The Best Nonslip Traction Devices

To share this page via email, fill out the fields below:
Message Sent!
Oops! Please try again
Send

After more than twelve hours of testing fifteen different traction devices on water-slicked ice, hard-packed snow, and slippery hills in Alaska’s city sidewalks and forested trails, we’ve identified the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip as the best ice gripper for all-around walking use in the city. They’re easy to put on and walk in but still offer great traction on all but the slickest hills as long as you weigh enough to press the low-profile spikes into the ice. We also identified a few options that will work well for lighter walkers. We also tested speciality running shoes with built-in traction control, since runners will want to choose something that doesn’t affect their gait.

Our pick

Built with a stretchy, durable rubber harness makes them easy to put on or take off your shoes and many low-profile, spiked “traction beads,” the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip is the best choice for most people on all but the steepest and iciest terrain. You’ll also find these marketed as the Yaktrax Diamond Grips; they’re the same, so pick the one that’s cheapest. One thing to be aware of: With this sort of ice gripper, lower body weight correlates to reduced traction. Users that weigh about 150 pounds should get good traction in most conditions, but those who weigh 120 pounds or less might want to consider an ice gripper with more aggressive spikes.

Our pick

*At the time of publishing, the price was $220.

Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX Running Shoes
The Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX shoes have 19 spikes on each sole, freeing runners up to move securely in almost any snowy or icy conditions.

If you’re running in icy conditions, nothing beats the Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX shoes, which have 19 carbide-tipped studs on the sole of each shoe and a GoreTex liner to help keep your feet warm and dry, even if you’re in the middle of a freeze/thaw cycle.

Our pick
Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra performed the best of all the hardcore outdoor traction aids we tested, helping testers feel sure-footed in all but the most severe snowy, icy conditions.

For backcountry users, the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra offers the biggest and most plentiful spikes underfoot for a lightweight yet aggressive and stable grip in almost all conditions. (Despite the name, the Trail Crampon Ultra is a lightweight, flexible traction device—not actual crampons.) These traction devices also have an ultra-tough rubber harness and a hook-and-loop instep strap to hold everything snugly in place.

Runner-up

*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.

Hillsound FreeSteps6
If you know you're going to be navigating lots of steep, icy hills or just need some extra grip, you’ll like the Hillsound FreeSteps6.

With a total of 21 midsize steel spikes in the sole and a stretchy rubber harness that holds everything snugly on your shoes, the Hillsound FreeSteps6 offer stable, sure-footed traction in even challenging urban conditions.

Runner-up
Salomon Spikecross CS 3
The Salomon Spikecross CS 3 running shoe has just 9 carbide spikes in each shoe instead of the Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX's 19, but it still performed well in most conditions.

If the Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX isn’t available, we like these Salomons as an alternative. They use Salomon’s Quicklace “pull to tighten” system for easy on/off, and their tall, widely spaced lugs should give them an edge in soft snow (and might be useful in springtime mud, too).

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

I’ve lived through almost 30 cold Alaska winters. The last 15 of them have included quite a bit of hiking in snowy and icy conditions, and for the last 11 years I’ve worked as an outdoor writer, which means I make most of my living from using and writing about my experience with this sort of gear. I also spend quite a bit of time hiking in the company of others, so I have years of firsthand experience with the slipping and sliding (and cussing) that results when traction devices aren’t up to the challenge.

In addition to all of that, the editors and I pored over other expert reviews of traction devices to identify leaders in the category. Some of our sources (listed at the end of this guide) included Runner’s World and Outside Online for their feedback on running cleats; Backpacker and Active Junky for feedback on hiking traction devices; and hundreds of user reviews posted on Amazon and REI.

Where we tested

To make sure every device (as well as our all-in-one shoe picks) received an even chance, I spent more than a dozen hours walking, running, and hiking in the most slippery conditions I could find in and around my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska.

We’ve had an icy, almost snowless winter so far, so I had plenty of slick surfaces to choose from. Believe it or not, the best testing ground ended up being a popular sledding hill. When there’s this little snow, the passage of sleds and bodies compacts everything down into a combination of smooth, hard-packed snow and slick ice—two of the most challenging surfaces for any traction device—and the steep hill I chose magnified the challenges posed by those slick surfaces.

