There are many varieties of winter traction devices on the market, and seemingly just as many names for them. Whether you call them microspikes, ice cleats, trail crampons, or something else, these winter accessories will help to keep you firmly planted all season long. Some utilize low-profile metal coils, some hardened steel studs, and others still function like less aggressive ice climbing crampons. If you’re looking to safely walk the icy city streets or trail run through the frozen backcountry, there’s a traction device that matches your needs.
To develop this list, we have tested a massive pile of options from brands including Yaktrax, Black Diamond, Kahtoola, and Hillsound for two consecutive winters now. From the grizzled chill of a Wyoming winter to the first snows to lay on the North Cascades, we suited up in these traction spikes all over to set off into the wilds across multiple seasons, aiming to pin down precisely what makes them tick. Our seasoned experts include wilderness guides and thru-hikers who don’t stop moving once the first snow falls.
After extensive field research involving hiking, running, and slip-sliding over all kinds of terrain, we’ve identified the top traction devices of 2023. There are spikes that are best suited to a quick jaunt out to the mailbox, and traction that’ll keep up with the worst iced-over trails. Safe to say, these traction devices will help you keep the rubber side down this winter.
Editor’s Note: We updated this guide on September 26, 2023 to add more information about our testing processes, as well as notes about the different types of traction devices, and ensured that our choices are still the best of the best.
The Best Winter Traction Devices of 2023-2024
- Best Overall Winter Traction Device: Kahtoola EXOspikes
- Best Budget Winter Traction Device: Yaktrax Pro Traction
- Best Ultralight Winter Traction Devices: Black Diamond Blitz Spike
- Best Winter Traction Devices for Technical Hiking: Hillsound Trail Crampon
- Best Winter Traction Devices for Runners: Korkers Ice Runner
- Weight per pair 7.3 oz. (medium)
- Traction Twelve tungsten carbide spikes
- Harness Lightweight elastic rubber with reinforced eyelets
- Best for Walking, hiking, and running on a variety of surfaces
- Secure fit
- Durable cleats don't wear down
- Grippy on various surfaces
- Not the most packable
- Weight per pair 6.4 oz. (medium)
- Traction X-pattern of steel coils over rubber harness
- Harness Rubber with velcro strap
- Best for Walking, running, and hiking on moderate terrain
- Good value
- Traction system covers the entire underfoot area
- Low profile
- Not ideal for technical terrain
- Weight per pair About 3.2 oz. (medium)
- Traction Six 8 mm stainless steel spikes in the forefoot area
- Harness Rubber heel webbing loop and thin toe strap
- Best for Ultralight backpacking, light and fast technical winter travel
- Stuff sack included
- Only provides traction in the forefoot area
- Weight per pair 1 lb. (medium)
- Traction 11 2/3" carbon steel spikes per crampon
- Harness Burly over-foot harness with velcro strap
- Best for Hiking on steep terrain
- Highly secure harness system
- Grippy on technical hiking terrain
- Good value
- Despite the name, these aren't technical crampons
- Weight per pair 11 oz.
- Traction 22 replaceable carbide studs
- Harness Rubber underfoot platform and top plate with customizable BOA fit adjustment
- Best for Running in town and on moderate trails
- Secure fit
- Replaceable studs improve overall longevity
- Customizable fit
- Only compatible with running shoes
- Weight per pair 11.2 oz. (medium)
- Traction Free-spinning steel alloy beads slung on steel cable in the forefoot and heel
- Harness Thin elastic rubber with riveted eyelets
- Best for In-town use and semi-technical trails
- Innovative traction system
- Relatively packable
- Some users have reported durability issues
Winter Traction Device Comparison Table
|Traction Device||Price||Weight||Traction||Harness||Best for|
|$63||14.6 oz. (per pair, medium)||12 tungsten carbide spikes||Lightweight elastic rubber with reinforced eyelets||Walking, hiking, and running on a variety of surfaces|
|Yaktrax Pro |
|$34||12.8 oz. (per pair, medium)||Steel coils over rubber harness||Rubber with Velcro strap||Walking, running, and hiking on moderate terrain|
|$55||11.2 oz. (per pair, medium)||Free-spinning steel alloy beads slung on steel cable||Rubber strap||In-town use and semi-technical trails|
|Black Diamond |
|$50||3.2 oz. (per pair, medium)||Six 8 mm stainless steel spikes in the forefoot area||Rubber heel webbing loop and thin toe strap||Ultralight backpacking, light and fast winter travel|
|Hillsound Trail |
|$80||1 lb. (per pair, medium)||11 2/3″ carbon steel spikes per crampon||Burly over-foot harness with Velcro strap||Hiking on steep terrain|
|Korkers Ice |
|$70||11 oz. (per pair, medium)||22 replaceable steel carbide stud||Rubber underfoot platform and top plate with customizable BOA fit adjustment||Running in town and on moderate trails|
How We Tested Winter Traction Devices
The bulk of our winter traction device testing was conducted by Austin Beck-Doss during an exceptionally snowy Wyoming winter. Several times per week, Austin trekked up the side of a steep canyon through icy trail conditions. In town, Austin ran errands by foot, traversing sidewalks and streets that closely resembled ice rinks. The testing process had real implications — Austin was seeking the best devices to meet his actual day-to-day needs and avoid falling on his butt.
