Test Series By Theresa Lawrence
INITIAL REPORT - November 27, 2013
FIELD REPORT - January 30, 2014
theresa_newell AT yahoo DOT com
Sparwood, British Columbia, Canada
5' 8" (1.73 m)
125 lb (56.70 kg)
27.5 in (70 cm)
32 in (81 cm)
I have more than 15 years of backpacking experience. Day hikes and 2-3 day backpacking trips take place on most weekends throughout the year while longer trips are only occasional. I backpack predominantly in mountain terrain (Coast Range, Cascades and Canadian Rockies) with the goal of summiting peaks. Activities I use my gear with include mountaineering, ski touring, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, trail running, Search and Rescue and overseas travel. I like my gear to be reasonably light, convenient and simple to use though I would not claim to be a lightweight hiker.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Kahtoola Inc.
|Photos courtesy of Kahtoola Inc.|
Manufacturer's Website: http://kahtoola.com
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Made in Korea
Listed Weight (for the pair): 11.4 - 15.6 oz (323 - 442 g)
Measured Weight (medium): 13.7 oz ( 388 g)
Spike Length: 3/8 in (1 cm) x 12 spikes
Spike Material: hardened stainless steel
Sizes Available: XS, S, M, L, XL
Size Tested: small (pending exchange of medium)
Warranty: 2 year
Kahtoola's niche is making winter accessible with their traction system designs for such footwear as hiking crampons and snowshoes. The MICROspikes appear to be the more casual, lightweight and convenient, but less technical line of personal traction. They are light and small and can be packed easily in a handbag, thrown on to any shoe or boot for changing conditions, without having to adjust straps or buckles. They are made with an elastomer harness that stretches over the boot and hardened stainless steel chains and spikes. There are 12 spikes in total on each one with a pattern designed to mimic a crampon at the heel and toe.
The steel and elastomer materials appear to be strong, well crafted and durable. The interface between the two is what concerns me. Although it does appear to be tough, I'm really interested to see how it will fare in four months. I am impressed at the length and arrangement of the spikes, they resemble more of a technical crampon than casual traction. Having seen this, I feel more confident that I can use them hiking and in the backcountry. There is a disclaimer that they are not to be used for technical use; so I am aware of their limits in the backcountry. I'm eager to see how they bite into ice and whether they will ball up with snow ending up with chunks of frozen snow stuck to the bottom of my boots.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
Instructions came inside the box indicating the harness fits onto the toe of the boot first and stretches on to the heel. Pretty straight forward. The spikes are even labeled front and back, but there are distinct features that give it away too like the steel bar at the toe and the shape of the heel.
TRYING IT OUT
Unfortunately when I tried the medium's I ordered, they were way too big for my trail hiking shoes, the harness engulfed them and the spikes and chains just hung loose. They were workable for my biggest winter boots, but still seemed I could go smaller as I had to really hike them up the boot so that the chains would be taught enough to align the spikes. I was able to try the size small, which just happened to be in the neighborhood, conveniently. I tried them on my biggest boots and they fit, so I will be exchanging the size. My shoe size is 8.5 US, which is just on the borderline of either size for trail shoes, but technically for my winter boots I shouldn't be able to use the smalls, but they seemed to fit just fine. My thoughts were to go bigger because of the bigger winter boots, but then I couldn't use them for any of my smaller hiking shoes and boots. I have narrow feet which may be why I needed the smaller size.
I found them really easy to put on as well as take off, so they seem like they won't be much hassle if there is a lot of changing terrain. Carrying them safely will be the key here with all those spikes.
The Kahtoola MICROspikes seem like a convenient asset for winter hiking and backpacking. Of course this will be determined over the next few months so we'll see if they meet my expectations. They look like they will be great for around my wintry town with all the snow and ice we get. I should be able to use all the trails throughout the winter in any condition, no excuses!
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Over the past couple months I have used the MICROspikes for trail hiking and running, as well as around town. Temperatures during this period have ranged from -25 C (-13 F) to -1 C (30 F). Weather encountered was mainly dry, cold, windy and snowy or wet with flurries and sleet.
Specific terrain and trips included:
- Two 5 km (3.1 mi) trail runs and one 5 km (3.1 mi) trail walk on a very icy trail with some steep sections up to 30% grade with a light day pack.