In some cases, the walking trails leading up to the sledding hill presented more of a challenge than the hill itself. The cycle of freezing and thawing, combined with copious rainfall, had turned them into jumbled rivers of hard-frozen, water-slicked ice at just enough of an incline to send me sliding like a member of the Olympic bobsled team. This type of surface isn’t terribly common in most cities, but it’s common near water sources outdoors or in places where runoff is funneled down a channel and freezes. It’s the equivalent of a frozen waterfall, just laid out at a shallow slope instead of dangling vertically.

I also took each pair of ice grippers out for a stroll on the steep, ice-slicked sidewalks of a hill near my home to see how they’d perform in city conditions.

Who this is for

nonslip traction devices bambi gif

Is this you? If so, you need this guide.

If temperatures ever dip below freezing where you live, even for just a few nights, you’ve probably had the dubious pleasure of slipping around on the ice like a cartoon character. But slips and falls are no joke. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, they’re the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for almost every age group in the United States. Of course, your risk of slipping and falling is much higher when snow or ice cover the ground.

A good traction aid, which you might identify as ice grippers, ice cleats, ice spikes, or many similar names, can’t eliminate the risk of a slip or fall entirely. But they can do an awful lot to cut down on the risk. They are especially helpful for people with impaired mobility or osteoporosis, seniors, or anyone else who is at increased risk of injury from a fall.

Removable traction aids are meant to slip on and off your shoes as needed. They all have some sort of flexible harness that stretches to fit over your shoe and then contracts to hold the actual traction devices, which may be steel or aluminum spikes, coils or chains, in place on the underside of your shoe.

If you already have some sort of nonslip traction aid and the stretchy harness and spikes are still in good shape, you’d replace it only if it doesn’t fit your footwear or if it can’t perform well in the sort of conditions you encounter. If you’re at all on the fence, it’s better to go for more traction instead of less. After all, it’s much cheaper to pay for a pair of ice grippers now than to deal with the cost and inconvenience of being hurt in a fall.

How we picked

nonslip traction devices group testing

Stick it to ya: these devices attach to your shoes and keep you upright (usually) on ice.

As useful as all of these nonslip devices can be, it’s important that you use a device that’s properly matched to the conditions you’ll encounter. A nonslip device that works really well on hard-packed snow might not have enough bite for walking on hard ice that’s frozen solid; and while aggressively spiked traction devices are great for use on ice or in the backcountry, they end up feeling like silly, inch-high stilts if you take them for a stroll on city concrete that’s covered with a thin slick of ice.

Ultimately, the type of traction device you choose has as much to do with how you’ll use it as the conditions you expect to encounter. Because of that, we’ve divided this report into three categories: Ice grippers for running, where you need the ultimate in agile traction to keep you from becoming a human missile; ice grippers for city walking, where you need a balance of solid grip plus easy walkability, durability for tromping across bare sections of pavement or gravel, and easy on/off so you can go back and forth from indoors to out; and ice grippers that are meant to help handle rugged, ungroomed winter terrain that stop just short of the full-on crampons you’d use for a mountaineering or climbing trip. Some ice grippers qualified in more than one category.

We evaluated each ice gripper on several criteria, no matter its category. The first was how well they grip on a variety of surfaces, including rough ice that has some texture to it, hard-packed snow, and smooth, water-slicked ice. They next was how well they fit on your shoes or boots; if there’s play between the grippers and your boots, your foot might actually end up slipping around inside the ice gripper even when the spikes are solidly set in the ice.

I also froze each ice gripper for at least 24 hours and stretched them to their maximum tolerance repeatedly as a means of testing the elasticity and durability of their harnesses. None actually tore, but several felt like they were getting close to it, a sign that the harnesses might rip with repeated real-world use.

Finally, I also took each set of ice grippers for a walk on dry ground or concrete, just to see how easy they’d be to walk in. This is a scenario that you’re likely to encounter during the shoulder season in the city, when there’s patchy coverage of snow and ice, or when trekking outdoors where differences in terrain, temperature and sun exposure mean you sometimes end up walking on sheer ice one moment, then bare rock or gravel the next. Of course you should try to stick to ice and snow whenever possible when wearing ice grippers to reduce wear and tear on their spiked surfaces, but if a pair can stand up to the occasional dry ground, they’ll be more durable and useful in the long run.

Our pick for all-around city use: ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip

nonslip traction devices ICEtrekkers diamond grip

Lightweight, reliable, and perfect for urban environments.

