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Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Kahtoola Microspikes 2013 > Test Report by Andrea Murland
I began hiking frequently in 2006 and have since hiked in Western Canada, Australia, and spent 2 months backpacking in the Alps. I spend most weekends either day-hiking or on 2-3 day backpacking trips, with some longer trips when I can manage them. I also snowshoe and ski in the winter, but don’t have a lot of experience with winter in the backcountry yet. Elevation is typically 500-3,000 m (1,600-10,000 ft), in the Canadian Rockies and the Selkirk, Purcell, and Monashee ranges. I try for a light pack, but I don’t consider myself a lightweight backpacker.
Description & Initial ImpressionsThe Kahtoola MICROspikes are traction devices that are worn over shoes or boots. They have twelve 0.375 in (1 cm) long stainless steel spikes under the foot (10 spikes on the extra-small size), with four spikes under the heel and eight spikes under the forefoot. The spikes come to a point but aren’t dangerously sharp. The spikes are connected by chains. The chains are connected in eight places to the upper harness, which is made from a stretchy, rubbery material. This is the part that goes around my shoe. The harness is marked with the Kahtoola logo and “FRONT,” as well as the size on the back and the text “MICROspikes” on the sides.
Inside the box that contained the MICROspikes was a small card which had pictorial instructions. They translate to: put my toe in the front of the harness, stretch the harness towards the back of my shoe, and up around the back. Pretty simple. The card also offered the cleaning and maintenance instructions, which are basically to clean and inspect them after use. In addition, there was a notice that the MICROspikes are not intended for technical climbing, and a pretty normal two-year warranty clause.
Trying Them OutObviously, the first thing I did when taking the MICROspikes out of the box was to find a pair of boots and try them! The size small stretches comfortably around my US women’s size 6 running shoes, hiking boots, and winter boots. I initially tried to put them on while holding the shoes in my hands, and discovered that it requires too much effort to stretch the harness while also holding onto the shoes. After putting the shoes on, it was easy to get the MICROspikes on.
The next obvious thing to do was to take the spikes outside. There is plenty of packed snow and ice around where I live right now, including a nice packed creekside trail. I immediately noticed that I had excellent traction on slippery sections. I also noticed that I felt like I was standing a bit taller on the trail than usual. I was walking carefully, trying out the spikes, but I wonder if I’ll find that scuffing my feet makes me face plant...not sure I’ll be able to work up the courage to try it deliberately, but I’m a clumsy enough runner that I should get a test! I made the mistake of stepping on a patch of clear asphalt on my way back home, and that made an unpleasant “fingernails on the chalkboard” kind of sound and didn’t feel very good. I think these will definitely need to stay on the snow! That got me thinking about transporting the spikes between locations, and how I’m going to carry them in a jacket or pack. I’ll have to figure that one out yet.
SummaryThe Kahtoola MICROspikes are a spiked winter traction device that seems like it will give good traction on snow and ice. I have to figure out how to carry them around, and I’m wondering if I’m going to trip on them at some point, but my initial impressions are good!
ObservationsAfter my quick walk while writing my Initial Report, the next thing I used them for was a hiking/geocaching trip off-trail in a hilly area near home. The snow cover wasn’t deep, maybe 5 cm (2 in), and I wasn’t on any kind of packed trail, so I started off with the MICROspikes loose in my daypack. After slip-sliding my way up one hillside (it was hillier than I expected), I decided to try the spikes for the way down. I wasn’t sure how they’d do on the mixed terrain, but they were great! They bit into the partially-frozen dirt and slippery grass and made it possible to stay upright. It was above freezing that day, and I noticed as I kept hiking that I was having some snow ball up under my feet, which felt very strange and also caused me to slip a bit. Kicking nearby stumps every time I walked past, or kicking my feet together, was enough to clear the snow from the bottom for a few more steps. I eventually found myself in rockier terrain, and found that stepping on a snow-covered rock was rather unpleasant in the MICROspikes, as they would make a scratchy metal-on-rock sound and also slide on the rock. Although I removed the spikes for the rocky part of the hike, when I later found myself on a logging road that was sheer ice, I was sure glad to have them in my pack. The MICROspikes make a satisfying crunching sound as they dig into ice, and I never felt even the slightest slip in my step. I was able to walk with a normal stride.