Senior Editor Nick Belcaster also lent a foot or two in testing these spikes, and has years of experience equipping climbers and mountaineers for the glaciers of the North Cascades under his belt. In addition, Belcaster also traversed a snow-bound Sierra Range in 2018 during a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and relied on his traction devices to get him up and over sun-baked and slick mountain passes. His testing today mainly occurs during the fall and winter in Washington State, where having a good pair of spikes is often key to unlocking early-season high-alpine ice.
While testing, we paid careful attention to traction, fit, comfort, and versatility, all while trying these traction devices out on a variety of footwear, from trail runners to winter and mountaineering boots. We determined durability over multiple wears on various surfaces, and every pair of microspikes were assessed on their ability to grip in snow, ice, and mud. We ran, hiked, and post-holed through it all to find the best of the best.
As new traction devices hit the market, we’ll be sure to test a pair to see if they make the cut.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Winter Traction Devices
What Are Traction Devices and How Do They Work?
Most footwear isn’t designed for ice and snow-covered surfaces. Standard rubber-soled boots and shoes are no match for frosted sidewalks and frozen trails. In the cold climates of the northern United States and elsewhere, snow often covers the ground from November to May.
Winter traction devices — also known as ice cleats or microspikes — attach directly to a shoe or boot to bite onto slick surfaces and improve grip. Designs and intended applications vary, but all traction devices are meant to prevent slippage and improve safety.
Some traction devices on this list utilize a pattern of steel coils, while others have cleats or spikes. Every traction device utilizes some kind of harness to snugly attach to a boot or shoe. Traction devices are generally compatible with all kinds of footwear. Ultimately, any traction device is better than nothing, but some work better than others for certain applications.
Winter Traction Device Types
Since winter trail conditions can swing wildly not only from day to day, but sometimes hour to hour, equipping yourself with the right spikes for the job will be key in keeping the rubber side down. In the same way that there are varying types of tires you might mount up on your rig, so too are there different types of winter traction devices, and use profiles that they work best in.
Anyone who has experienced a Minnesota winter knows that it sometimes feels as though they’re running Zambonis around instead of snow plows, and an iced-over city can be a treacherous place to get around, even on foot. Traction devices for running errands, shoveling out your driveway, or walking the dog aren’t high-intensity, but they still require a good amount of grip to manage. Spikes made for casual use are more often of the coil or stud varieties, with more low-profile traction that is better suited to hardpack and shoveled sidewalks.
The Yaktrax Pro Traction and Black Diamond Blitz Spikes are both tried-and-true low-profile options that you can hardly feel when strapped on your shoes. They’re perfect for flat surfaces, and won’t break the bank. If you live in a hilly area and require something with a bit more bite, the Yaktrax ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip is a great middle ground. Its free-spinning steel beads are more aggressive than the basic Yaktrax coils, but they’re still relatively lightweight and unobtrusive. For occasional short hikes on unpaved trails, the ICEtrekkers are fully capable.