Our pick
ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip
The ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip offer the best combination of traction and durability in most conditions for most users.

We chose the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip (aka the Yaktrax Diamond Grip; the products are the same) as our favorite all-around traction aid. Their welded, low-profile, steel chains are covered with spiked “traction beads” provide great grip on most slippery surfaces, including hard-packed snow and slightly-textured ice. The rubberized harness that holds them in place is tough and durable but still easy to take on and off, and the traction beads help eliminate the risk of an embarrassing trip or fall if you were to catch bigger spikes on an uneven surface.

Each of the traction beads, strung on aircraft-grade steel cable, has six angled points so that no matter how they’re oriented, there are always dozens of “toothed” surfaces pointing down at the ground. For almost any conceivable city use, including smooth, level ice or inclined ice that has some texture to it, the Diamond Grips offer a great balance of traction, durability, and civilized behavior.

The only issue is that those angled points aren’t very big, so if conditions get really extreme—say, smooth, “plastic” ice with a slick of water on it—you’ll want to invest in more aggressive ice grippers. Also, if you’re very light, you might not press the spikes far enough into the ice to get good traction.

The harness on the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip only has a little bit of stretch to it, but it’s still easy to pull on over shoes as long as you get the proper size for your footwear; the tough harness stays put once it’s on.

In a 2013 Runner’s World review of ice cleats for runners, the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip draws a lot of praise for the way the traction beads spin just enough to keep snow from clogging them up, and testers liked their performance for running in a variety of conditions too. The Diamond Grips also get a nod from the Appalachian Mountain Club for their tough, low-profile traction, and they’re an enduring favorite of REI users. Their warranty covers manufacturing defects, with no time limit given.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

It’s hard to beat the Diamond Grip for all-around performance on almost any footwear. But if you’re very light, you might not have enough body weight to get the best traction out of the low-profile spikes on the traction beads. I weigh about 150 pounds and got good traction out of them, but somebody who weighs about 30 pounds more was even more stable; he said he couldn’t make them slide, even if he tried. The harness also isn’t quite as stretchy as what you’ll find on other traction aids, although that translates to a tough, secure fit, as long as they are sized correctly to fit your footwear.

Our pick for runners: The Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX

nonslip traction devices icebug dts2 bugrip

Running on ice means purpose-built shoes.

Our pick

*At the time of publishing, the price was $220.

Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX Running Shoes
The Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX shoes have 19 spikes on each sole, freeing runners up to move securely in almost any snowy or icy conditions.

The Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX shoes (available in both men’s and women’s models) offered unbeatable traction in our ice running tests, thanks to 19 dynamic carbide steel studs in the sole of each shoe. Outsole lugs of varying depth also performed well in hard-packed snow. The DTS2 BUGrip shoes are comfortable for most feet, with padding around the ankle collar and a GoreTex liner that offers waterproof, breathable protection for splashing through puddles.

We put the DTS2’s carbide studs to the test on steep, urban hills covered with a mixture of hard, slick ice and hard-packed snow over pavement. This shoe kept us sure-footed in every case, with the exception of some slight backward slippage when we tried to quickly put on speed going up a hill. That’s really no big surprise; even with the best spiked shoes, how you run in them matters, and one of the tricks to keeping your balance on ice is making any shifts in body weight as smooth as possible (i.e., no sudden sprints or stopping) so your body mass stays as centered as possible over your feet with every step.

The DTS2 shoes performed solidly in hard-packed snow and even held their own when we ran on icy surfaces with a lateral slant. Its graduated lugs, which vary in depth as they cross the shoe, performed wonderfully in concert with the carbide studs to keep the shoe on track on ice and hard-packed snow. We wish we’d been able to test them in soft snow, though we wonder if the taller, more aggressive and widely-spaced lugs of the runner-up Salomon Spikecross 3 CS might have had an advantage.

If you have normal feet—that is, an average-width forefoot and average-size heel—you should be very comfortable in the Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX. They even fit my wide feet and high arches fairly well, although there was a little more compression in both areas than I personally prefer. Runners with similar feet to mine could avoid this by going up at least a half-size, but you’ll have to try the shoes on to make sure your heel is sufficiently locked in at the larger size. (I found the heel lock to be solid if I didn’t size up.)

