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Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Kahtoola Micro Spikes > Test Report by Pamela Wyant

Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

Initial Report - January 25, 2008
Field Report - April 7, 2008
Long Term Report - June 3, 2008



Tester Information:
 
Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  50
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  165 lb (77 kg)
Shoe Size:  US women's 9 M
E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background: 

Pursuing a long-time interest, I started backpacking four years ago, beginning with day-hiking and single overnights.  Currently I’m mostly a ‘weekend warrior’, hiking and backpacking mainly in the hills and valleys of West Virginia, but have started a project to section hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), accruing a little over 200 mi (300 km) in the last two years.  My usual shelter is a hammock, but occasionally I use a tent. In general my backpacking style is lightweight and minimalist and I try to cut as much pack weight as I can without sacrificing warmth, comfort, or safety.


Initial Report - January 22, 2008


Product Information:

Manufacturer:  Kahtoola
Year of manufacture:  2007
Tested size:  medium
 
Advertised weight:  9.8 - 14.4 oz (278 - 408 g)
(depending on size)

  Measured weight:  12.5 oz (354 g)
pair of size medium

Approx. size:
8 x 7 in (20 x 18 cm)
  

  Website: www.kahtoola.com
MSRP:  $59
 

MICROspike


Product Description:

The MICROspikes are a slip-on traction aid that fits over the shoe.  They are relatively simple in design, consisting of a red elastamor oval that stretches over the shoe, and 8 spikes connected to the elastamor harness with flexible chains.  The elastamor harness is a rubbery feeling material that gives enough to slip on easily, then rebounds to fit snugly against the shoe.  It has three cut-out areas at the front and two at the rear.  It is marked with raised lettering that indicates the front, as well as small arrows on the sides that point toward the front, and the brand name and size on the heel area.  The chains are about 3/8 in (1 cm) wide and attach to the harness at 8 points via metal links that pass through circular-shaped extensions from the main harness.  The chains form a diamond shaped pattern as they connect the spikes. 

I found it interesting that several different types and sizes of links are used to connect the chains.  Three sets of double spikes are located down the center of the device, with one under the toe area, one in the arch area, and one under the heel.  Two single spikes are located to the side in the ball of the foot area.  The spikes are incorporated into fairly substantial feeling metal plates of varied size, and are approximately 1/2 in (1.25 cm) long.  The spikes appear to be made by bending the metal plate at a 90 degree angle, resulting in a flattened shape that is pointed on the end (sort of reminiscent of the style of can opener designed to pierce rather than open cans).  Although pointy, they are not sharp.  A thin curved metal bar connects the two chains on the front of the MICROspikes.  Below is a photo showing cross sections of the front, rear, and the largest spike assembly which fits in the area under the toes.

Cross section views

Trying them on:

Illustration showing useI was surprised that the MICROspikes did not come with an instruction sheet or booklet to tell how to put them on over shoes.  They did come on a hang card with the product name and sizing information on the front, and when I turned it over, two small diagrams showed to pull the elastomor over the front of the shoe first and then pull the heel up.  Putting them on is simply a matter of sliding the shoe or boot toe into the front assembly and snugging the toe against the curved metal bar, then stretching the elastamor far enough to pull it over the heel and pulling the heel up high enough to make the chains taut against the bottom of the shoe or boot. 

The process is very simple and I find it takes only a little tugging on the elastamor to even things up and make the chains fit tautly against the soles.  I really appreciate not having to fiddle with straps or buckles.  I also found they fit over all my hiking shoes and boots, as well as over a pair of loafers I often wear in my work in the real estate field, which includes among other things measuring and walking around homes.  This should make them handy in my everyday life as well as for hiking.


Just yesterday we finally got a bit of snow, so I decided to try the MICROspikes on a short 3 m (5 km) hike on some old seldom used dirt county roads near home.  Temperatures had been 20 to 30 F (-1 to -7 C) or so for several days, dipping lower at night, so the dirt roads were frozen solid with fine, dry snow on top.  To access these roads, I walk a short distance along a blacktop road, and opted not to install the MICROspikes until I reached the narrow dirt roads.  At this point, I should mention that I took my dog Max (a mixed breed  whose mother was a Mountain Feist and Jack Russell Terrier mix).  Given his breeding (or lack of, some might argue), Max is high energy and likes to pull when he is on leash.  Needless to say, I was having some trouble keeping my balance on the blacktop road which was becoming coated with snow.  Once I hit the dirt, I walked a short distance away from the blacktop, having trouble keeping my balance due to Max pulling, then stopped and put on the MICROspikes.  I was instantly amazed at how easy it was to keep my balance while wearing the MICROspikes.  I left them on for the remainder of the hike, including the short distance of blacktop back to the house, and did not slip once.