Hiking and Backpacking
Hiking in the shoulder seasons can be intensely rewarding — given you’ve got the right traction. Winter traction devices for hiking are a necessity for day-hikers looking to get into the high country, and thru-hikers, too, have a special interest in equipping themselves with the appropriate traction devices, as often their hiking time frames don’t allow for perfect mountain conditions, and crossing high alpine passes in the less-than-ideal is made manageable with a good set of spikes.
Obviously, traction in these types of spikes is bolstered over your daily-driver types, with not only the depth of the spikes increasing, but also their number and distribution under the foot. Coil-type traction works best on packed-out and icier trails, and as such devices with actual spikes are preferred for hiking. When headed out on a snowy hike, we most often reach for our Kahtoola EXOspikes to provide the traction we need. For much deeper or steeper snow, the mountaineering crampon-adjacent Hillsound Trail Crampons bulk up on traction with 11 carbon steel spikes that grip a full 2/3″ into the substrate. These spikes have serious bite.
Your heart rate doesn’t have to drop when the temperatures do. Running traction devices take a bit of a different tack versus their slower-paced counterparts, and aim to have a robust harness system that won’t slip off during use, and just enough traction to bite in without tripping up your stride.
Studs are the end-all when it comes to running-style traction on compacted terrain, as they clear irregularities on the ground better than spikes, and won’t roll as coils will. The Korkers Ice Runners sport 22 of the steel carbide bits, and feature a BOA-cinched harness that cradled the top of the foot in a way that most other devices couldn’t match. For deeper or ungroomed trail running in the snow, it can make sense to go with a spike that has a bit more bite, like the Kahtoola EXOspikes, which have more pronounced studs to dig in deeper.
Traction Styles: Coils vs. Studs vs. Spikes
Traction devices rely on a variety of materials and designs to improve grip. The ubiquitous Yaktrax Pro Traction has a series of steel coils that run in an X-shaped pattern from toe to heel. While coils are a reliable option for non-technical everyday use, they aren’t as aggressive or biting as metal studs or spikes.
Studs — or cleats — are small metal points typically no thicker than the tip of a pen. These points are usually made from ultra-hard carbon steel compounds called carbide. They work exactly like football cleats, stabbing into the ice with every step. Studs are the preferred traction solution for runners, as they are lower profile and shallower than spikes. On this list, the Korkers Ice Runner utilizes replaceable steel carbide studs to great effect.
Teeth-shaped crampon-style spikes tend to be more aggressive than coils or studs. Steel spikes dig deep into the snow, ice, mud, and dirt. For steep technical hiking, spikes are the most secure choice. On this list, the Hillsound Trail Crampons are rugged spikes for serious winter hikes. They won’t work for climbing vertical terrain, but they’re great for trekking in the mountains.
Length and Number of Spikes/Studs
Traction devices with spikes aren’t automatically “better” than those with studs or coils. No matter which traction system you go with, consider the length, distribution, and total number of studs, spikes, or coils.
If pure traction is your priority, look for a device with coils, studs, or spikes across the entire underfoot area. Some styles, like the Black Diamond Blitz, only have spikes in the forefoot. While this minimalist design improves packability, it increases the potential of a slip and fall. Typically, 10-12 evenly distributed studs or spikes will provide the best grip and performance for winter walks and hikes. As for coils, the Yaktrax Pro features coils that stretch across the whole foot.
As for length, longer spikes and studs are more aggressive, which is helpful on steep and rough terrain. The most rugged traction devices have long spikes and a lot of them. Hillsound’s Trail Crampons have long 5/8″ spikes that did deep into snow and ice. Long spikes can be a nuisance for runners, as they tend to disrupt the user’s natural stride. For general use, the Kahtoola EXOspikes have shallow studs, which are sufficient for most users.
Traction devices use harnesses to remain firmly fixed to the user’s foot. Typically, harnesses are made from rubber or a rubber-plastic compound, which has elastic qualities and holds up to abuse. With that said, some harnesses are more durable than others, and they tend to be the first component to fall apart. A good well-fitted harness keeps the underfoot traction system from sliding around.
On this list, the Hillsound Train Crampons have a durable harness that is both secure and lightweight. It’s easy to put on and take off with its sizable pull tab, and the eyelets that hold the traction system are thick and reinforced. On the other end of the spectrum, the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip has a semi-thin standard rubber harness that feels less durable.