The DTS2 shoes also have nicely padded collars (not so much that it’s likely to become a squishy mess if you run through meltwater) and GoreTex liners that’ll help keep your feet warm and dry as you splash through puddles. Finally, the fully cushioned Ortholite midsole kept me from feeling any trace of the spikes underfoot.

One note: I tested the DTS2-L, the women’s version; just drop the -L designation to get the men’s version and sizing.

Icebug running shoes frequently pop up as recommendations for winter runners in Runner’s World; their most recent recommendation are the Icebug Pytho2 BUGrip shoes, which would be a good alternative if you don’t like the DTS2’s 14 mm heel-to-toe drop (Runner’s World says the Pytho2 only has a 5 mm heel-toe drop). Icebug shoes in general are also enormously popular at Skinny Raven, an Anchorage running store that’s always besieged with requests for spiked shoes when things get icy. And finally, I’ve used Icebug shoes and boots in the past for winter hiking and found their studs to offer some of the best walking traction you can get, so I’m not surprised to see that they performed so well for running too.

Flaws but not dealbreakers
Of course, even the best shoes in the world won’t fit every foot, and the Icebug DTS2 is no exception. If you have ridiculously wide forefeet or high arches like I do, you might be bothered by the amount of compression in both places. The only way to be sure is to try them on. Also, no matter what your foot type, you may also find it tedious to tug on each shoelace in turn, moving up through every eyelet, to get this shoe properly tightened down.

Even though the Icebug DTS2’s spikes do retract slightly into the sole on hard surfaces, you’ll still hear them scritch-scritching beneath you if you walk indoors or on bare pavement; they’re not for people who want to be able to go indoors without taking off their shoes. Still, if you want to continue running all winter long, you can’t beat the combination of traction and agility.

Runner-up for runners: Salomon Spikecross 3 CS

nonslip traction devices salomon spikecross 3

Salomon’s running-on-ice shoes may be better suited toward loose snow.

Our pick
Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra performed the best of all the hardcore outdoor traction aids we tested, helping testers feel sure-footed in all but the most severe snowy, icy conditions.

The Salomon Spikecross 3 CS (unisex) also performed admirably when running on ice, although its nine carbide-tipped metal spikes per shoe versus the Icebug’s 19 spikes per shoe meant it didn’t feel quite as sure-footed when things got really slippery. There was also minor lateral slippage when running on icy surfaces that slanted off to the side, and the tall, widely spaced outsole lugs felt a little squishy underfoot when running on ice, although they really bit into the hard-packed snow. This sort of lug is usually an advantage in loose terrain—during the winter, that means soft, loose snow—but unfortunately, there was no significant snowfall in this part of Alaska for the entire month we tested the shoes. Hopefully this is something we can better evaluate in long-term testing.

The Spikecross CS 3 has a weather-resistant ClimaShield layer in the forefoot, breathable mesh in the back to keep your foot from getting sweaty, and a SensiFit quicklace system that helps it accommodate a wide variety of feet. The Quicklaces run through a set of three lacing points on each side of the upper; when you tighten the laces, they tug the upper closer to wrap around your foot, and a small “lace garage,” a pocket inside the tongue of the shoes, keeps them from flapping around as you run. This is the best option we’ve found for wide-footed winter runners so far, unless you want to wear your regular running shoes and use a slip-on traction aid.

Finally, there’s a tough rim of mudguard material just above the sole to keep your foot from getting wet when you splash through slush or early spring puddles, and Salomon offers a two-year warranty on their shoes.

Runner’s World picked the Salomon Spikecross 3 CS as a traction aid for runners in 2013, calling out its light, race-worthy construction and ClimaShield membrane in the upper, but didn’t really have much else to say about it. It also draws praise from Backpacker magazine, where it appears the testers took it out trail running and hiking; they said it offered great traction on slimy rocks, presumably because of those soft lugs.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

This is an excellent all-around winter shoe if you do most of your running on snow. If you tend to encounter a lot of ice, though, having ten more studs on each shoe as with the Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX makes an enormous difference. Also, the Quicklaces on the Salomon Spikecross 3 CS run through fabric loops instead of metal loops, so we’re concerned that the thin laces might cut through the fabric over time. We’ll let you know if this happens in long-term testing.

An upgrade for gnarly city conditions: Hillsound FreeSteps6

nonslip traction device hillsound freesteps6

A tough, crampon-like device that’s relatively comfortable for city walking.

