Gear Review: Kahtoola MICROspikes
Posted on February 19, 2013 by
If you're a hiker or backpacker that wants to expand your season by starting it a little earlier or extending it a little later, these shoe accessories are a must-have. This is especially true if you plan to tilt your travels uphill, where the snow arrives early and stubbornly sticks around as long as it can in the spring. You know the conditions - the shoulder seasons where you'll come across only a few inches of pack and ice, not bad enough to warrant crampons but enough to be a hassle or even dangerous without some kind of additional traction. MICROspikes are the way to go, in our opinion.
Several of us here at Xploritall looked around at some of the similar product options in preparation for hiking a Colorado "14'er" mountain in early October. The competing products were basically the equivalent of tire chains, exposed bolt heads, or wire coils wrapped around a rubber cord. Visually, those designs don't exactly create the image of stability on ice. MICROspikes just look rugged, with their 3/8" stainless steel teeth ready to bite into whatever terrain is in their way. As their name suggests, they are much like miniature versions of crampons.
Convenience and ease of installation is another important feature for a snow and ice traction accessory. You don't want to have to repeatedly take your gloves off and plant your butt on a cold surface every time you hit a section where you need or no longer need extra traction, or need to make an adjustment. Kahtoola developed a nice, minimal system using a strong elastometer that easily slips over your shoes. The rubberized harness allows for a snug yet comfortable fit on almost any shoe or boot. The spikes are linked by chains that attach to the elastometer at reinforced eyelets. No straps, buckles, or other adjustable components are required! When you don't need them, just slip them off, ball them up, and stick them in your pack. Obviously keep them in the pack where the spikes aren't going to poke into something important (like you, or a water bladder). Note: some MICROspikes come with a stuff sack, or you can purchase one separately. You should consider the bag to store your spikes.
So how did they fare in our test? We hiked Mount Democrat, which had some light (2 or 3 inches) of snowpack within the last several hundred feet of the summit. The path was pretty narrow and rocky, about 50% covered by snow. The MICROspikes dug in without a hitch. The rocks were a nuisance and were unavoidable, but the spikes didn't show any signs of wear and tear. I'm sure many will agree that descending is usually pretty hard on the knees, but the MICROspikes gripped so well we were confident enough to run downhill faster than we probably would have in dry conditions. It was almost sad when we got below the snowline and had to remove the MICROspikes to finish the descent.
The only downside is the cost, which will run you around $60. You can get the set with the stuff tote for about $7-8 more, saving a few bucks over buying the tote separately.