- Seven 5 km (3.1 mi) trail walks with mixed icy and snowy terrain, fairly flat with a light day pack.
- Six 4 km (3.5 mi) walks within town on icy side walks and tarmac roads.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
HOW THEY FIT
As reported above, I had exchanged the medium size for a size small. It took several weeks to receive the new size, but the customer service was very good. The new size accommodated all of my boots and trail runners, as shown in the photos below. At first I thought the fit was odd because the spikes forming a crampon at the heel were not on the edge of the outer heel like many technical crampons. Instead the MICROspikes are more centered under the heel and towards the instep, which I thought might be odd to walk on as I was thinking the boot heel would hit the ground first then the spikes, making for an odd gait. However, I did not find it was noticeable or strange even when going down a steep icy slope with heels first.
My first trial of the MICROspikes was out on an icy route around town. It consisted mainly of 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) of thick ice patches with some exposed pavement. There were some hills no more than 7%. It didn't take long to get used to the feeling of walking on spikes. The spikes handled the uneven ice and pavement without pause and provided unfailing traction. I thought there might be some movement in spike positioning as the terrain changed, but they remained solidly in place under my boots. I felt they were fairly easy to put on. The hardest part was balancing on one foot while pulling the spikes over the other foot. Picture me hopping on one foot as I lost my balance when it took a bit of 'umph' to pull the rubber over the bigger boots. I've got the knack now, or maybe I've developed better balance or both. Taking them off the boots was even easier, just pull the back off and the rest comes loose. I thought it might be difficult to position all the spikes the right way, but it wasn't. Even after pulling them out of a tangled ball, a little shake took out all the kinks in the chains righting the spikes into alignment.
With such a positive first experience, I decided to try running with the spikes around a trail with many steep sections. I didn't feel the spikes under my trail shoes at all and it didn't change my gait nor did it feel like I was running on a harder or more jarring surface. The traction again was phenomenal. I ran the trail and went up and down the hills with confidence. The traction never failed and I never felt I would roll an ankle even with all the uneven terrain, which was a mixture of hard ice, soft snow, frozen dirt and tree roots.
|Starting to ball up|
Walking in about 15 cm (6 in) of snow along fairly flat terrain, I did experience some balling of snow under my feet. But with a quick shake of the leg it was cleared. We don't have particularly wet heavy snow in this area, so it took quite awhile to collect and ball up under my foot, which meant it was no bother.
On trail with hard packed snow, the MICROspikes really gave an advantage to my stride. I was hiking with my partner who didn't have any sort of traction aid and he had a difficult time keeping pace with me. Since there was no give to my step, I propelled forward very efficiently.
I should add that I have found the MICROspikes to pack up very easily as they are so light and flexible. With my day pack, I just slapped them under the bungee cord that is cris-crossed on the back of my pack. In town, I would either just carry them by the rubber with my gloved hands if I knew I would be needing them again soon or I would throw them in my cloth grocery bag, the bottom of which soaks up any remaining wetness and dirt from the MICROspikes. Certainly not ideal, but I haven't really thought of another solution, perhaps just a plastic grocery bag to contain the 'mess'. For this reason, I prefer having a backpack with me, as there is always some place on the outside to strap them, leaving the contents clean and dry.
Thus far, the MICROspikes have stood up well to Sparwood's winter. There has been no compromise to the system and they still appear new. I have increasing confidence that they will last for many winters to come. I have another couple months to put them through more enduring feats, so stay tuned.
To sum up everything, the MICROspikes have given me unfailing traction when running or walking steep, uneven, icy and snowy terrain. They are solidly constructed, I have no qualms about the integrity of the Kahtoola design. From what I've experience so far, I don't know how I ever managed to walk those trails without them.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
- Easy to pack
- Easy to put on and take off
- Unfailing traction on flat or steep grades of up to 30% on sheer ice
- One size fits all my boots and shoes
- The sizing chart was a bit off the mark for the size I needed
Thank you to Kahtoola Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to take part in this test series. I will be looking forward to another 2 months in the field.
Read more reviews of Kahtoola gear
Read more gear reviews by Theresa Lawrence