Runner-up

*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.

Hillsound FreeSteps6
If you know you're going to be navigating lots of steep, icy hills or just need some extra grip, you’ll like the Hillsound FreeSteps6.

The Hillsound FreeSteps6 seems to fly mostly under the radar of other professional reviewers, perhaps because they look so similar to the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra (our top pick for hardcore backcountry use). Why go for the little brother when you can have the hardcore version? But we like the FreeStep6’s slightly smaller spikes for being tough enough to handle the worst possibly city conditions, even water-slicked smooth ice at an incline, while still remaining relatively civilized and comfortable underfoot if you have to cross a stretch of bare pavement or gravel.

The harness that attaches the FreeStep6 to your shoe is very similar to that of the Trail Crampon Ultra but lacks an instep strap (you don’t really need it) and stretches a little more easily, so it’s very easy to take on and off your shoes.

The quarter-inch underfoot spikes are the best thing about the FreeStep6. Although they’re not as large as what you’d find on a hardcore traction device meant for trail use, they’re arranged in multidirectional clusters to protect against slip in any direction, no matter what sort of hill you’re on, and there are a lot of them: 21 in total.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The only constructive criticism we can offer of the Hillsound FreeSteps6 is the way they fall strictly in the middle: They’re useful in both city and backcountry conditions, but they may be too aggressive for some city users and too minimalist for backcountry users, who may need the security of larger spikes. But if you live in a region where the cities get seriously slick, or if you want a mild-mannered backcountry ice gripper that can do double-duty in the city, this is a great pick.

An upgrade for hardcore trail traction aids: Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra

nonslip traction device hillsound trail crampon ultra

The big brother to our gnarly city pick, the Hillsound Ultra crampons have bigger spikes for rougher terrain.

Runner-up
Salomon Spikecross CS 3
The Salomon Spikecross CS 3 running shoe has just 9 carbide spikes in each shoe instead of the Icebug DTS2 BUGrip GTX's 19, but it still performed well in most conditions.

When you need serious outdoor traction, the bigger and sturdier the spikes, the better. The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra is tops in this category because it has the most numerous and aggressive spikes underfoot (18) arranged in a multi-directional pattern that offers traction against sliding in any direction on ice, hard-packed snow and even some types of mud. The Trail Crampon Ultra’s shoe harness is also the toughest we tested, and it comes with a hook-and-loop instep strap to help fit the spikes snugly to your foot.

The Trail Crampon Ultra’s half-inch steel spikes are the most important part of their appeal. There are twelve spikes under the forefoot and six under the heel, arranged in multi-directional clusters and secured by steel chains that pass under the midfoot for extra traction and stability. Our runner-up in this category has a total of 12 spikes under the whole foot. While that’s not a huge difference, the extra spikes do matter when a slip or fall could potentially send you sliding right off a mountain or cliff.

The harness on the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra is another high point, for three reasons. First, it’s stretchy enough to get over most boots or shoes very easily. Second, it felt significantly sturdier than the nearest competitor in our stretch tests. Third, the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra was the most likely in our test to give a perfect, stable fit on a wide range of boots and shoes. Having the hook-and-loop instep strap to further anchor the harness in place is a big help, too.

Although the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra doesn’t receive as much media attention as its direct competitor, the Kahtoola Microspikes, it has drawn some notable mentions over the last few years. Active Junky puts the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra on their list of top ice grippers, praising it for its tough, versatile harness and the big spikes that grip securely even on ice and hard-packed crust. This item’s mild-mannered cousin, the Hillsound Trail Crampon (no Ultra), is also a top-ranked item on REI.com.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Despite the name, the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra doesn’t take the place of actual crampons, which have larger, sharper steep spikes and a rigid frame for extra stability, leverage, and durability. Every backcountry user has to be responsible for their own safety, but for me, my personal line of safety and comfort is the line between hiking and climbing or mountaineering. If I can classify what I’m doing as a hike, I’ll grab the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra on my way out the door. If what I’m doing could remotely be called climbing or mountaineering, real crampons are more appropriate.

Finally, although you can tromp around on bare ground reasonably comfortably in these spikes, it’s definitely not ideal, and they’re going to be more noticeable underfoot than smaller, more subdued spikes.

