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Unless you love ice skating, hockey, curling, pretty much every traveler will agree that ice can become the most dangerous part of winter. It can transform a sidewalk, road, or hiking trail from an inviting wander into a death trap of unforgiving, insanely slick surfaces. Ice grippers change the equation. Similar to heavy-duty crampons often used for glacier trekking and ice climbing — only a lot more compact, ice grippers attach to your existing footwear (snow boot, train-running shoe, even your go-to winter dress shoe or sneaker) and bite into frozen surfaces to provide solid purchase and easy navigation across even the blackest of ice.
Ice grippers come in all shapes and sizes, from backcountry-ready monsters with an arsenal of inch-long stainless steel metal spikes to studded models to stand-alone spikes that you can screw into your existing footwear. When evaluating the ideal ice gripper, first consider your typical environment.
Urban travelers — or folks looking for sure-footed commuting — can get by with models that come with smaller studs or metal coils, and ones that are easy to slip on and off. These are also more compact, and thus easier to carry with you in a purse or jacket pocket, so you’ll have them whenever you need them.
Adventure travelers who love to brave the conditions, meanwhile, should gravitate towards products with more aggressive metal teeth to help you navigate through hard-packed snow as well as ice, frozen wood, and variable terrain. Trail runners may want ones that split the difference, with spikes that will confidently bite into the frozen surface without looking like you’ve strapped some metal porcupine to your shoes, while backpackers and glacier trekkers should look for pack-friendly models that can handle anything from a frozen rock scramble to crossing an ice-covered lake.
Need some advice when it comes to finding the best options on the market? Here are a handful of the best ice grippers to buy today.
Best Overall: Kahtoola MICROspikes
Made for winter hiking, running, backpacking, and ice fishing, the MICROspikes utilize a network of 12 heat-treated stainless steel spikes on each foot to bite into practically any frozen terrain you’re liable to encounter. The spikes are connected with welded chains to shrug off impacts from rocks or pavement, with an elastic rubber toe bale, reinforced eyelets, and an elastomer harness that slips easily around your existing boot or shoe, one that uses 50 percent less rubber than previous models.
This makes these new MICROspikes lighter — and tougher. And it also reduces the chance that you’ll snag the inner leg of your pants with an inadvertent spike if you’re high-stepping through deep snow. They come with a stuff sack so you can stash the MICROspikes and save your backpack or jacket from any undesired spike encounters. Sizing breaks out from small to extra-large, married to your shoe size, and they come in black and red.
For those who only plan on navigating slick sidewalks, these might be overkill. But for those who want to be ready for most snow- and ice-covered terrain, the MICROspikes have got you covered.
Best Value: Yaktrax Walk Traction Cleats
The Yaktrax Walk Traction Cleats won’t help you cross a glacier or a dense field of snow, but they’ll certainly help you artfully maneuver down ice-covered sidewalks and streets. The slip-on cleats use abrasion-resistant 1.2-mm steel coils arranged in a crisscross pattern underfoot to grab on to slippery surfaces, with 360 degrees of traction and a zinc coating to fight off rust.
The highly elastic outer band comes with a heel tab to make them easy to slip on and off, and is sized to fit most boots and shoes. And since they don’t have any sharp edges or points, you can toss them in the pocket of your go-to winter coat without concerns of cutting your hands or the jacket’s inner lining. But don’t make their modest size fool you. The Traction Cleats are still all business and have been tested as safe from breakage in temps as low as -41 degrees Fharenheit.
Best for Running: Kahtoola NANOspikes
When your winter exploits include a running regimen that transitions from trail to pavement to snowpack and pretty much everything in between, the NANOspikes provide you the perfect measure of assured traction. Rather than big and burly metal spikes, which can become cumbersome — and even dangerous — during winter trail runs, the NANOspikes employs a network of ten tungsten carbide studs underfoot that provides serious grip without affecting your running gait or stride.
Engineered to not significantly wear down from repeated footfalls on unforgiving pavement, each spike includes a lightweight aluminum anchor and a TPU cleat for added traction and shock absorption. They’ve been nestled into the dual-compound rubber plate, one made of softer TPU for wear-resistance, flex, and snow release, along with a harder rubber to disperse force away from the shoe’s sole.
