in place. Active Junky tested several models from top brands to help you find a pair that will keep you surefooted this winter whether enjoying a leisure walk or keeping up with your run routine through harsher months. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

Traction Device Brands Tested

  • Hillsound
  • Kahtoola
  • Korkers
  • Stabilicers
  • Yaktrax

How to Choose the Best Winter Traction Device

Because there are many options on the market, you’ll want to determine the condition in which you’ll be using them, among other factors. Ask yourself these questions to narrow down your choices.

#1. How far and how fast are you moving?

Are you simply traveling to your vehicle each morning? Strolling to work? Or are you a year-round runner? If the latter, make sure you choose a pair that can handle miles and repeated impact, and lighter weight is often a better choice there, too.

#2. What and where is their primary use?

If you’re hiking or trekking, crampons and more aggressive traction devices are your best bet. If your goal is to be trail running every day, you won’t need such extreme spikes. If you’ll be doing both activities, you’ll likely be better off purchasing two different pairs.

#3. Will there be ice or snow? Mixed conditions?

Low profile cleats and small spikes are preferred in snowy conditions but don’t have enough power to really penetrate ice. Larger spikes, including crampons, are design to stab into ice and hold. Hybrid models work best if you’ll be crossing varying conditions.

#4. How often will you use them?

Some products listed here are consumables—you’ll use them for a couple of seasons, dull down the edges, and they’ll need to be replaced. Crampons for more extreme uses like mountaineering, however, should be sharpened before each trek, and can be used over several seasons.

Key Attributes

Fit: Forms to footwear without causing uncomfortable pressure points; chains and straps should remain vibration-free

Durability: Spikes, edges and attachments hold up after repeated use while plastic and rubber stand up to road and trail debris

Traction: Offers solid climb and descend across rolling terrain with minimal side-slipping on off-camber surfaces

Adaptability: Conforms to multiple and changing conditions; some models are one-size-fits-all, requiring adjustments

Convenience: Quick on and off, along with simple adjustment, combine with compact storage and easy cleaning

Hillsound Trail Crampon

Hillsound trail crampon1 Hillsound Trail Crampon $55.90 - $65.00

The Hillsound Trail Crampon easily pops on over the bottom of your shoe and disperses pressure evenly around the forefoot thanks to its well-designed and flexible harness. Its design is versatile, fitting narrow boots or thicker trail running shoes and weighing 16.3oz for the medium pair, though other sizes are available. Further, the 11 spikes also make these winter traction devices versatile—even though the name may say crampon, the 1.5cm spikes are less aggressive than mountain crampons while penetrating icy trails as well as packed snowy crust. Our testers’ only concern was longevity as the spikes would be difficult to maintain over months and years kicking rocks on roads or trails.

Key Attribute: Fit

Best For: Moderate to steeper terrain even while carrying reasonable pack weight

Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra

9669418434 bf8b8161e6 o Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra $60.16 - $65.80

Another offering from Hillsound, Ultra adds a bit to the original Trail Crampon model. While the spikes are roughly the same length, the Ultra has 18 instead of 11, and instead of a hinged flex plate, the entire bottom is welded double-link chains, and a single heel plate with 3 spikes cuts a bit deeper on the downhills. Also lighter than the original, the Trail Crampon Ultra weighs in at 14.25oz for the medium, but comes in small to XL for men’s, and women’s also come in an XS size. The minimal design compared to the base model also means less interference with your normal foot strike.

Key Attribute: Traction

Best For: Fast, frequent and extended travel over challenging terrain

Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola microspikes 1 Kahtoola Microspikes $60.16 - $63.01

Kahtoola Microspikes are unique in that these traction devices don’t require any straps—just pull them on over your shoes and they hug snug and stay in place. The welded chains are strategically placed to work with the upper to keep the 12 spikes in line. Each spike is just under a centimeter, so less aggressive than other models, but still plenty to cut into sunbaked trails while winter climbing a Colorado 14er. Depending on which of the four sizing options you opt for, the pair weighs in at a minimal 11oz to 14oz, pack down small and come with their own tote sack.

Key Attribute: Adaptability

Best For: Street to trail use across a wide range of conditions

Kahtoola Nanospikes

Kahtoola nano spikes sq Kahtoola Nanospikes $42.96 - $44.96

Also available from Kahtoola are their Nanospikes with a minimalist form that attaches to running shoes with almost no spot pressure on an athlete’s feet. Designed to track and grip at robust speeds, Nanospikes worked well for runners and walkers alike. Unlike many other winter traction devices, this model employs 10 tungsten carbide spikes to penetrate, hold and release while wearing well over hundreds of miles. Connection with the shoes outsole is assured with molded, upturned nubs, and availability in five sizes means a better dialed fit. The zipped carrying pouch demonstrated a readiness to store small and travel easily as each foot folds flat and in half.

Key Attribute: Fit

Best For: Dedicated runners and winter travelers who move fast through life

Korkers Ice Cleats

Original icecleat oa8000 btm Korkers Ice Cleats $21.50 - $23.25

In many product categories, “one size fits most” frequently means nobody can really make them work. Not true here as Korkers Ice Cleats performed well on multiple boot and shoe styles and sizes because of sure-hold length adjustability on the heel. The 12 studs were toothy and competent at a walking pace, never claiming to be high-performance running cleats. To stay balanced on slippery surfaces, testers had to shorten their stride to keep weight distributed evenly from heel to toe. With surprisingly high downhill traction and a low price tag, Ice Cleats are a no-brainer for many, including those who only get hit with periodic ice and snow.

Key Attribute: Convenience

Best For: Working and walking in moderate conditions

Stabilicers Sport

41icsvedivl Stabilicers Sport $31.52 - $48.46

Preferred by many cold-climate users, Stabilicers are known for their competent traction and replaceable traction screws. While easy to pull on, this model was not ideal for larger boots as the hard plastic toe lacked flexibility to conform. That said, Stabilicers Sport provided secure footing across mixed terrain as nine hex-screw heads created bite in every direction for casual walks or icy trail runs. Offered for steep terrain, the included lightweight stability strap was rarely required. For those concerned about value and device longevity, Stabilicers Sport are a solid choice, especially with replaceable steel cleats.

Key Attribute: Durability

Best For: Workable performance, reasonable price and travel without tearing up luggage or clothing

Yaktrax Run

Yaktrax run Yaktrax Run $25.18 - $30.96

As the name clearly suggests, these Yaktrax were made to move. With classic Yaktrax steel coils on the heel and carbide steel spike cleats and foot plate in the front, these provide solid traction when cruising across ice while allowing for natural movement of your foot. The cleats are quite minimal, but they are replaceable should they wear down over time—a really handy feature for those die-hard winter runners. Available in four sizes, Yaktrax Run slips over your shoe and fastens with a hook-and-eye strap that’s easily adjusted even with gloved hands.

Key Attribute: Adaptability

Best For: Winter running on roads and established trails with minimal gradients

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