The competition

There are lots of great traction aids, and for such a practical product, you’d be surprised how many folks have a cultish dedication to their personal favorites. Different usage scenarios, weather conditions, and even body types—lightweight walkers will want something with more aggressive grips, since they may have a hard time pressing more mild spikes into the ground—mean that many of the items we refer to as competition merit serious consideration, which is why we’re offering extended write-ups here.

Kahtoola Microspikes are a good example. They’ve reached near cult status here in Alaska, thanks to their combination of large spikes connected by sturdy chains and a very lightweight, stretchy harness that holds the aforementioned spikes onto your feet. I’d feel secure hiking in Kahtoola Microspikes anywhere, and they’re only in second place by a hair, but there are some important comparisons to be made between the Kahtoola Microspikes and the winner of this category, the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra.

Although the Microspikes’ actual spikes are only a hair smaller than the Trail Crampon Ultra’s, there are fewer of them (12 total, compared to the Hillsound TCU’s 18) and the Kahtoola spikes aren’t arranged in aggressive, multidirectional clusters. The spikes are also advertised as being three-quarters of an inch long, but according to our ruler, they are just under a half-inch long.

Although the Kahtoola Microspikes’ harness is very lightweight and stretchy and offers great durability for most hikers, I’ve heard occasional secondhand reports of them breaking and noticed that they felt less strong than the Hillsound harness during our stress tests. That doesn’t mean they’re flimsy—quite the contrary, since dozens if not hundreds of Alaskans are out there putting them through their paces every day and stories of breakage are quite rare—but, given the choice, I will take the stronger Hillsound harness. If the harness on your Kahtoola Microspikes does break, they’re usually fast to honor their two-year warranty, and according to a few anecdotes, may even replace the Microspikes if they’re beyond the warranty period.

The Kahtoola Microspikes have piled up an impressive array of expert accolades since their introduction in 2007, including the much-desired Editor’s Choice Gold Award from Backpacker magazine in 2012 and a nod from Runner’s World for their utility in challenging trail conditions and durability, although the editors acknowledge that Kahtoolas will be overkill for some runners.

If you need serious traction in the most challenging conditions possible, the Yaktrax XTR Extreme is a close runner-up to the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra and the Kahtoola Microspikes. The Yaktrax XTR Extreme has six ⅜-inch steel spikes on the forefoot and four on the heel, all angled to give you traction from various directions. The spikes are also connected by a flexible plate that’s meant to keep snow from balling up between the spikes and reducing their grip.

We had a little trouble getting the Yaktrax XTR to seat securely on several types of footwear; either the harness had too much vertical give in it for low-profile shoes, or the spike plates felt very small on boots. They still provided wonderful grip going uphill and downhill in slick conditions, and the stretchy, natural rubber harness didn’t slip around at all; only the plates slipped a bit underfoot, and that to a minor degree.

We just wish the spikes were a little bigger or that there were more of them for a touch more security, and we’d like to see some sort of connecting material along the arch of the foot to help anchor the front and rear plates (and thus the spikes) more securely in place. Essentially, we find ourselves ourselves wishing that they performed more like crampons instead of just looking like them.

Our next favorite ice grippers are produced by Due North. Due North puts out several models of traction aids that are very similar; each has a stretchy rubber harness and six ⅛-inch carbide-tipped steel spikes, along with some sort of grippy rubber on the bottom that’s meant to lend extra stability. Because they’re so similar, we’ll group all three models we considered—the Due North All-Purpose traction aids, the Due North Everyday G3 traction aids and the Due North Everyday Pro traction aids—into one collection.

The carbide spikes on all three devices offer excellent traction, biting and gripping into even hard ice, and even lightweight people will get great traction from them. In fact, they do almost as well as Icebug shoes in flat conditions (the Icebugs do better on hills). It’s only the number of spikes—we wish there were more—and their tendency to break when walking on hard, bare surfaces that kept these ice grippers from placing higher in the report. But if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in terms of traction aids, these are it.

The Due North traction aids are also easy to put on and take off, and any broken spikes can be easily popped out and then replacements popped in (each pair comes with two extra spikes), so these are a friendly, useful choice for anyone that needs ice grippers that are easy to handle but still effective. Some people even run in them, although again, the tendency of the spikes to break when you cross hard surfaces and the way they feel underfoot when there’s no snow or ice to be had can both be problems. We found some user complaints indicating that newer Due North models aren’t as durable as they used to be, but we haven’t yet found any durability problems in our tests.

