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Winter Running Traction: Stabilicers Run, Kahtoola Nanospikes, and YakTrax Run Cleats

Me Jack FootprintsWinters where I live can be hard, but my disdain for the treadmill generally keeps me outside unless conditions get really bad. This winter started off pretty tame up here in New Hampshire. We had cold, but not much snow through early January, and I was able to use road shoes for most of my runs. Sidewalks started to ice over a bit in January, and we had a few light snow storms, which made running outside in road shoes a bit more of a challenge. And over the past couple of weeks we’ve been hammered by multiple storms and roads and sidewalks near my home are now virtually impassable.

For the most part, I can get by with a decent pair of lugged trail shoes for most winter running conditions. They handle crusty ice well, and deeper snow generally means I’ll opt to snowshoe rather than run unless the sidewalks have been cleared (roads near my house are too dangerous when bordered by big snow banks). However, there are times when the roads/sidewalks are covered by smooth ice and/or a thin layer of snow and adding some additional traction is helpful (e.g., such as when my street looks like the photo below taken this morning…).

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The road in front of my house right now…

Over the past two winters I’ve tried out three different running traction devices: Stabilicers, Kahtoola Nanospikes, and YakTrax Run Cleats. None are perfect, but all do the job in a pinch. I thought I’d share some thoughts on the pros and cons of each to help you make a purchasing decision should you need a traction device for your winter runs.

I’ll start by saying that all 3 devices provide decent traction on light snow and ice, and so in that sense they all do the job they were built for. However, don’t expect these to be a replacement for snow shoes in deeper snow as the metal spikes/lugs on all three are short and will not reach the ground on deeper snow that is packed down by the feet.

Stabilicers Run

stabilicers-sportrunners-ice-cleats (2)

Stabilicers are made in Maine (USA) by a company called STABIL. I’m starting with them because I feel like they provided the best “bite” on ice of the three devices in this review. Unlike the Kahtoola and Yaktrax devices, Stabilicers utilize what look like screw type lugs with a concave center. The lugs are embedded into a flexible rubber base, which also has rubber lugs. The combo works really well on ice and snow covered asphalt.

stabilicers-sportrunners-ice-cleats

Another plus for the Stabilicers is that they stay put well on my feet. They include a velcro strap that can be trimmed to fit your foot, and that helps secure them in place. However, I would have liked to have seen a more finished, integrated strap like on the Yaktrax product.

I expect that durability of the Stabilicers should be good – the rubber frame is made of thick bands, and the underfoot components are solid rubber.

stabilicers-sportrunners-ice-cleats (1)

On the down side, I found the Stabilicers to be the most difficult of the three to get on my feet, and the sizing seems to be a bit off as I really had to stretch them out to get the heel to fit over the back of my shoe. I still feel like the heel lugs were a bit too far forward. They are also a tad narrow in the forefoot and really had to wiggle them onto my Nike Wildhorse II trail shoes. Don’t try these with an Altra! I have them in a size Medium which is supposed to cover up to a 10.5 shoe size, but they did feel small on my 10.5 shoe. Being a borderline size is sometimes a challenge, and I’d suggest that you consider sizing up if you are borderline between two sizes.

Below are two photos of the Stabilicers on my feet from a recent run (shoe is Nike Wildhorse II).

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MSRP for Stabilicers Run is $42.95. They can be purchased at Amazon.com for a bit less than that.

Kahtoola Nanospikes

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Kahtoola, based in Flagstaff, Arizona (USA), is best known for their crampon-style traction devices. Their Microspikes might be great for trail traction and deeper snow, but they’d not work so well if you mainly run on roads. To serve this demographic, Kahtoola has produced a lower-profile traction device called the Nanospikes.

2015-01-06 13.35.21

The Nanospikes feature 10 tungsten carbide lugs that do a pretty good job of digging into ice covered roads and sidewalks. The lugs are a bit shorter than those on the Stabilicers however, which might explain why the latter seemed to grip a bit better. I like the fact that the lugs are secured in a firm rubber base, and that they are integrated into wide plates. I expect this should improve durability (see comments on Yaktrax below).

