- 13.6 oz / 370 g (medium)
- Stainless steel
- 12 spikes, 3/8″
I remember the first time I saw Kahtoola MICROspikes, in Eastern Mountain Sports in the North Shore Mall in Peabody, MA. It was November and I had recently made a slippery trip over North and South Kinsman on the western edge of the White Mountains. I had gone to the store wondering what it was going to cost for crampons and boots that would hold them so I could extend my hiking into the winter months. As I wandered the store, delaying the inevitable sticker shock waiting for me on the wall at the back, I saw a stack of little black boxes near the register. What were these wonderful things?
They appeared to be exactly what I was looking for. I had already (wisely) written off Yaktrax and STABILicers for hiking the 4,000 footers in the Whites, but hadn’t known there was something made for the shoulder seasons that could fit on 3-season or winter boots. I sped home with my new spikes then headed for Chebacco Woods, one of my favorite local hike spots in Hamilton, MA. I looked everywhere for an icy slope, finding one after 2 hours, about 100 yards from my car. I walked up and down the slope many times – backward, ducked out, crossing over, running, trying to slip. They were great.
To be clear from the start – MICROspikes are not a substitute for crampons. They don’t have the same bite, depth, or solidity. When you need crampons, you need crampons. When the ice is bulletproof, or the slope is very steep, MICROspikes can get you into trouble.
That being said, these have taken me where I’ve wanted to go in New England 95% of the time – including winter. That’s huge. Just don’t let their amazing performance in the places they are intended to work give you a false sense of security if you’re pushing them out of their safety zone.
There are plenty of pictures of shiny new MICROspikes on the Kahtoola Site – I’m using pictures of my spikes for this review so you can see what they look like after some use – pretty good in my opinion.
The beauty of MICROspikes is in how they attach to the boot. A red band made of rubber stretches up and over the sole for a snug, reliable hold on almost any type of boot. They don’t require an inflexible sole like most crampons do. Recent models feature a nice grip tab at the back end to help you pull them on. This is a welcome addition considering these are often put on and taken off with chilled hands on rough terrain. They are not left and right-foot specific, but do have a front and back end.
My medium pair (check here for sizing) have twelve 3/8 inch spikes on each foot, as do all sizes except Extra Small with 10 spikes. The spikes, their plates, and the chains that attach them to the band are made of stainless steel. At the front end, a bar runs between the 2 chains to help hold them in place on the rand at the toe of the boot.
My size medium weigh in at 13.6 oz a pair, it’s hard to even notice the extra weight on your feet or in your pack.
For someone like me, who is obsessed with packing all of their gear into the smallest space possible, another great thing about MICROspikes is their flexibility. I can bunch them up into a ball that fits in the palm of my hand, or fold them in different ways to fill dead space in my pack. However you carry them when not in use, be sure to store them in such a way that will prevent them from jingling with every step. No one appreciates unnecessary noise on the trail!
So, my experience. I got my first pair of MICROspikes in 2009, and they lasted through a full round of the White Mountain 4000 footers – almost 2 rounds. The rubber band, which I had initially thought might stiffen and crack in the cold, never faded, cracked or split. In December of 2013, the connection between the chain and the band failed near the summit of an icy Mt. Tom. The end links that connect to rings in the rubber don’t connect, there is a tiny gap. The ends were pulled apart and the link slipped from the ring. I think this happened on a strange step I took between 2 rocks that scraped down each side of my boot. But it was a few minutes before I made the effort to look at my feet to see what the extra noise was, so I can’t say for sure. Anyway, it was an easy fix with parachute cord and a small amount of duct tape for good measure, and performance remained just fine.
I used them a few more times before replacing, more for the worn down spikes (these can be sharpened with a file several times before wearing too far down) than the tied up chain.
Unfortunately, my second pair disconnected in the exact same spot with no bad footwork on my part on the second hike I took them on. Probably a coincidence since the first lasted me 4 years, but discouraging.
Many people have switched over to Hillsound in recent years and I’ve heard good things (no first hand info on durability yet). The spikes on my second pair are still sharp and long, so I have no reason to replace them, but when it’s time, I’ll likely try out Hillsound or whatever else may be on the market by then.
Kahtoola opened up a new world of hiking to me and I’ll always be thankful for that (I’m gear sentimental). I know many people who’ve used MICROspikes for years without any problems, but I also pass plenty of hikers on the trail with a chain tied to a band (not all in the same spot mine disconnected at). I haven’t seen enough hikers in Hillsounds in good or bad condition to make a comparison.
Can I recommend MICROspikes? If you’re prepared for and capable of an easy fix on the trail (I hope you are) and not worried about what your gear looks like if it needs a little trail love (I hope you aren’t), then yes. But I’d also ask retail employees and other hikers about their experiences with other light traction before you buy.
I’ll try to get my hands on some Hillsounds for a few trips and post a review. Some form of light traction is essential for being able to hike year round – MICROspikes will let you do that.
** I’ve reviewed the Hillsound Trail Crampon – read it here! **