The low-profile elastomer harness has been ergonomically shaped to improve overall fit and comfort and remains stretchy down to -30 degrees. A raised heal tab makes it easy to yank them off, while a flexible toe bale with recessed connection points secures the foot’s position at the front of the shoe for added comfort.
They come in black and blue and have a stuff sack for secure transport when not in use. The NANOspikes also do solid double-duty for icy urban forays when you’re far from the trail.
For Fast-and-Light Hiking: Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
Don’t let the term “crampon” intimidate you. These ice spikes from Hillsound have been specifically engineered to handle the variable terrain typical to winter hiking, but they’re not full-on ice-climbing crampons. They do, however, boast more traction and flexibility than Hillsound’s Trail Crampon, with welded double-link chains and 18 stainless-steel spikes per foot that vary in lengths from a half-inch up to two-thirds of an inch, including a wide heel plate with three spikes to provide secure traction when going downhill.
The elastomer harness stretches over most hiking boots and shoes and includes a Velcro strap that stretches across the shoe laces to keep the devices securely attached. They come with a stuff sack and — bonus — a two-year limited warranty.
Best for Winterizing Your Existing Boots: La Sportiva AT Grip Hobnails Kit
If you already have your go-to year-round boot and you want to add semi-permanent ice traction to them, rather than using a slip-on ice gripper, go for the AT Grip Hobnails Kit. La Sportiva provides you with 18 high-end, screw-in, wear- and corrosion-resistant, high-temper tungsten alloy metal studs along with a simple installation tool to let you position the spikes exactly where you want them.
The threaded studs come from the auto industry, used to hand-stud rally car tires, so they should handle whatever winter throws at them without too much wear or tear. At the end of the season, simply unscrew them. Naturally, these work best with footwear that has a higher volume of sole material, enough space to attach the studs without compromising the weather-proofness of the boot itself. Think bomber hiking boots with rubber soles or more maximalist trail runners rather than your favorite pair of minimalist sneakers. That said, no one’s stopping you from adding a few spikes to a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
Best for Backpacking: Kahtoola KTS Crampon
The most aggressive model in the line-up, the KTS Crampon was Kahtoola’s first product, and still ranks as one of its flagship designs. Ideally suited for people who want to be able to handle all the variables of winter — ice, snow, slush, wet wood, frozen Earth, and all the other elements of the backcountry — each ice gripper comes with ten inch-long spikes made of 4130 Chromoly steel, ready to handle all activities save serious mountaineering and ice climbing.
The spikes are anchored on Kathoola’s patented LifeSpring Flex Bar, which uses dual-layered stainless steel bars that flex naturally with the foot and any type of footwear to avoid stress breaks that can plague other ice grippers, and allows for fast-and-light movement over non-technical terrain. Each pair weighs a pack-friendly 23.3 ounces, with a folded heel support, a rear ankle strap, and a network of straps to keep the toe secure.
Best for Glacier Trekking: Hillshound Cypress 6 Crampon
Unlike most ice grippers on this list, which come in different sizes so that the elastic harness can secure the cleats, studs, or spikes to your shoes, the Cypress 6 delivers one-size-fits-all convenience. The six-point instep cleat utilizes simple-to-use ratchet buckles to lock the device in place; a width adjuster means it can also handle Chromoly boots. Each crampon comes with six carbon steel spikes that range in length from an inch down to three-quarters of an inch, and weigh only 19.4 ounces. Anti-balling pads underneath prevent snow build-up, a two-year warranty adds a nice touch of confidence, and the included stuff sack makes hauling them to the wild a breeze.
Best for Urban Explorers: Snowline Chainsen City
The lowest-profile and simplest ice gripper on this list, Snowline’s Chainsen City will help you navigate the icy roads of the city and suburbs without layering on features that you really don’t need. The 304 stainless steel spikes attach to linked chain to deliver six points of contact to bite into icy pavement, with simple underfoot bands at the toe and heel that’s non-freezing down to -60 degrees. They’re easy to pull on (anchor the toe in place, pull back on the heel strap) and just as easy to remove (heel first, then the toe). Admittedly, they might be too svelte for use with hiking boots, but they’re ideal for more casual boots, sneakers, and other urbane urban-forward footwear.