2015-01-06 13.36.23

Unlike the Stabilicers, the Nanospikes are quite easy to put on, little wriggling needed. On the negative side, I had issues with them staying in place on my first run. The forefoot kept slipping medially off of my shoe (see photo below) – I’d like to see some additional reinforcement bands in this area, or perhaps addition of a velcro strap would help. I did contact Kahtoola about the issue since I’m again a borderline size, and they sent me a medium to try instead. These stayed put much better, but I still think the Nanospikes would benefit from a more robust securing system around the forefoot.

One other issue I had with the Nanospikes was that one of the metal links connecting the base plate to the front of the forefoot put pressure on my big toe from above. It seemed to go away while running, but the pressure was quite noticeable when putting them on.

2015-01-06 15.04.39-4

Make sure you get the right size…

MSRP for the Kahtoola Nanospikes is $49.95. They can be purchased at Amazon.com.

YakTrax Run

YakTrax-Run-Cleats-560x560The YakTrax Run cleats combine carbide steel studs under the forefoot (similar to the studs on the Kahtoola Nanospikes) with traditional YakTrax coils under the heel. The combo provides good traction, and they are fairly easy to put on. I particularly like the fact that they have a velcro strap to help secure them on the forefoot – they stay in place quite well.

My main problem with the YakTrax Run cleats is that the metal studs are embedded in a plastic base, and after a few runs I could see some of the studs bending out of place within the base, and the plastic base even broke on one of them (see photo below). The stud plates are replaceable, but I’d expect better durability than I experienced for a product like this. My buddy Nate also had durability issues with his pair, and there are some similar complaints on Amazon about the studs shifting/bending, so my experience was not an isolated one. For this reason I’d recommend the Kahtoola or Stabilicers products over these.

2015-02-10 11.46.02

MSRP for the YakTrax Run cleats is $39.99. They can be purchased for a bit less than this at Amazon.com.

Conclusion

Among the three products covered here, I can recommend the Stabilicers and Kahtoola Nanospikes, but durability issues make me hesitate to recommend the YakTrax Run cleats. Between the Stabilicers and Nanospikes, I feel like the former provide slightly better traction and they feel very secure on the foot. They also feel very well-made and I expect durability will be good. The Nanospikes are lighter, lower profile, and easier to put on, all pluses. However, you may have to experiment a bit if you are a borderline between sizes as if they are too large they may shift around under the forefoot. If you tend to wear shoes with a wide toebox, I think the Nanospikes will be a better fit.

As an alternative to all of these options, you can also save some money and make some screw shoes – directions for this can be found here.

Disclosure: All products written about in this post were provided free of charge by the manufacturers for review purposes.

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. I’ve been running in 6-month Alaska winters for 20 years. None of the products that attach to shoes are durable or comfortable or stable or light enough. The cheap screws you suggest quickly lose their sharp edge if you have to run on asphalt or dirt to the snowy trail head. Best thing I have found so far are Ice Spikes. They’re sharp, durable and stay put (I’m not affiliated with the company) http://www.icespike.com — Icebug and Salomon studded shoes are great if they fit you and you can afford them.

  2. I love reviews on products like these that are less mainstream (ie – most runners are less likely to have extensive knowledge and usage of all the options in this category). Thanks for the work!

    For the last 3-4 years, I’ve used the IceTrekkers Diamonds and have gotten great usage and durability from the same pair. They go on and off my shoes easily, stay on my shoes during the run, and have excellent bite without discomfort on both cleared roads and icy surfaces.

    There’s a frozen like near my house that one of the residents plows a path for people to skate or walk around. It’s nearly a mile each way, and about a 2.75 mile loop around it. My IceTrekkers work great getting there, around the lake, and back.

