Winter hiking is safer, more fun, and less scary with winter traction cleats. Winter traction devices help to ensure a good grip on icy trails, wet snow, and steep terrain so you can have fun while hiking without worrying about slipping or falling.
Exospikes and microspikes are good examples of ice cleats. Although they are very similar, they have notable differences.
Exospikes and microspikes have significant differences in weight, spike length, material, etc. Understanding these differences is important to making a good choice.
Microspikes are footwear traction generally known to be durable and lightweight (one pair of Kahtoola microspikes weighs about 11.9 oz).
Each pair has twelve hard, tactically-spaced stainless steel spikes that provide reliable traction and bite into thick ice and packed snow. Each spike is about 3/8″ long.
Kahtoola microspikes have an ergonomically shaped thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) harness, reinforced with eyelets for increased durability. It can be attached firmly to trail running shoes and retains its elasticity at cold temperatures down to -22°F (-30°C).
The integrated toe bail keeps the toes in place and prevents them from pushing through the front of the harness while descending mountain trails. The raised heel tab helps to slip the ice spikes on and off your shoe easily in cold weather with gloved hands.
Microspikes have good traction on steep and icy trails. They are rigid and compressible for easy packing.
Although microspikes are great for hiking and off-trail terrain, the stainless steel spikes can be clunky for trail runners, and it gets worn out quickly on roads, although they can be sharpened.
Exospikes are designed with twelve ultra-durable tungsten carbide spikes on each pair, providing reliable grip on surfaces ranging from slippery surfaces, soft snow, hard snow, and uneven surfaces.
Other traction devices typically use either a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) traction plate or stainless-steel chains. Kahtoola exospikes, for example, use a TPU and criss-cross or XO-shaped design that sheds snow, prevents build-up, weighs less, and lasts longer than stainless steel.
Exospikes have a unique traction matrix that provides three levels of traction; the tungsten carbide tips bite into hard-packed snow, the aluminum steps grip uneven surfaces, and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) lugs dig into loose terrain.
Exospikes are 40% lighter than microspikes. They’re also nearly indestructible, with a TPU traction matrix that is more abrasion resistant than steel. The specialized elastomer also stays stretchy in very cold temperatures.
Exospikes are versatile and durable. Exospikes have a stretchy harness that uses new geometry for a better and more flexible fit on different shoes.
Exospikes are versatile and work well on flat surfaces. They, however, fall short in challenging conditions, for example, on a steep icy trail.
There are many traction options suitable for various snowy and icy conditions. Snow grips have peculiar features that provide more solid traction for specific surfaces like mixed terrain, icy terrain, steep slopes, ice climbing, etc.
Exospikes are more suitable for daily use than microspikes. Microspikes have sharp spikes, which make them unfit for moving around the town. Although exospikes are better options than microspikes, nano spikes are the best option for everyday use.
Exospikes have more and longer spikes than nanospikes. However, nano spikes will give you a confident, inspiring grip for everyday use at malls, icy roads, pavements, and other flat, icy surfaces.
For light hiking and moderate trails, exospikes will serve you well. However, microspikes are a better option for trails with hard ice, deep snow, steep slopes, and icy mountains.
Other winter traction options for hiking are snowline Chainsen Ultra and Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra (for more technical hiking).
The Yaktrax Walk costs about $20 per pair. Although the Yaktrax Walk works for a low budget, it has a low on-trail performance and is more suitable for casual use. Although cheap, Yaktrax is known for its lack of durability.
Microspikes are better equipped for steep mountains covered with fresh snow and ice. The sharper spikes give them a better grip on steep and rough surfaces than exospikes.
Winter runners prefer traction devices that are lightweight, flexible, reliable, and aid fast and effortless movements on icy and slick surfaces. Exospikes tick all the boxes. It is lightweight (about 4.9oz per pair) and flexible.
The open metal design sheds snow to prevent snow and mixed ice from bulking and ensure flexibility when running. Nanospikes are also good replacements for exospikes. Exospikes and nano spikes are unsuitable for rough surfaces, steep mountains, and technical hiking in general.
Microspikes (or any other ice grips/hiking crampons) are not one size fits all. They come in different sizes ranging from small to large. Check out the general sizing of microspikes below.
XSmall: Youth 1-4, Small: Youth 4.5-7 Women 5.5-8.5, Medium: Women 8.5+ Men 7-10.5, Large: Men 10.5-14, XLarge: Men 14-16.
The harness of your traction device should fit snugly over the toe of your shoe and be pulled tight enough under the foot. It should take a little effort (but not a lot) to fit the harness up over the back of the heel. The harness should fit firmly enough to not slip front-to-back or sideways.
Ensure the harness isn’t so tight that you must take off your gloves to slip your spikes on. Just ensure that the fitting is not too tight, difficult to take off, or too loose that the harness could slip off your shoe easily.
Also, try them on at home before setting out so you can exchange them for your correct size at your retailer’s store if the sizing is off.
Microspikes are made of steel, so there’s a very low probability of them rusting. However, to keep your microspikes in good condition, it is essential to clean them and rinse off all the dirt and salt which can be harmful to the rubber.
When cleaning microspikes, wash with lukewarm water and dry with a towel. Leaving moisture on it for a long can increase the probability of them rusting. Also, do NOT dry with heat.
Ensure to handle them carefully when cleaning so that you don’t sustain an injury from the sharp edges of the spikes.
Yes, you can wear spikes with sneakers. Microspikes can be worn on any kind of shoes or trail runners. They will fit nicely on hiking boots (or winter boots), snowshoes, and even sneakers.
However, you should ensure that whatever kind of shoes you use are lightweight, waterproof, and able to keep your feet dry and warm in cold weather.