The biggest difference between the three Due North ice grippers is what sort of rubber tread comes in between the spikes and the type of harness that holds them in place. The Due North All-Purpose offers bidirectional rubber tread in between the spikes, giving you the most aggressive grip on any reasonably textured surface, and their harness is the sturdiest. However, we found that the softer rubber of the Due North Everyday Pro was a little bit better at providing traction on smooth ice. The Due North All-Purpose also has the most structured toe harness of the lot, but the Everyday Pro’s harness is almost as secure and more adaptable to different shoe or boot types. (The Everyday G3 falls into the middle in every category just discussed above.) So, if we have to choose one of these ice grippers for city use, it’d be the Everyday Pro.

Stabil is another popular brand of traction aid, with each of their devices designed for a specific activity. We evaluated the Stabilicers Hike XP and the Stabilicers Run. Both devices use nine hardened screws on the bottom of the cleat for traction (five under the forefoot, four under the heel) along with fairly aggressive chevron treads running down the length of the midfoot. The Hike XP has especially aggressive chevrons that we think will be helpful in mud and soft snow, although we didn’t have access to enough of either to test that theory; for the month during which we conducted our initial testing, this part of Alaska was all ice and hard-packed snow.

Like most traction aids, Stabil produces theirs in varying sizes. A “small” Stabilicers Run was noticeably narrower than the same size in a Hike XP and actually provided slightly better traction on our tests, possibly because of the addition of a piece of extra-soft, grippy rubber underneath the instep. Still, the results were about the same: Great traction on hard snow and textured ice, but a tendency to slip a little before gripping on sheer ice. Still, we found reports from Active Junky and an older review in Runner’s World that both praise the Stabilicers Sport, a slightly larger version of the Run, for its superb traction. Combining that with the happy people I’ve seen walking around in these traction devices, this looks to be another case where if you’re a lightweight you might not get much traction, but somebody with more body mass will.

The Stabil traction devices also have the most substantial and structured harnesses of any traction device we evaluated, which is a bonus in terms of fit and security if they happen to fit your footwear, but a downside in terms of versatility because it’s harder to find that good fit.

The Hike XP has an ankle strap and an instep strap that should be handy for keeping it from slipping off your feet in deep snow, and the Run has an optional instep strap, but neither was needed to get a secure fit in the icy conditions we were evaluated in.

If you like the idea of the Icebug studded shoes that we selected as our top pick for running but want to be able to remove the spikes, the Kahtoola Nanospikes offer an interesting alternative. They use a similar low-profile carbide spike, with six in the forefoot and four in the heel. The stretchy harness requires a little more dexterity and strength to put on than the other ice grippers we tested, and as far as we can tell, the only-barely-textured rubber sheet joining the studs doesn’t actually contribute much to the traction. So the Nanospikes don’t quite live up to their full potential, and we found they didn’t create enough traction for running confidently (remember, the Icebug running shoes we evaluated have 19 spikes in each shoe and special rubber lugs too).

For an entirely different take on carbide studs, consider the Icebug Glava boots w/ BUGweb. Unlike most Icebug winter shoes and boots, these boots aren’t actually studded. Instead, they have a sticky rubber sole that does well on soft, textured ice or hard-packed snow, but can’t quite hold its own on smooth ice. The Glava also comes with a removable “BUGweb,” a set of four carbide studs set into a stretchy harness that fits through the grooves in the Glava boot’s sole.

The BUGweb has a big tab on the back that makes it easy to pull off or put on, although it takes a little fiddling to get them seated perfectly into the grooves; you can even slip the BUGweb on over non-grooved shoes.

We love the idea in principle, and it’s a popular solution for runners in a shoe like the Icebug Hero (reviewed here by Runner’s World), which lets you quickly and easily go from studless trail shoe to studded trail shoe. However, in our tests, the Glava was at its best in snow and rough ice where both the boot soles and the studs could grip. Once we got to hard, smooth ice with a little bit of incline to it, the lack of aggressive lugs in the sole and the need for a few more studs meant we started to slip.

The Yaktrax Pro is one of the most unusual devices we tested. Instead of spikes, it uses steel coils wrapped around the part of the rubber harness that sits underneath the sole of your foot. Past versions of this type of ice gripper had a reputation for slipping out from under you in challenging conditions as the coils acted like little ice skates, so we were pleasantly surprised by how well they worked on semi-hard snow and soft or rough ice. (Yaktrax also offers its Walk model, but we didn’t test it because it is just a slightly more mild version of the Pro and is usually priced about the same. If this design appeals to you, go for the Pro.)