    My only complaint is that the studs have a bit of corrosion, but this is probably my fault as the first year I had them, I didn’t rinse them off regularly after each use the first year I had them. I suspect rinsing may be a need/requirement for some of the other similar products from other companies. So road salt and other surface treatments have probably caused this rust/corrosion to develop and/or accellerate. Still, the studs have plenty of bite, and should hold up for at least a few more years.

    link to icetrekkers.com

    • Aaron, my experience with the IceTrekkers wasn’t so good. I used them to walk to work last winter (2 miles round trip, 5 days a week for several months) and the cable rusted out, rendering them worthless just after the warranty period ended. We don’t use salt or other chemicals on the side streets here in Anchorage that I walk on. For a $45 product intended for winter use, they should have been more durable.

      I actually use ice grippers more for walking than for running. As a midfoot striker, I’ve found that running on snow is more secure than walking — the heel strike of walking makes people more prone to slipping on ice.

      Like Pete, I generally find I don’t need any kind of traction device for running on snow other than a good knobby trail shoe outsole. I think I’ve used studs only twice this winter so far.

      • > As a midfoot striker, I’ve found that running on snow is more secure than walking — the heel strike of walking makes people more prone to slipping on ice.

        Funny that you mentioned that. Once I was with a friend in a snowed/iced downhill road, and I thought with myself that it’d made more sense to try to stay perpendicular to the road through a light run (I strike midfoot too).

        My friend made fun of me and told me that that didn’t make any sense: “the road is slippery and you’re going to run?”. I just smiled a bit and started running. I felt very secure during the run and did not slip at all!

      • Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with yours. Did you attempt to contact the company? I found that many of these smaller sporting companies will often try to work something out. It sounds like it’s too late for that here though.

  3. Pete, is there something wrong with the forum? I haven’t been able to log in, and it looks like the last post is from back in December.

    • Yes, have had a bunch of questions about this but have not been able to track down the problem. I can still create a new account and log in, not sure why others cannot. Will need to spend some time and figure it out.

  4. In central NH I have been getting by with good old wire based yak traks on a pair of shoes with an aggressive sole [Nike Pegs]…they last 1 season…and stink on true ice…but they get the job done. The other key I have found is dropping my stride length and upping my cadence seems to help…it even has the side benefit of forcing me to work on not over striding. If I ever get to the hardware store I do want to try adding screws to an old pair.

  5. This winter has been icy here in Norway and I have been using studs by BestGrip. They are really durable (often there is bare asphalt) and the best part is you can screw them into your favorite shoes, and you can remove them without hardly any signs on the shoes. That is the best part I think. Compared to some sleeve you put over your shoe I found this a better solution. For more snowy conditions I screwed them into my trail shoes. I bought them from Sweden (link to skodubb.se) but they are US made. So it should be easy to find them online. I found the BestGrip 3000B work nice for racing flats as they don’t dig in more than a few mm.

  6. Greg Emerson says:

    I bought ATV picks that usually go on Quad tires and a hex drive for my drill and screwed them right into strategic nubs on my running shoes (they are not minimalist shoes obviously). Rock solid but loud on all slippery surfaces. When conditions improve unscrew and head out with unnoticeable impact on shoes. They work great in Maine winters and CHEAP. I use 6-8 per shoe and I had to buy a box of 100 for 18$ and I am still on my first set of 14.

    • Well, of course running on bare roads with studs makes noise! But like you say at least you can remove them. For icy and snowy roads I think the best grip would be with shoes like Icebug or Asics studded shoes, made for that purpose. But then again the weather changes and you can’t use them anymore so the cost per mile is high. I found it more convenient (and economical) to use my favorite shoes or an old pair and add the studs. Not the perfect grip but good enough.

  7. Thank you very much for writing reviews. Today I was looking to purchase ( so that I can run on light snow ice below trail) and your website provided right information I was looking for. Traction is most important for me and I will try out Stabilicers

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