As a runner in Vermont winters can be a bit of a conundrum. On one hand it can be amazing as all of the sidewalks and bike paths turn into “trails”, and the many technical mountain routes actually smooth out and become runnable once all the boulders and ankle breaking rocks are covered in snow. On the other hand, the weather goes through this constant roller coaster of temperatures meaning ice is something we are more than familiar with. This also means that if you want to continue to enjoy running you either need to get familiar with the treadmill, or figure out a way to keep yourself rubber side down when running outside.
If you’re like us and prefer your runs with a side of fresh air, a little added traction can go a long ways towards making your runs more enjoyable and safe. Over the years we’ve tried a variety of traction devices and each system has it’s place. What you choose will depend on how much traction you desire and how frequently you plan to need said traction. So let’s dig in.
The Shoes You Already Have
Whatever Shoe You Already Own & Run In
Convenience: High | Performance: Low | Cost: Low
If you’re not that adventurous with your winter running and can pick and choose your days and routes, the running shoes you already own should be perfectly acceptable. A good trail shoe with aggressive lugs will work very well on soft or crusty snow. Even when you do encounter icy stretches there is often a less icy go-around. We have done many winter runs without supplementary traction devices. You just need to slow down, be careful, and pay attention. This is the least expensive option, but it provides the lowest performance.
Supplementary Traction Options
There are a variety of products that fall into this category, but let’s start with the ones that strap onto your shoes. Strap-on traction options allow you to add and remove traction at will. This means you can run in your favorite shoe, or run in different shoes on different days. If you’re not sure you’ll need them you can throw them in a pack and break them out only if necessary. Additionally, strap-on traction options tend to fall in the middle of the price spectrum.
Standard Yaktrax and Yaktrax Pro ($20-$30)
Convenience: Medium | Performance: Low | Cost: Low
Yaktrax Run, Kahtoola Nanospikes & Other Strap-On Carbide Spikes ($40-$50)
Convenience: Medium | Performance: Medium | Cost: Medium
These are a step up the performance scale. They are quite light, and the carbide spikes offer significant bite on hard ice. These are great for runs around town, on the bike path, or on city trails. You won’t want to get too aggro with them since they are still only attached to your shoes with straps. Also, durability can sometimes be an issue with models where the carbide bit is anchored in hard plastic. Overall though this category probably hits the sweet spot for a large number of people. The price isn’t terrible and traction and security are adequate for a typical winter outing.
Kahtoola Microspikes, Hillsound Trail Crampons & Other Aggressive Strap-On Spikes ($60-$70)
Convenience: Medium | Performance: High | Cost: High
Now we’re getting into some serious traction. Models in this category utilize much longer steel spikes. These are great for icy mountain trails, but are most likely too aggressive for runs around town. The added length and depth of the spikes provide incredible grip, but you’re also more likely to feel the spikes pushing up into your shoe. We really like models in this category for technical mountain “runs” in the Green Mountains and Adirondacks. They stay on pretty well and when traveling over deeper packed snow and ice we haven’t found anything better. Notice: While the traction is incredible when new, these do wear down and lose their bite over time. This means that over the life of the product you will likely have to sharpen them a handful of times especially if you use them on actual ice.
Permanent & Semi-Permanent Traction Options
In this category we are going to include sheet metal screws and other traction products that aren’t easily installed and removed. We’re also including shoes designed specifically for winter running. This category includes both the highest performing products and the most expensive. If you’re a high frequency winter runner looking for maximum performance this is your category.
Sheet Metal Screws (<$5)
Convenience: Medium | Performance: Medium | Cost: Low
This is by far the least expensive option for adding traction to a shoe you already have. Sheet metal screws are super cheap, and you can install as many as your traction needs require. You will want to be careful about the length of the screw you choose and if there are air pockets or other inserts you’ll need to be careful of the screw placement. On the performance side these work pretty well when they are new. However, they do wear down quickly and once worn they offer significantly less traction on ice… On snow or packed snow they remain great. One other warning… When replacing screws, they are much more likely to come out on the run when you reuse an old hole. However, there are only so many options and screws are cheap.
A Note About Icespikes: Icespikes are a high-end version of sheet metal screws. A set of 32 screws with installation tool costs ~$30, so they are quite a bit more expensive. Supposedly they are more durable, but we don’t think the slight increase in durability is worth the price. We used Icespikes for a number of years. The do last longer, but not 6-10 times longer.
We haven’t actually used this product, but it looks pretty sweet. These are user installed carbide bits. They have a special razor coil that threads into the shoe. The width of the coil should provide make these very secure, and spread the load out so you’re less likely to feel the spikes through the shoe. We’re not going to speculate any more than we already have. But we do really like the looks of these and would very much like to test a set out.
Dedicated Winter Running Shoes ($150-$200)
Convenience: High | Performance: High | Cost: Very High
This category includes options from Icebug and shoes like the Speedspike CS from Salomon. If you run a lot in the winter, want/need the best performance possible, and have some cash to spare you should seriously consider a dedicated winter running shoe with built in carbide spikes. These shoes are designed from the ground up for winter running. This means they’re going to be relatively weather resistant, typically have a little more volume to accommodate a thicker sock, and have snow specific features such as deep widely spaced lugs that dig in, but also shed snow very well.
This winter we’ve been running quite a bit in the Speedspike CS from Salomon and are really enjoying it. They feel like a great trail running shoe that has tenacious grip on hard ice. In the past with other combinations of shoes and supplementary traction there was always part of us that was a little hesitant to really run. With the Speedspikes we often forget how slippery it is until we charge past someone in regular shoes desperately trying not to fall. This is going to sound cliche… But the Speedspikes have really changed the winter running game for us. In the past we would avoid routes we knew would be icy, and seek out places we hoped wouldn’t have ice. Now, we go where we want without a second thought. These shoes have opened a lot of doors for us and it makes winter running way more fun.
Bottom Line: These are the best option available. They are expensive. But, the small size of the spikes provide awesome grip, and supposedly should outlast the rest of the shoe. If you love to run, this is where you want to be.