That traction is thanks to tiny edges—essentially, a continuous spiraling ridge—molded into the steel coils, which helps them grip the ice. However, these ice grippers will still slip very easily on hard ice with even the slightest hint of an incline or decline; and when the ice is hard or wet, they’re not a good choice, even on gentle inclines.

So, although the Yaktrax Pro’s easy-on, easy-off harnesses and total absence of spikes both make them appealing (and a decent choice if you must have something you can go indoors with, although they’ll still scratch delicate floors), keep in mind that they’re only useful in flat or very mild conditions, and they can actually be a liability in more challenging conditions.

DIY traction solutions

If you don’t want to buy traction aids, you can improvise your own by adding hardened sheet metal screws to the bottom of an old pair of shoes. This is a common, low-cost solution offered by many running stores; some of them even offer it for free to seniors as a means of preventing falls. However, as you might imagine, there are a few catches.

The first is that the sole of your shoes must be thick enough to keep the points of the screws from penetrating through to your feet, and sturdy enough to keep you from feeling the screws underfoot when you pass over dry or bare patches of ground that the screws won’t sink into at all. Second, the screws sometimes fall out, and when they do, or if you choose to remove them at the end of the winter, you’ll have little holes in the soles of your shoes. And finally, although the traction from this sort of device is better than nothing, it’s not as good as the other ice grippers mentioned in this report, and if you wear studded shoes on errands or to the office, you’ll still want to change footwear before going inside. These are also a definite case of the heavier you are, the more traction you’ll get; lightweights should save time and look elsewhere.

We also tried a second creative DIY solution, applying the flexible silicone rubber adhesive Sugru to the bottom of a pair of running shoes, pressing it into a textured pattern, and letting it cure for 24 hours as directed by the manufacturer. We hoped the flexible, textured surface would grip onto ice and offer increased traction. However, once we took the Sugru-enhanced shoes out for a spin (Sugru on one shoe, Sugru-free on the other), we found that there really was no difference in traction, and the Sugru started coming off within the first half-mile.

Care and use

Putting ice grippers on your boots or shoes is easy: Slip the toe of your footwear into the toe of the ice gripper, then stretch the heel section of the traction device onto the heel of your shoe or boot. Adjust the ice gripper as needed so the spikes, coils, or beads are centered on your foot, and you’re ready to go.

It’s actually easier to do this with your boots or shoes on. If you find yourself struggling, most likely it’s because the ice grippers are too small. Size does matter when it comes to getting a proper fit, so always compare your shoe/boot sizing to the size range for each ice gripper so you make sure you get the gripper in the proper size.

Your ice grippers really don’t need much care and upkeep, but if you live in an area where road salt or chemicals are used for de-icing, you should rinse them off and pat them dry after every use.

Also, keep an eye on the two places in which ice grippers can fail. The first is the actual spikes or studs; they can become blunt as you walk over patches of bare ground or pavement, and they can also break, fall out of the ice gripper, or both, depending on its construction. Due North ice grippers are unique in that you can easily replace their carbide studs; just pop the old ones out and insert new ones (each Due North device comes with two extra studs in the package).

The other potential weak point for any ice gripper is the stretchy harness that holds the spikes onto your foot. Although it’s rare, these harnesses can and do break, especially if you’ve been using ice grippers that are sized too small for your shoes or boots, so it’s a good idea to periodically check the harnesses over for rips, tears and other visible wear. If you see any, it’s time to either return the ice grippers for warranty service or replace them altogether.

(Photos by Kerry Tasker.)

To share this page via email, fill out the fields below:
Message Sent!
Oops! Please try again
Send

Sources

  1. Injury Prevention & Control: Data & Statistics (WISQARS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Gaining Traction, Runner’s World, January 10, 2013
  3. Editors’ Choice Gold 2012: Kahtoola MICROspikes, Backpacker
  4. Berne Broudy, Gear Review: Salomon Spikecross 3 CS Winter Trail Runner, Backpacker

We actively moderate the comments section to make it relevant and helpful for our readers, and to stay up to date with our latest picks. You can read our moderation policy FAQ here.