A Second Look at Yaktraxs

By David Anderson

Many of us have used Yaktraxs for years to provide better traction on snowy trails. In my experience they have a few weak areas. Getting them on your shoes while hiking can be challenging. They are not very durable nor are they very effective on hard packed snow and ice. For around town use, including shoveling your drive way, the Yaktrax Walkers ($20) and Pro ($30) remain popular, but the Kako ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip Traction System ($42) appears to be much more durable while providing serious traction. It uses case-hardened steel alloy “beads” that are strung on steel cables and uses chains to secure them to a rubber shoe harness. These are not as aggressive as the items listed below, but are superior for walking on sidewalks. There is another variation in this group, the STABILicers Traction Devices ($50, there is a Lite version for $22). These have a rubber sole attached to your shoe with nylon toe and heel straps. Steel studs are screwed into the base and can be replaced as needed. The STABILicers are well liked and may be used for more serious trail use.

The second group of traction devices is designed for hiking and running in adverse conditions, but is not designed to replace crampons for vertical ice climbing or serious winter mountaineering. This group has steel teeth (similar to crampons but shorter and not as pointed) to penetrate ice. The teeth are held in place by small chains that provide additional traction. The best known of this group is the Kahtoola MICRO spikes Traction System ($60), which is well liked. For downhill trailing running it is recommended that a wire between the two rear chains be installed similar to the one on the front. Yaktrax XTR Extreme Outdoor Traction Devices ($50) is fairly new. Its design is less aggressive than the Kahtoola and uses plates on the heel and ball of the foot for mounting the spikes. The plates probably do not provide as much traction as the chains used by the Kahtoolas to connect the spikes, however, the plate is claimed to reduce snow build up. An alternative to the Kahtoola system is the Hillsound Trail Crampons ($60). The spikes are similar in size to the Kahtoola’s but are attached to two steel plates (the steel in the center has been removed) front and back. These are attached to the Elastomor shoe harness with chains. There have been a few reports that the Kahtoola spikes can turn upward and puncture the sole of some shoes; this is not possible with the Hillsound and Yaktrax XTR plate system. The Hillsound also has a Velcro strap across the top of the foot that may help stabilize it, while the Kahtoola and XTR do not. The Hillsound and Yaktrax XTR come with a storage bag, while the Kahtoola bag is $10 extra. All of these are carried at REI except for the Hillsound, which is available at Amazon. The Hillsound is slightly heavier than the others and uses higher strength steel for its cleats.

Any of the second group may be a good choice for those of us who do not enjoy snowshoes for trail use and want traction for winter running and hiking. All of them can be stored in a fairly small fanny pack and are a pound or less. There are other similar devices available. The downside of these devices is that they remove the drama from running down the Iron Canyon trail when it’s icy.