Winter is late arriving in Southern Ontario, so rather than going out to play in the snow (e.g snowboarding, winter camping, tobogganing, hiking) I’m spending way too much time planning future trips and reading equipment reviews. In anticipation of snow and ice arriving pretty soon I’ve been reading up on the various spikes, cleats and mini-crampons on the market that make going for a stroll at the weekends that much safer and more enjoyable. Note: The comments below are based partially on personal experience, partially on other people’s opinion, and partially from scrutinising reviews and poking around in stores.
Yaktrax Pro – Around $30
The Yaktrax are a lightweight flexible design that uses coiled wire rather than spikes. Hence the people who get on well with these tend to be runners who want light weight and an unobtrusive design but don’t need the ultimate in traction. They’re also quite popular with people who use them around the city for clearing the driveway, walking the dog etc. Winter hikers and those who go off trail don’t seem to rate them very highly. They’re slightly fiddly to put on, but once on they stay put well. Lots of people seem to have problems with these breaking too, so durability is a bit of a concern for someone like me who tends to be quite rough with equipment. I’ve seen a number of broken ones abandoned at the side of trails. Overall they’re probably best suited to occasional use around the city or on trails that are only partially covered with snow.
Stabilicers Sport – Around $40
I’d read about Stabilicers a lot online and seen them in stores but the descriptions I’d heard didn’t match up with the product I’d seen. That’s because Stabilicers actually make two different styles, one called the Sport (which I’d read about) and one called the Lite (which I’d seen). The Sport are the beefier of the two and essentially have a bunch of protruding screwheads around the outside of the foot. Hence they’re easy to walk in but give good traction too. There’s generally a trade-off between how easy cleats are to put on, and how well they stay put. These are more geared to staying on well and some people find them hard to put on. They’re a popular all round option, but in a “jack of all trades, master of none” sort of way.
Stabilicers Lite – Around $20
These are the cleats I’d been fiddling around with in my local MEC store recently. These are super-lightweight and the cheapest product of its type on the market. They’re pretty decent if you’re likely to encounter a mix of ice and bare pavement (ie in the city) and you don’t want to have to constantly take them off and put them back on again. People find them easy to put on (as did I when I tried them out) but they have a tendency to pop off if they’re not a perfect fit or your footwear doesn’t have a defined welt.
Kahtoola Microspikes – Around $55
The chain and spike design of the Microspikes makes them the most suitable for packed snow that you come across when you’re out on the trails. The same features that give these great traction on packed snow or ice make them a real struggle on pavement as the spikes stick out quite a long way. Hence you find yourself putting them on and taking them off a lot if the trail is only partially snow-covered. Fortunately I find them really easy to put on and take off.
So what’s the conclusion? Well, as with many things in life, it’s about the right tool for the job. For the sort of weekend hikes that I do through the winter (on fairly rugged but well-used trails) the Microspikes suit me best. Typically they’re the most expensive! I also have a pair of Yaktrax for around the city, winter trail running, and “mixed” trails (ie partially snow-covered).