Spring may be in the air, but winter is still in the mountains. This past season, the West Coast experienced record snowfall. Some regions in California’s Sierras and Oregon’s Siskiyous received up to 180% of their normal snow levels. Even now, many of Oregon’s mountain passes are still snowed in and receiving new snowfall. This signals that it may be some time yet before the PCT will be fully accessible, and some higher-elevation areas may see snow cover last long into the summer months. As such, being prepared with a good pair of traction devices when you hit the trail can help you cross these icy obstacles and keep your feet under you. We recently put several traction devices to the test, on everything from icy sidewalks to frosty trails to high, snowy slopes, from Portland to Mount Hood. Here’s how six of our faves stacked up.
Starting with basic traction devices, both the Yaktrax Pro and Kahtoola NANOspikes offered decent winter surface stability, hence their grouping. The Yaktrax Pro ($30) adds a web of stainless steel coils to the bottom of your shoes or boots. They pull on easy enough and use a strap across the top to secure them in place. We found the Pro’s traction to be best on hard-packed snow; on ice, they were still effective enough with more careful stepping. Alternatively, the Kahtoola NANOspikes (pictured; $50) are like studded tires for your feet. These required a little more muscle to stretch on over our boots, where they fit snugly enough to keep them on while walking and running. These devices employ 10 0.2-inch cleats with small, tungsten-carbide studs on two large baseplates. We found the NANOspikes to work best on smooth, frozen surfaces, but not as effective over uneven or lumpy terrain where the studs weren’t able to bite into the surface. If you’re just looking for basic traction assistance, either of these devices will suffice, and both are compact and lightweight enough to stash in your pack and go.
We had mixed feelings about these compact, uber-light traction devices. First the good. The Titanium Pocket Cleats are ridiculously lightweight, at just 5 ounces for the pair, and super-tiny for folding and stowing. Attaching the devices was a little tricky, as they are particularly fickle about the footwear they’re used on, suited more for runners than boots. When firmly secured, they offered good traction with their eight 0.375-inch titanium points. However, keeping them secured was the challenge, hence the not-so-good. With only two over-the-boot straps, we needed to buckle these down as tightly as possible to keep them from wiggling loose. Even then, they eventually managed to loosen—especially on inclines—requiring a few stops to reset. The solution we settled on was to employ a small carabiner clip, connecting the front toe strap to our boot laces. After that, it was pretty smooth sailing. While we wouldn’t recommend these for long traverses or extreme grades, they do make a decent, lightweight option (with some tinkering) for short sprints on icy or hardpack trail sections. $60
When it comes to ease-of-use, the Yaktrax Summit traction devices were a solid standout. No straps to fiddle with, no buckles to tighten down. Just pull them onto your boots and twist the rear tension dial to cinch them up. The trick is in their patented Boa Closure System, a ratcheting dial that employs a stainless steel micro-cable to create a custom and comfortable fit. Exit from the devices is just as easy. Just pop the dial and pull them off—sitting down not required. Easy-peasy! The Summits are designed to work with most hiking footwear—from trail runners to heavy boots. The 12 0.375-inch carbon steel spikes bit easily into every icy and hard-packed snow surface we put them to. The flexible baseplates were nice in that they conformed to our shoes’ soles and they helped keep ice and snow from building up. And try as we did to shake them loose, they held fast on both steep slopes and traverses. When we needed to stow them, they folded up nicely to stow into their own bag. At 17 ounces for the pair, they’re not the lightest devices we tried, but they did offer some great winter trail stability. $90
Imagine spiked chainmail. When you pull on a pair of Trail Crampon Ultras, that’s likely what you’ll imagine. These traction devices mean business, and are one of the closest options you’ll get to a full-on mountaineering crampon in a lighter, more packable design. The Ultras pull on easily enough, stretching over most hiking footwear and securing with a velcro strap; exiting the devices just requires a tug on the rear tab. Traction comes from 18 0.4- and 0.5-inch stainless steel spikes that bite wonderfully into solid ice. We even ran up a steep, black ice-covered road in these and there was no slippage at all—super-grippy! On trails, we took them on both slopes and traverses and they provided solid footing at every angle. A few user reviews out there indicted that they can work themselves loose on traverses, but we couldn’t replicate that, despite trying. Even with all that chain, a pair of Ultras weighs in at just 16 ounces (size large), and they stash away nicely in a sturdy, cinch-top bag. If you’re looking at extensive snow travel on the trail this spring or summer, these are a solid choice. $70
Similar to the Hillsound crampons, the Kahtoola MICROspikes are a web of stainless steel chained spikes attached to an elastomer harness, and are ideal for use on any footwear, from trail runners to mountaineering boots. While not difficult to put on, we had to sit down and muscle them on over our boots, where the stretchy harness covers enough of the shoe tops so as to not need an additional securing strap to keep them in place. We tested this vigorously by jumping, hopping and sliding (or at least trying to) across snowy, icy trails trying to work them loose—to no avail, they stayed on securely. The only thing we noticed was some slight accumulation of snow under the straps in non-compacted conditions, but this didn’t compromise their fit or performance, as the 12 0.375-inch spikes easily kept us firmly on our feet . The lightest of the three full-size devices we tried, the MICROspikes weigh in at just 13 ounces (size large), and can be quickly stashed in their small, sturdy pouch. These are another good selection to have along if snow travel is on your horizon. $70
These reviews are based on the experiences of PCT: Oregon’s gear review team. Individual results may vary. For best results, follow the instructions and know the limits of all safety devices. Use at your own risk. This post contains affiliate links. For more information on PCT: Oregon gear reviews, click here.