With confidence after that hike, I took them out on a trail run on our creekside trail. I was expecting the trail to be hard packed, but to my surprise it was actually quite loose snow. The MICROspikes didn’t impede me in any way on that run, and probably helped my traction on the steeper hills. Although I usually avoid running on roads, especially in the winter when they can be slippery, I decided to venture onto the slippery compact snow for the way home on my next run. I wanted to see if the spikes would change my gait and how they would bite in. My gait was way more natural than it would usually be on that kind of surface, as I didn’t have to adjust to prevent myself from slipping. The spikes dig in fully on compact snow, and it felt like running normally. I haven’t tripped over the spikes yet either! I have noticed that if I step on a section of snow that’s very thin, so that I’m basically stepping straight on the pavement, that it feels like I’m teetering on a bunch of little points (which I am, of course). I definitely think pavement is to be avoided in the spikes, but I haven’t felt them slip on the pavement or anything.
My other hikes and runs were on packed trails, and confirmed my other observations – that the MICROspikes give great traction and allow me to walk or run with a normal gait.
As far as putting them on, I have developed a technique where I prop one foot over the other knee, balancing on one leg, and then stretch them front-to-back. It’s not very graceful, but it works. I usually have to adjust them slightly once they’re on to get them centered, as it seems that I never get the “FRONT” text quite at the front on the first try, and I want the spikes to be centered under my foot. So far I have only attempted to put them on with thin gloves or bare hands. Getting them off is an easy pull of the tab at the heel.
I have carried the spikes loose in my daypack, but I worry about scraping up all my other gear in the pack. I have taken to clipping a strap on my pack through the elastic harness and letting them dangle. They jingle slightly there, but I haven’t gotten them caught on anything yet.
The MICROspikes look as good as new, with no rust or other wear on the spikes visible.
SummaryI am enjoying navigating winter with the MICROspikes on my feet. I have greater confidence to run and walk in packed or icy terrain, or even in loose snow with slippery surfaces underneath. I’ve learned to avoid pavement, and in rocky terrain it’s best to avoid the rocks. They are easy to get on and off, and are standing up to use well.
Field ConditionsIn the long-term testing phase, I have used the MICROspikes on a further three trail runs and three day hiking trips, as well as a geocaching excursion. Unfortunately I broke a toe late in the test period, so that put an end to spring running. Temperatures were a bit milder as we transitioned into spring, getting up to about 10 C (50 F) later in the test. Most of my use of the spikes over the past two months has been on sheer ice, but on the trail runs there were some variable conditions, ranging from dirt to rotten snow to ice.
My gait is much more natural when running or walking, as I am not concerned about slippery conditions. I never did trip over them, so I think that fear was unfounded. I also discovered during the test that I could drive in them, though it felt a bit strange and I don’t think I’ll be making a habit of it.
If I’m not wearing the spikes, I either clip them to the outside of my pack or put them in a small nylon stuff sack and then into a pocket or pack. Both of these methods have worked well.
As far as durability goes, the rubber looks as good as new, and the spikes don’t appear to be worn down. There is a small amount of surface rust showing around a few of the spots where the chains connect to the plates with the spikes on them, but it is superficial.
SummaryI love the MICROspikes! I can’t imagine how I ever went running in the winter without them. They have been helpful in many situations this winter, and I see them having a place in my winter running, hiking, and Search & Rescue gear in the future.
Allows me to use a natural gait
Easy to put on and off
Not great on a mix of dirt/pavement and snow/ice
Small amount of surface rust
Thanks to Kahtoola and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the MICROspikes! These are going to be a part of my winter kit for as long as possible!
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Reviews > Snow Gear > Traction Aids > Kahtoola Microspikes 2013 > Test Report by Andrea Murland
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