Installed over shoes and boots

Preliminary Impressions:

From my brief use, I'm really impressed with how well the MICROspikes work, not only to prevent falls, but to make it easier to maintain an even pace without worrying about balance or slipping and sliding.  I could feel the action of the spikes and to a lesser extent the chains biting into the ground, and it made me feel confident about my foot placement; enough that I even semi-jogged a short section to give Max a little workout, and never once felt in danger of sliding or losing my balance.

The MICROspikes were also very easy to slip over my shoes, even in the field while holding my over-energetic dog on his leash.  I was able to simply bend over and pull them on over my toes, then work them up my heels and make a minor adjustment to the elastamor on one side to center them for best placement.

It was very simple to remove the MICROspikes when I finished my hike, and to clean them I simply took them to the bathroom sink and ran tepid water over them.  Then I simply laid them on a towel and they air dried within a few hours.

One concern that I have at this point is that my foot seemed to feel a little fatigued after the 3 m (5 km), and I wonder if foot fatigue will be a problem for longer snowy hikes.  If so, I may find it necessary to don the MICROspikes for the icier sections and remove them for less slippery snowy sections, which I feel would certainly be easy enough to do considering the simplicity of putting them on and taking them off.

My only other concern is storing them in my pack.  Even though they aren't sharp, because of the possibility of the pointy spikes catching on other winter gear I might have in my pack such as an insulated jacket, or being shoved against my water bladder and puncturing it, I feel it will be necessary to have something sturdy to store the MICROspikes in.  I think I have this worked out; I plan to use a small square Zip-Lock plastic container, which the MICROspikes will fit into, and which should serve to both keep the spikes away from other gear and keep any dirt or snow contained if I decide to remove the MICROspikes during a trip.  This should be both an inexpensive and lightweight (2 oz/57 g) solution.

This concludes my Initial Report.

Field Report - April 7, 2008

Field Conditions:

On the AT in April I wore the Kahtoola MicroSpikes on two short (3 mi/5 km) day hikes on an old semi-maintained dirt county road in western West Virginia.  Temperatures were in the 20-30 F (-7 to -1 C) range with about 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) of snow on the ground.  I also wore them on another trip in around 40 F (5 C) weather on the same dirt county road after several days of heavy rain which made the road coated in sticky to slippery mud.  Elevation was around 900 ft (23 m) for all these trips.

I also used took the MicroSpikes on a slightly longer day hike in Wine Cellar Park near Dunbar West Virginia of around 4 mi/6.5 km.  Although there was around 2-3 in (5 - 8 cm) of snow on the ground, it turned out to be a sunny 50 F (10 C) day and the snow melted off the trail itself.  So on this trip, the MicroSpikes did not see any actual use, riding inside my pack inside a small square Zip-Lock container that I've been using to store and carry them in my pack.

In early April I took the MicroSpikes along on a rainy weekend trip to the Damascus, Virginia area, with temperatures in the 50-60 F (10-16 C) range.  Originally I had planned a 2-night backpacking trip, but I got delayed leaving home, and the forecast was for very stormy weather with possible flash flooding, so I wimped out and enjoyed two nights in The Place Hostel in Damascus.  I took the MicroSpikes along on an 11 mi day-long section hike between McQueen Gap and Damascus, even though the day was warm, thinking I might have the chance to use them on some slippery muddy sections since it had rained for several days.  The trail in this area is very well maintained, and drains quite well, as well as not being very steep, so I ended up just carrying them in my pack most of the day inside a gallon size Glad zipper seal bag which I tucked inside the small square Zip-Lock plastic container.  This would seem a little overkill in most cases, but I also use the plastic container as a mini-sink to put my contacts in, so I did not want to get it grimy inside.  This worked out quite well, since it protected my other pack contents from the spikes, and it was easy to pull the zipper seal bag out when I wanted to use the bowl for other purposes.  I did get the opportunity to use them for a short blue blazed trail down to a water source I wanted to check out.  The side trail was fairly steep and covered with wet leaves, so I pulled the MicroSpikes out, and it was nice to have the assurance that I would not slip on the wet leaves and possibly injure myself.

