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Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Kahtoola Micro Spikes > Test Report by Gail StaisilKahtoola MICROspikes
Test Series by: Gail Staisil, Marquette, Michigan
January 18, 2008
Name: Gail Staisil
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 138 lb (63 kg)
Location: Marquette, Michigan USA
Email: woodswoman AT yahoo DOT com
Initial Impressions and Product Description
When I viewed the Kahtoola MICROspikes for the first time, they appeared exactly as they did on the manufacturer's website. I did have some concern in the size-selection process, because I wear so many different sizes of winter footwear. My trail shoes, trail boots and running shoes are all approximately in the same size range, but my winter mukluks are several sizes larger delaying the decision. Finally, I decided it would be best to go with the MICROspikes size that I would get the most use out of during the entire winter season.
After the MICROspikes arrived in seemingly perfect condition, I was anxious to try them on all my footwear. The size medium that I requested is reported to fit Women's sizes from 8.5 to 12 US (39 to 44 EU) or Men's sizes 7 to 10.5 US (39 to 44 EU). They fit easily over each type of different footwear I use including size 11 US (43 EU) Columbia Bugabootoos Boots, size 10.5 US (42.5 EU) Patagonia Vagabond Trail Boots and my LaSportiva Runners that are also size 10.5 US (42.5 EU). Out of curiosity, I thought I would try them with my winter mukluks even though they are not in the correct size range (Steger Men's 12 US (46 EU). I was pleasantly surprised that they also fit over the latter as they will come in handy in many icy areas especially around frozen waterfalls in the backcountry.
"Pocket-Sized Traction Device"
The Kahtoola MICROspikes are marketed by the manufacturer to be a "pocket-sized traction device". Each MICROspike only weighs 6.1 oz (173 g) for size Medium and each can be crumpled into the size of the palm of one hand. There are essentially two main parts to each MICROspike, the first being the elastomer harness that stretches to accommodate the footwear. This stretchable red-colored elastomer is fashioned into a rough "O" shape and it has eight small circular attachment points located around the perimeter. The flexible stainless-steel chains are attached at each point and they form the base of the MICROspikes.
The elastomer harness does have a "FRONT" label embossed into the elastomer. There's also a semi-circle of thin stainless wire at the front center point that fits over the front of the footwear. With those two qualities, there shouldn't be any confusion as to the direction the harness should be worn. The stainless-steel chains are further connected to each other with rigid stainless plates that integrate the 3/8 in (0.95 cm) spikes. There are eight of these spikes built into the system, two of which are located towards the front end and lay about an inch (2.5 cm) apart, two more are situated towards each side in front of the flex point of the foot about 2 in (5 cm) apart, two spikes are located near the flex point of the footwear and the last two are in the heel area. The spikes are definitely pointed, but not sharp to the touch. However, I wouldn't recommend wearing the spikes indoors at any time as they might damage flooring materials.
The process of placing the MICROspikes on my footwear was very easy. I first slipped the front portion over the toe box area and then pulled the elastomer harness towards the heel. Upon inspection, the stainless-steel flex chain with integrated spikes aligned very nicely over the bottom of each type of footwear without further adjustment. All of my footwear consist of different degrees of bulk or width so I was pleased that no further adjustments were needed.
I'm excited and looking forward to using the MICROspikes during the rest of the winter. Snow and icy conditions abound outside of my door so there will be ample opportunity to use them with many types of footwear. So far, over 100 in (2.54 m) of snow have fallen here this winter with at least an equal amount to still arrive.
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March 25, 2008
Locations and Conditions
During the field test period, I have worn the Kahtoola MICROspikes during a five-day backpacking trip, a four-day rustic cabin trip and a one-day adventure to the Eben Ice Caves. In addition, the MICROspikes have been worn in short increments of time for snow shoveling, and short hikes in icy areas. Locations ranged from and included conifer and deciduous forest communities with many rock outcroppings to lake shores, frozen lakes and icy hiking trails. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to approximately 1200 ft (366 m).
