Gear Review: Walk on Ice with Improved Kahtoola MICROspikes

Icy Trail

For some, trails like this one on Mt. Abraham (VT) are all too familiar.

Nightmarish icy hikes: we’ve all been there. You’re on a late fall hike up a mountain. The trail conditions were fine at the bottom, but as you get closer to the top the path is covered in ice. Each step forward slows as you struggle to keep your footing, pulling yourself up with your poles. You reach the top by raw tenacity and then slowly slide your way back down the trail. You take a few spills on the way down and are in the woods hours later than intended.

Until a few years ago, that familiar account was applicable to almost every fall hike that I went on. Poles helped, but it wasn’t until I got a pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes that I realized what I’d been missing. The stainless steel MICROspikes stretch over boots with an elastomer harness, providing excellent traction on ice and compacted snow. MICROspikes come in a variety of sizes, based on boot size. The loss of my first pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes a few months ago turned out to be a blessing in disguise when I was given the opportunity to try a newer version of the product, released this past September.

Microspikes in stuff sack

Kahtoola MICROspikes in their stuff sack.

Out of the box, I was really impressed with my new MICROspikes. Unlike my first pair, the new version comes in a lightweight, black stuff sack. This is a simple but really nice improvement. I know more than a few people who bought a bottle of Crown Royal, (purportedly) to get a bag for their MICROspikes. Don’t fear, whiskey fans. I’m sure you can find something else that really needs a bag. Packaging aside, I was also really pleased to see that the weight and the bulk of the new MICROspikes was far less than those of my old pair. The elastomer harness that stretches over the boots, appears to be of a slightly different material that is now more compact, lighter, and easier to stretch.

Microspikes in action

MICROspikes in action.

Last week I got a chance to take my new MICROspikes out for a hike up Mt. Algonquin in the Adirondacks. The trail provided a perfect set of test conditions. At the start of the hike, the trail was clear of snow and ice but as I gained elevation the water that was running down the trail slowly started to freeze. I finally put the spikes on at the bottom of a large, icy boulder that the trail went over. The MICROspikes did a great job of gripping into the wet ice. At this point, the spikes were more for security than anything else. I could have traveled pretty quickly without them, but they greatly reduced my risk of slipping. About a half mile later, the trail became completely covered in ice, as the grade increased. With little to no snow for improved traction, I was basically walking on ice the last mile to the summit. The ice got progressively harder and slicker as I ascended. Getting to the top would have been impossible without MICROspikes or some other form of added traction. At the windy, inhospitable summit, I ran into a group of four backpackers, also all wearing Kahtoola MICROspikes.

On flat terrain, the MICROspikes provide exceptional traction. I know people who use them to jog on ice. During my hike, I found that the spikes worked great when I planted them on flat ice after jumping down rocks. However, as the grade increases they become less reliable and my trip up Algonquin was definitely pushing the limits of the traction that they are designed to provide. In certain very steep spots I had to ensure that the spikes were digging in well before I committed to a foot-hold. Generally, got better traction when placing my feet perpendicular to the slope, rather than turning them to the side. The spikes did slip several times during the course of the hike – always on a steep incline. Overall, they performed slightly better than my old pair, traction wise. Compared to the old version, they have two additional spikes on the back heel, which explains the improved traction. Both pairs of MICROspikes I consider to be a tool similar to trekking poles. They will help to keep me from sliding but I can’t completely rely on them under all conditions.

Microspike Traction

The bottom of the MICROspikes are a combination of metal chains and points that flexibly provide traction.

My old pair of MICROspikes would sometimes become overloaded with snow and I would have to take measures to clean them. The new version fared far better. At lower elevations when the trail was covered with a mixture of ice, snow, and running water the spikes accumulated a small amount of slush, which they eventually shed on their own. One of my pet-peeves with my last pair of MICROspikes was that the harness would frequently slip to the side when I was hiking. The spikes would become misaligned and I would have to stop and reposition the harness. With my new pair, the harness didn’t slip on my boots at all.

Over the past few years, I’ve found MICROspikes to be useful under a variety of weather conditions including walking on slick, packed trails, traveling on trails that have undergone several cycles of thaws and freezes, and exploring frozen lakes. Some hikers carry both MICROspikes and crampons and switch to the MICROspikes on icy, rocky sections to save their crampons from being worn down. The MICROspikes are extremely easy change into, taking only about 15 seconds for me to put on and 10 to take off.

Like any piece of equipment, MICROspikes have their limitations but their light weight, ease of donning and doffing, and huge traction boost makes them a great deal at $69.95 MSRP. The MICROspikes come with a 2 year warranty against manufacturer defects and I have a feeling that I’ll be getting many miles to come out of my pair.  For more information visit: http://kahtoola.com/

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