Use and Findings So Far:

Any time I've used the MicroSpikes, I've found them very easy to slip on and take off, even when I am standing, although that is just a little trickier than putting them on while sitting on a log or sitting in my car at a trailhead, due to trying to keep my balance as I pull them on.  Still, it's very manageable for me to pull them on while standing.

The weather hasn't really cooperated with my schedule to give me much snow at a time I could play in it, so I haven't had as much use on snow and ice as I would have liked, but the few times I was able to use the MicroSpikes under these conditions, I felt they gave me a lot of traction.  I've also found they work quite well for keeping me from slipping on wet leaves and make it easier to travel in slippery mud, especially up or down steeper sections.

I have found that wearing the MicroSpikes on drier soil or longer sections of muddy ground makes me feel tired more easily since it does change my overall balance due to the fact that all of my weight is on the 8 small spikes.  It's a feeling somewhat reminiscent of trying to balance in high heels!  I did find that it was entirely possible to put one on backwards.  I did this on my last trip, and found it caused foot fatigue earlier, and just didn't feel 'right', so was fairly easy to catch.

The MicroSpikes are very easy to clean - I simply run some cool to warm water over them and most of the dirt washes right off.  This last trip, some was more embedded, so I took a small nail brush and scrubbed the spikes lightly, which finished removing the dirt and leaf litter.

Conclusions so far:

So far I have walked in the MicroSpikes for a total of a little over 9 miles, and carried them in my pack on two day hikes, as well as in the pocket of my Montbell U.L. Down Inner Parka another couple of times.  My impression so far is that they seem to be well designed and a simple and effective way to gain additional traction in snow, ice, or mud.  They are easy to slip on and off, and easy to carry along inside my pack or jacket pocket, although I do feel more comfortable with a dedicated small plastic container to carry them in so that the spikes don't press into other items I am carrying.  In slippery situations they give me more confidence and keep me from worrying about falling.

This concludes my field report.  Please check back in early June for final testing results and conclusions.

Long Term Report - June 3, 2008

Field Conditions:

Unfortunately for testing purposes, the weather just has not cooperated to give me the opportunity to test the MICROSpikes in snowy or icy conditions during this phase of the test.  I did wear them on two additional short 3 mi/5km hikes near home on old semi-maintained county roads after a few days of rain had turned them muddy and slippery.  Temperatures were around the 50-60 F (10-15 C) range.

I carried them in my pack on a 3 mi/5 km overnight backpacking trip in mid-April in the North Bend State Park area in central West Virginia, however the trail conditions were good and I did not wear them during the trip.

MICROSpikes packed upConclusions:

Similar to my experiences in the field test phase, I found the MICROSpikes do help with traction in the mud, providing more stable footing and a less slippery feeling when I take a step, however wearing them for very long does make me feel more tired in general due to balancing on the spikes instead of my entire foot.  In fact, wearing them for very long is fatiguing enough that I don't consider it worthwhile to wear them on an entire hike for the small benefit of less slipping on muddy slopes.  I also don't feel it is worth the effort of dealing with taking them off and storing them once they've gotten muddy for short sections of muddy slopes, although if the slope were in a dangerous area rather than merely an inconvenient climb or descent, I would probably feel the effort worthwhile.

The MICROSpikes have continued to be very easy to clean - some lukewarm water and a small nail brush cleans them up to look just like new.  They are also quite easy to pack - once I found that they store nicely in a Zip-loc brand small square container I have not needed to worry about having the spikes damage gear in my pack.  I also found that I could then use the Zip-loc container for a small 'sink' on my trips, so it is multi-use and fits well with my light weight hiking philosophy.  A photo of the MICROSpikes in the container I use is shown to the right.


Summary:

Although the weather did not cooperate very well for thorough testing of the Kahtoola MICROSpikes, I feel they will be a great addition to my cold weather hiking gear, and look forward to giving them a better workout next winter.  Although they are very usable for slippery muddy trails, the benefit in these cases is less critical than on snow and ice, so they are not an item I plan to carry in warmer weather.

It's good to know though that come winter I can pack along the MicroSpikes at a minimal weight gain in my pack and have a traction aid that is easy to put on and take off, easy to store, and that appears to be quite effective.

This concludes the test series.

Thanks to Kahtoola and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the MICROspikes.

Read more reviews of Kahtoola gear
Read more gear reviews by Pamela Wyant

Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Kahtoola Micro Spikes > Test Report by Pamela Wyant



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