Rustic Cabin Sledge Trip:
Location: Hiawatha National Forest - Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Type of Trip: 4-day walk-in rustic cabin trip
Distance: 15 mi (24 km)
Length of Trip: 4 days
Total Sledge Load (including consumables): Estimated 60 lb (27 kg), 12 lb (5.5 kg) daypack for dayhikes:
Sky and Air Conditions: Mostly sunny, mid-high humidity
Temperature Range: 35 F (2 C) to -1 F (-19 C)
Winter Sledge Trip:
Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore - Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Type of Trip: Winter sledge bushwhack trip
Distance: 19 mi (31 km)
Length of Trip: 5 days
Total Sledge Load (including consumables): Estimated 60 lb (27 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, sunny, mid-high humidity
Precipitation: Trace of new snow
Temperature Range: 34 F to - 4 F (1 C to -20 C)
Eben Ice Caves:
Location: Eben, Michigan
Type of Trip: Dayhike
Distance: 3 mi (5 km)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, sunny, mid-high humidity
Temperature Range: 25 F (- 4 C)
Performance in the Field
The Kahtoola MICROspikes have seen a lot of use since their arrival as the ground has been continuously covered with snow and ice. They've been invaluable in many situations that I most likely would've had difficulty with based on past experiences. Shortly after I obtained the MICROspikes, I took a 100 mi (161 km) road trip to my parents. When I arrived at their house that is located at the top of a substantial hill, their driveway and hilly walkway (that surrounds two sides of the house) was essentially covered with ice. There had been a short thaw and freeze period before I arrived.
Before I even got out of my vehicle, I knew that I would be better off with the MICROspikes on my footwear. I quickly donned them and made multiple trips back and forth between the driveway and house carrying my luggage and ski equipment. I experienced unbelievably great traction as the spikes gripped the ice firmly. I was excited about their performance and I actually went back outside again to test their grip on the hill's incline and decline in various places.
The next day brought more treacherous weather, so I decided to drive my Dad back and forth to the hospital for his appointment. All outside surfaces (roads and sidewalks) were a sheet of ice so I again wore the MICROspikes and I didn't remove them while driving. I know this isn't probably advised and I probably won't do it again, but I didn't have any trouble with them placed on my footwear. It was a lot easier helping my Dad in and out of the vehicle with one of us having more stability.
Usage and Comfort
I packed the MICROspikes with me during a five-day winter sledge trip. I knew that the plan involved traveling through mostly deep snow-covered areas but I also realized that I would be exploring ice seeps and ice formations around backcountry waterfalls. I would also be walking along shelf ice on Lake Superior.
My past experience with the backcountry waterfalls was that there were always many areas behind the falls that are smooth frozen slopes. In the past, I have tried to use my snowshoes on such areas but the crampons on my snowshoes would just slide on the icy surfaces. I would often instead get down on my hands and knees or scoot on my bottom side for safety purposes. I had also tried an inexpensive traction device with two rows of small teeth that was somewhat helpful but far from adequate. I was excited about trying the MICROspikes on such surfaces.
After rappelling down to the first waterfall site, I slipped on the MICROspikes over my mukluks. Because my mukluks are much larger than the MICROspikes size that was recommended for them, it was a bit of a struggle to get them in place. I succeeded and then walked cautiously but again I couldn't believe the bite I was getting with the MICROspikes. What a difference from my past experiences! I was able to walk much more confidentially.
During the same trip, I walked many miles on shelf ice on Lake Superior. I started out by wearing my snowshoes but the surface was very uneven and I came to many areas between ice shelfs that were highly sloped. At one point my sledge had to be belayed and I was faced with some critical slopes. After my sledge was hoisted up to a higher ice shelf, I donned the MICROspikes and walked the long way around to retrieve the sledge. Again, it was amazing the traction I had.
There were seven other people on this trip and all had various types of traction devices, the Kahtoolas shined compared to most of them. One of the guys was wearing full fledged crampons so of course he had better traction but in this situation, the Kahtoola MICROspikes were much lighter and easier to stow.
My next marvelous experience with the Kahtoola MICROspikes is when I hiked with three friends to the Eben Ice Caves. This is a backcountry area where frozen seeps can be accessed by a short but hilly walk (approx 3 mi/5 km round trip). We had all taken snowshoes but decided not to wear them as the firm snow-covered path had been recently highly traveled. I brought my MICROspikes too, so I quickly donned them instead.
My friends didn't have traction devices although one of them found a single one on the trail and put it on one of her feet! At first the trail was fairly flat but then it became very hilly. Most of my friends fell several times and then they decided to slide down most of the hills on their bottom sides. They were also hanging onto every tree that they came across.
