Winter is here again and that means cold & slippery conditions on the trails and even on way to the car. Let’s face it, ice may be beautiful to look at from afar but it simply sucks to try and cross, especially when cliffs are involved or speed is a goal. Last winter I picked up a pair of Kahtoola’s Microspikes (my review is right here) which changed my winter adventuring completely turning ice and packed snow into a playground rather than a slip zone (seriously.) They’re still going strong but on a recent visit to Costco I noticed a new footwear traction product from Yaktrak called Snowtrax and with a $10 price tag, I figured I had to give them a try.
Now Yaktrax is hardly new to the winter shoe traction business, in fact I’d guess sure it’s their main product line and they make everything from coiled steel light-use products for walking to full spiked options for heavy hiking. Personally the coiled approach just doesn’t do it for me, maybe for hard snow on the way to the car, bt with a set of crampons frequently on my feet this time of year, I know moving on ice really requires getting in below the surface. So I was pleased to see that even for just $10, Snowtrax leveraged their intermediate spikes design even a basic approach.
The first question is pretty obvious: For $10 do they do anything?
Simply put the answer is a resounding yes though certainly with an equally notable asterisk. There are times when cheap is as good as pricey but this is not one of those. At $70 MSRP (and around $50 on sale), it shouldn’t be a shock that the Kahtoola, and similar types of microspikes, which come complete with a 12-point, 3/8th inch spike design are a significant win over pretty much any slip-on traction system out there. If they’re a 10 on offering control in moderate winter terrain and plain old shoes are a 0, where do Snowtrax fit in?
But before we go there, let’s step back to talk about the details of Snowtrax further and what they offer. I’m not suggesting you should compare them against something 7 times their price but looking at the them against Microspikes and Yaktrax’s own $50, XTR spiked model makes it easy to understand what you’re really getting and what you’re not.
Understanding how Snowtrax work.
At their soul (pun fully ended), Snowtrax is comprised of two very simple elements: a set of 7 small metal spikes to bite into frozen terrain and a stretchable, rubber webbing to secure them under and around your shoes. While the spikes are made of tungsten carbide steel (sounds impressive at least), they’re really more points than angled bits like you’d find on Yaktrax’s XTR or with Microspikes. Still, moving around on ice with a heavy foot will leave a nice mark incidating actual that you’re making actual purchase into the frozen ground below!
There’s not much detail on the rubber webbing provided though the Yaktrax site lists natural rubber on their higher end systems and recycled polyelastomer on the lower end one so I’d assume it’s the later for this price point. Either way, it showed no sign of any immediate wear or tear even as I tugged and tugged to get Snowtrax up over my larger sized shoes and boots. However, the webbing sorely lacks in coverage leaving little to material to wrap around your shoe to insure they stay in place.
If you look at the $25 Yaktrax Walk+ for comparison, you’ll see a large front and side webbing strap is used. Step it up further to Microspikes and the rubber webbing up top gets even thicker and thus easier to hook over your shoes while the bottom material is all steel chain for a little traction and a lot of durability but all that comes at a cost.
Cost control is probably also responsible for Yaktrax failing to include a front / back indicator on the spikes (it’s easy to figure out, 5 in the front, 2 in the back but labels help on a cold, winter morning). Even still, the design follows my preferred approach with a simple, slip over and pull up setup rather than any complicated ties or strings which really don’t make sense until you get into proper crampons.
Ultimately it’s not the material that makes Snowtrax a lesser traction system for heavier use so much as the spike design. With just 7 points in total versus 10 moderate points on the XTR, 12 big spikes on the Microspikes or a combination of 5 points and steel coils on the Walk+, the chance of making solid contact is simply going to be lessend. Factor in the reduced size and cutting power of the small, point design and you’re just getting less stick with every step.
The bottom line: You’ll be able to walk but not fly (or you know, jog.)
Even just having a couple small points matter a lot when you’re on ice. Starting out on frozen ground that I could barely walk on without sliding around in my trail runners, Snowtrax made an immediate differance and allowed me to hold on, walking onm by. Light ice and slush seemed to be their sweet spot in giving me firm control but even crossing a completely frozen bridge, I never slid and certainly never fell though I don’t think I’d sprint around in them.
Switching into my Microspikes on the other hand let me practically run around and when I went back to take photos (there was a waterfall), I almost forgot about the terrain under my feet, a solid 10 once again on winter grip.
The grip of Snowtrax falls pretty much dead in the middle of those two extremes, perhaps landing just on the high side at around a 6. With them on I could walk on a surface where bare shoes were worthless. With them on I was able to stand on one leg, to pivot around and as the ice lessened, keep to a moderate pace but I certainly noticed steps where I wouldn’t make full contact and even with a good start, I could always slide my feet around if I tried similating more rugged terrain like you’d encouter on a hike. I found this made me modify my steps, moving more like I would have without a traction system on and a lot slower than a more aggressive system allowed for.
While the marketing may list them as for casual, work or sport, for $10 I didn’t really expect they’d be ideal for a seriously frozen day and don’t hold it against them. Instead the result it really all about your intended use. The pair I have is not going back and I’ll even throw a second set in the car for an unexpectedly slippery parking lot or as an ultra-lightweight option on an occasional winter adventure. But if you want to be running trails in ice & snow or hiking mile after mile, step it up, you’re not getting away that cheap unless you’re willing to take a few falls for it.
Interested? Let’s talk about where to find them.
Searching around and even visiting the Yaktrax website it’s as if Snowtrax don’t exist outside Costco. Many other Yaktrax products can be found out there with a similar but aside from a couple pairs on eBay going for 2-3x the store price, they look to be an exclusive item for 2015 – 2016. That’s not a particularly bad thing of course, Costco may require a membership but their return policy, even toned down in recent years, is second to none and while I’d only expect a $10 traction system to make it through one winter, it’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about getting less than that.
Snowtrax are sold in two sizes: L-XL (men’s 8-12 / woman’s 9.5+) and S-M (men’s 3.5-.75 and woman’s 5-9) with just one color option at my store. My shoes are a little bigger than the men’s high end but with trail runners instead of boots they went on well enough.
- Category: Footwear / Traction System
- Utility: Sport / Work / Casual but really more casual and around town
- Pros: Way better than plain shoes / easy on & off / light weight / light on the wallet
- Cons: Not nearly as aggressive or serious as more spendy traction systems
- Style: One color, two sizes
- Price: $9.99 MSRP
- Rating: 4.0 of 5
- Find it at your local Costco store