Incoming cold weather isn’t likely to stop you from hiking or running this autumn and winter, but it does change the way you approach your outdoor activities. In some places, it might just mean layering up with a lightweight running jacket or donning a fleece jacket for hiking, but you might be looking at some seriously slick surfaces if you live in a place where there’s lots of snow and ice. Whether it’s just for a few weeks during the January cold snap or you’re expecting a six month-long snow season, traction devices for shoes offer great protection against falls and can keep you moving until spring arrives.
There are three main types of traction devices for shoes which each have different purposes. Some are better for packed snow, others for ice and each type is better for certain activities over others. A quick glance at the three main types of traction devices for shoes will help you easily figure out which you need to keep training and enjoying the outdoors through the cold season.
1. Coiled traction devices
Coiled traction devices are simple grips made from elastic rubber uppers with steel coils on the bottom that you pull on over your hiking boots or trail running shoes and fasten with a velcro strap. The coils provide the traction when you’re walking or running on packed snow and ice.
The most popular brand of coiled devices is Yaktrax, named after the Tibetan yak, and they advertise that you can wear them in temperatures as low as -40C/-41F. Coiled traction devices are pretty affordable and work with any running or hiking shoe you might be using. They work best on packed snow and slushy roads as well as variable conditions where you might be moving through areas of tarmac. You can wear coiled devices for both hiking and running, and there are now activity-focused models available such as the Yaktrax Run Winter Traction Device (opens in new tab).
Coiled devices aren’t so great for really slick, icy conditions, where they just tend to slide across the top, nor do they work well on steep slopes. Another downside is that they do tend to break rather easily. But for winter road running and gentle hiking on packed snow and slush, you’ll be happy with a pair of these and they won’t affect your gait too much.
2. Spiked traction devices
Spiked traction devices look quite a bit like their coiled counterparts, with a thermoplastic rubber upper that pulls on over your shoes, however on the bottom they feature stainless steel chains and spikes to bite more aggressively into the ice. Like coiled devices, spikes will work over both your hiking boots and running shoes.
Spiked traction devices tend to be a bit pricier than coiled devices, but they’re also more durable. These devices work great for hiking and running on ice as well as packed snow, however most of them aren’t useful for running on tarmac, so if you’re road running, you’ll be happier with coiled devices that you don’t have to keep taking off. Spiked traction devices such as Kahtoola’s Microspikes (opens in new tab) are great for icy winter trail running and hiking on a slope, though it should be said that running in spikes can take a little getting used to, and it does tend to slow you down a bit. However, if you love running it’s probably better than not running at all.
There are definitely areas where you can use coils and spikes fairly interchangeably, such as popular trails in Colorado where the snow tends to be dry and well-packed down, but as you can see there are slight differences in their uses and neither might be much help somewhere with very mixed winter conditions, like Scotland. Learn more in our article on Yaktrax vs Microspikes.
Finally, you’ve got crampons, which are a serious step up from either coiled or spiked devices. Crampons are a bit like spikes on steroids, with a robust metal frame that fits over your winter hiking boots and robust metal spikes. Unlike either of the other two devices, crampons won’t work with running shoes and are not meant for running. Many runners will describe running with crampons, but they actually mean spikes.
The best crampons are meant for alpinism, mountaineering and ice climbing, and they’ll set you back about as much as a pair of hiking boots, so if you’re not planning on doing any of those activities, you don't need to own a pair of crampons. Further, if you’re undertaking a one-off winter expedition, you may be able to rent a pair.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.
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