I again walked confidentially up and down the various hills without any problem. Once we arrived at the ice caves, the base was all very smooth ice. The areas in back of the frozen seeps formed a cavern and I was able to navigate and explore without any issues.
My friends also wanted to explore and since one of them had the single traction device that helped her some, two of us explored in depth. After we were finished, I temporarily loaned my MICROspikes to my other two friends so that they could each have a turn. Needless to say, they were also impressed with the traction that they provided and one of them has since ordered her own set of MICROspikes.
I also wore the MICROspikes several times during a four-day rustic cabin trip. The cabin sits on a high knoll above a lake so areas around the cabin that we utilized for sledding became compacted and highly slippery. The MICROspikes were used while doing simple chores such as hauling firewood and carrying water from the outdoor pump (pump is located down a slippery slope).
The MICROspikes have been completely comfortable to wear. The harnesses haven't dug into my footwear and I barely notice that I am walking on spikes. In addition, I haven't noticed any lateral play. Even though the MICROspikes are more pricey than many traction devices, their comfort and reliability make up for it.
I have also worn the MICROspikes during quick jaunts around my neighborhood in the evening and while shoveling my driveway. At various times throughout the testing period, the driveway has been very icy. In my best estimation, the MICROspikes have been worn about two dozen times in total, for various distances and lengths of time.
Other Features and Perks
The MICROspikes have been so easy to transport during my outings. On the sledge trip, I just stuffed them inside my climbing helmet and other gear. When I am dayhiking, I just keep them in my pocket or waist pack. In between outings, I generally keep them on one of the rubber floor mats in my car. That way they are convenient for an impromptu hike or other situation.
The elastomer harnesses are a bright red color. When I first viewed them, I thought that they were all too noticeable. However, this has turned out to be an attribute when I want to quickly locate them in my gear stash in my sledge or my car. It's also a reminder to remove them as they are very comfortable (as described above) and I could easily just walk into a building without noticing that they are still in place.
Although I find the MICROspikes extremely easy to pull on and remove (while I am wearing footwear in the proper size range for the size that I'm testing), I would love to see a traction device that takes even less strength to use for those who are lacking strength. I'm mostly thinking about something for my active Dad who is 88 years old. All of the traction devices that I've seen on the market are hard for him (or those with less strength) to use due to their lack of flexibility or strength. This isn't critical of the MICROspikes as I'm highly pleased with them already. It's just a design suggestion or need that might address those with less ability (perhaps a hook and loop type closure on the top side of the foot).
Care and Durability
So far, I haven't had to do anything to maintain the MICROspikes. They look the same as when I received them. There aren't any signs of deterioration or rust. All of the attachment chains are securely attached to the elastomer harnesses.
In the long term period, the MICROspikes will be used mostly for hiking ice-covered sections of trails. As the winter snow starts to melt during above freezing temps during the days, the nights remain below freezing. Historically, this results in many areas being covered in ice packed trails well throughout April. Usually the north facing slopes are the worst. I plan to run and hike these areas and look forward to using the MICROspikes to get me through this treacherous time in the woods. I also have two four-day backpacking trips planned in the long term period and the MICROspikes will be packed and worn for similar conditions if encountered.
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Long Term Report:
May 24, 2008
Locations and Conditions
During the long term test period, I have worn the Kahtoola MICROspikes an additional 7 times. I wore them twice during a four-day backpacking trip. They were also worn during day adventurers exploring the icy shoreline along Lake Superior, Presque Isle and a trek to a Canyon Falls during the spring meltdown. In addition, the MICROspikes have been worn in short increments of time for snow shoveling during two major April storms. Locations ranged from and included conifer and deciduous forest communities with many rock outcroppings to lake shores, and icy hiking trails. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to approximately 1200 ft (366 m).