While most harnesses simply stretch around the outside of a shoe’s sole, some are more advanced. The Korkers Ice Runner uses a BOA adjustment system to fully sandwich the foot between two contoured plates. The resulting fit is exceptionally secure — which is exactly what runners need.
Some traction devices weigh as little as 4 ounces per pair, while some of the beefier hiking styles can weigh as much as 12 ounces. Naturally, minimalist options like the Black Diamond Blitz Spikes weigh very little, and the aggressive Hillsound Trail Crampons are relatively hefty.
As weight increases, so do durability and overall grip. More spikes and thicker harnesses improve performance, but the ounces do add up. For everyday comfort, it’s nice to stick to lighter options. On this list, Kahtoola’s EXOspikes weigh just 7.3 ounces per pair — an excellent middle ground of weight and all-around performance.
Packability is a concern for outdoorsy folks who will need to carry their microspikes when they’re not in use. Backpackers should check out Black Diamond’s minimal Blitz Spikes — which pack down to the size of an apple and weigh less than an iPhone.
Rugged models like the Hillsound Trail Crampons aren’t very packable, but that’s the price you pay for long spikes and a heavy-duty harness.
Every brand of traction devices will offer a size guide that will help you identify the right fit. In our experience, these guides are accurate. If you’re seeking a precise fit for running or technical hiking, look for a model with a customizable harness such as the Korkers Ice Runner.
In extremely cold temperatures, rubber traction device harnesses can become brittle and snap. All of the recommendations on this list are built to handle freezing temperatures, and most users will not encounter an issue.
However, If you plan to use your microspikes in the Arctic tundra, for example, it’s worth checking the temperature rating. On this list, the Kahtoola EXOspikes are rated to -22 degrees Fahrenheit and the Yaktrax Pro can withstand temps down to -41.
Traction Devices vs. Crampons and Snowshoes
Winter traction devices are different from crampons and snowshoes. Crampons are designed for technical climbing, and snowshoes are designed to prevent post-holing when walking on accumulated snow. The traction devices on this list offer neither of those benefits.
If you’re seeking gear for technical ascents, look for a pair of bonified crampons. If you need a wider platform for staying afloat in soft snow, check out our favorite snowshoes of 2023.
Prices vary, but winter traction devices are quite affordable. For a simple pair for in-town use, expect to pay between $20 and $50. For a more capable hiking pair, you’ll be looking at $40 to $75. On this list, the Yaktrax Pro ($35) offers outstanding value.
When not in use, keep your microspikes clean, dry, and above freezing. If they’ve become caked in mud, give them a quick rinse before storing them away. An entryway shoe cubby is the perfect storage spot.
Some icy surfaces are naturally gripper than others, but in any case, traction devices are a great idea. Many people go without microspikes for their whole lives without issue, but wearing a pair certainly decreases the risk of injury. Often, once a person wears a pair for the first time, they realize the immense benefits and never go back.
Plainly, microspikes are best thought of as the “on-trail” version of crampons, which are mountaineering-specific traction devices meant to be used on the permanent snowfields and glaciers of alpine climbing routes. Utilizing one for the other is often a recipe for an uncomfortable time out in the hills, though there is crossover terrain that some may opt for a lighter version of traction to shave weight on their back.
For one, microspikes utilize an easy to adjust elastomer harness system that makes them amenable to pretty much any type of footwear, while crampons are available in both full-strap, semi-automatic, and fully-automatic harness versions. All of these require the sturdy shank of a mountaineering boot to work properly.
In addition, microspikes are, well, micro, with much shorter traction points compared to their alpine brethren. The longest microspike points are typically less than 1/2″, while crampon points can reach an 1 1/2″ or more.
Due to their durable elastomer and steel chain design, there’s little reason to avoid rocks while wearing microspikes, and indeed better traction may sometimes be found by walking on rocky terrain. It should be noted that this can increase the wear on your microspikes, but it is not outside the regular use anticipated for them.
The beauty of microspikes is that their easy-to-use harness systems make them compatible with many different types of footwear. Generally, most will use their winter hiking boots or trail runners, though with the proper size, microspikes can even fit on ski boots for a non-slip walk across the ski area parking lot.
Be mindful of the different styles of footwear you plan on using your microspikes for, as their size range may not accommodate all of the different boots and shoes you’d like to use them on.