Location: Mackinac State Forest - Lower Peninsula of Michigan
Type of Trip: Bushwhack, partly snow-covered forest and swamps
Distance: 13 mi (21 km)
Length of Trip: 4 days
Backpack Weight (included transport of snowshoes, traction device, etc): 42 lb (19 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Sunny, partly cloudy
Temperature Range: 23 F (-5 C) to 63 F (17 C)
Locations: Presque Isle Park, Shoreline of Lake Superior (both in Marquette County, Michigan), Canyon Falls Trail (Baraga County, Michigan)
Temperature Range: 34 F to 45 F (1 C to 7C)
Performance in the Field
Overall, I've been very satisfied with the performance of the Kahtoola MICROspikes. I have tried other traction devices with mixed results, however the MICROspikes continue to exceed my expectations. They have been handy for treks over a variety of surfaces including slick ice, packed snow, bare rock and exposed dirt sections of my treks. The short and aggressive spikes have held firmly on all surfaces and I didn't experience any slippage while traversing, ascending and descending icy slopes. I have worn them with different footwear including winter boots, mukluks, lightweight trail boots and running shoes.
Usage and Comfort
April 1 - Lake Superior Shoreline and Presque Isle Trail
A spring storm brought 15 in (38 cm) of new snow to add to the still existing base. There was a lot of moisture in the snow so the snow was very heavy and wet. The winds off the lake were significant so it was a great time to witness the huge waves and pretty landscape.
I headed down to the shoreline to walk the landscape that was covered or piled with ice chunks that blew in from the lake. The snow surrounding the chunks was deep but wearing snowshoes would of been a pain as it was like a boulder ice field.
I donned the MICROspikes and made my way along the coast. As I walked from ice chunk to ice chunk, the MICROspikes held their grip firmly. Even though I was traveling highly uneven surfaces, the elastomer harnesses stayed firmly in place and didn't shift laterally.
Later that day I walked the trails at Presque Isle that is almost surrounded by Lake Superior. I had planned to wear snowshoes for that outing but when I arrived at the trail head, I saw that the snow was very packed from other hikers walking the trails throughout the day. I put on my Kahtoola MICROspikes instead and walked the trail along the cliffs. They provided excellent traction in the wet and slippery snow and I didn't worry about going over the edge of the cliffs. The total outing between the two walks took about three hours. I also ventured off trail to capture some neat views and even though I postholed at times, the MICROspikes stayed in place. The conditions for this hike were temps hovering around 34 F (1 C) and significant winds of 30 mph (48 km/h) or so.
April 4-7 Mackinac State Forest
During early April, I packed the Kahtoola MICROspikes with me for a four-day backpacking trip. I also took snowshoes and the snow cover was variable during this trip. No areas were completely snow covered however, so I went back and forth from walking on past season's forest duff to walking on top of snow. It was a crazy trip!
I started off by wearing the MICROspikes for the first few hours of the adventure but then had to change to snowshoes as the snow depth increased and the crust softened making deep postholing a major issue. I repeated the scenario the second day of the trip. I wore the MICROspikes until the crust softened then I needed my snowshoes instead to stay afloat.
The best areas where the MICROspikes shone on that trip was on the long frozen puddles over sections of old two tracks that we sometimes followed. They were very icy with a slick layer of melted water over the ice. During the periods I had the MICROspikes on my hiking boots, I was completely comfortable. I was happy that the spikes didn't catch on exposed sticks on the snow less portions of the hike during transition zones. At one point, I walked across an iron grate that was the passageway over a dam. I walked slower than norm as I didn't know if I would slip on the grated surface. It felt kind of weird but I didn't have any problem.
April 22 - Canyon Falls and Sturgeon River Gorge
I hiked the trail to Canyon Falls and beyond (bushwhack). Total distance round trip was only about 3.0 mi (5 km) The actual trail had been snowshoed on during the winter so the snow was compacted and the footbridges were snow packed and slippery. Beyond the trail, I traveled through woods that were partially snow-covered in areas.
I wore the MICROspikes the entire time as the surface was non predictable and I was traveling through a gorge area and didn't particularly want to slip.This was my last opportunity to wear the MICROspikes. Although I did go on another four-day backpack in early May, snow was only left in crevices of the woods and it didn't warrant their use.
I also carried the MICROspikes on other outings where I didn't need them. In between times, they took residence on the floor of my car. That way if I was away from home and needed them, they were always there. I do the same thing with snowshoes and winter safety equipment.
Care and Durability
The MICROspikes have held up very well. Even though I have used them partially on exposed rock and forest debris, there aren't any signs of deterioration or rust. All of the attachment chains remain securely attached to the elastomer harnesses.
Thanks to Kahtoola and BackpackGearTest for this fun opportunity to test the MICROspikes. This concludes the test series.
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