The 9 Best Winter Traction Devices

Our picks for exploring glaciers, backpacking, or maneuvering icy pavement

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Using a winter traction device can transform a nightmarish outing of perpetually slipping, sliding, and falling on hardpacked snow and ice into a joyous exploration of the wintery outdoor world. The best ones slip on easily—even while wearing gloves—and provide ample traction on ice, deep snow, slush, mud, and hardpack. Others simplify their features to help you navigate ice-covered sidewalks or brave a winter trail run. These are the best winter traction devices, covering everyone from hikers and backpackers to those who love to explore the urban environment, regardless of the weather.

Best Overall: Kahtoola NANOspikes Traction System

Kahtoola NANOspikes Traction System

Backcountry

What We Like
  • Reliable traction

  • Lightweight

  • Easy to take on and off

What We Don't Like
  • Potential for pain or pressure at the top of the toes from the front strap

  • If you plan on navigating deep snow or mud, you may want a traction device with longer teeth to help with shifting terrain

Simplicity reigns supreme with the streamlined NANOspikes from Kahtoola. Kick the toe of your shoe into the front mount, then pull the glove-friendly back tab over the heel and you’re ready to go. Ten tungsten carbide spikes—six in the front, four in the back—provide ample traction on snow and ice. They're also durable enough to withstand impact from asphalt or concrete.

The spikes are mounted to flexible plates of rubber to displace the impact forces on the foot, while the harnesses are ergonomically shaped with reinforced eyelids to assure a proper fit. They’ve even added a “toe bail,” which keeps the shoe properly set in the harness to avoid the toes poking out on quick descents.

Tested by TripSavvy

NANOspikes have kept me vertical and moving in icy terrain for years, from navigating iced-over pavement that blanketed my home city a few years back to whenever I find the necessary motivation to go for a trail run after a snow storm. I love how easily they can be put on and taken off, and the harness is very glove-friendly. The tungsten carbide spikes really bite into the ice and snow, which allows me to concentrate on foot placement rather than trying to find a point of friction between the frozen earth and my shoes. Yes, when you hit pavement or rock, they “clang” like muted tap shoes, but the short spikes don’t seem too phased whenever I have to cross the road to get back on my go-to singletrack trail. And I love how they work with pretty much any kind of footwear, making them lifestyle-friendly beyond the trails.

At first, I was curious if the lack of spikes under the center of the foot would cause any issues. It hasn’t, even when I’m actually running in the neutral gait to which I aspire. They did fish out on me once when I stepped on a wet 4 x 4 used to grade an angled section of trail, but wet wood is always dangerous, and likely nothing any winter traction device can handle. And happily, I kept my footing. The only minor drawback I encountered when running in snow that was semi-hard packed and about eight inches deep? A bit of snow collected between the platforms that hold the spikes and the soles of my running shoes. But I didn’t notice any issues while running, so that shouldn’t impact overall performance. — Nathan Borchelt, Product Tester



Best Budget: Yaktrax QuickTrax Traction System

Yaktrax QuickTrax Traction System

REI

What We Like
  • Easy to take on and off

  • Very portable

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Only comes in one size

  • Runners need not apply because you’ll miss the ability to get traction from the heel for faster forward momentum

If you’re looking for a low-cost alternative to more expensive winter traction devices, go with the Yaktrax QuickTrax Traction System. Rather than going the full-foot harness route, Yaktrax presents you with two stretch bands to pull over the front of your shoes, which places two tungsten carbide spikes under each forefoot for added traction on slippery surfaces. Note: With only two spikes at the forefoot, you need to walk with a purpose.

Still, they’re probably the easiest of such devices to carry and store, and would make for a solid product to keep in your car’s glove box during the winter.

Best Splurge: Kahtoola KTS Hiking Crampons

Kahtoola KTS Hiking Crampons

Backcountry

What We Like
  • Serious grip and ample adjustability

  • Durable

  • Great for more serious terrain

What We Don't Like
  • Best only used with boots due to the ankle strap

Ready to take on the most demanding winter conditions, the KTS Hiking Crampon from Kahtoola may be worth the high price tag, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time in the snow-choked backcountry. One of the most adjustable winter traction devices available, it comes with an independent front and rear binding system to deliver the optimal fit for your hiking or ski boot.

A flexible bar system moves with the feet when wearing traditional boots, with an adjustable binding strap that runs over the ankle, tightened via a glove-friendly clip. That high heel actually folds down, so the crampons take up less space when not in use, and ten one-inch spikes have been strategically placed to provide a stable platform in deep snow and slush as well as icy conditions. It even comes with removable Snow Release Skins, which helps remove snow buildup common in spring conditions from the bottom of the crampon.

Best for Backpacking/Hiking: Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

REI

What We Like
  • The number of spikes and the use of a stainless steel chain add plenty of bite

  • The harness retains its elasticity down to -22 degrees

  • Comes with a bag for safe, easy storage

  • Easy to take on and off

What We Don't Like
  • Not ideal for use on surfaces like pavement or gravel

Ready to navigate untracked, deep snow along with hardpack and ice-covered trails, the Kahtoola MICROspikes employ 12 stainless steel spikes for assured traction in wintery conditions, including mud and slush. The spikes are attached to welded stainless steel chains that further improve traction, but also create an unstructured profile when not in use, so you can pack them down small for easy storage. Reinforced eyelets in the stretchy, ergonomic thermoplastic elastomer harness improve strength, while a raised heel tab makes it easy to get them on and off with either a gloved or near-numb cold hand.

Tested by TripSavvy

When I first tried out the MICROspikes—my first pair of winter traction devices—I was worried that the large-ish spikes might snag on the cuffs of my hiking pants. It turns out those concerns weren’t valid, in part thanks to the ergonomic design, which aligns the spikes with the curvature of your shoes or boots. And these things move well. I was able to get confident footsteps in snow and sludge as well as on-ice via the 12 stainless steel spikes and the chains. My other concern around adding weight to my winter kit was also resolved simply because I could move at my usual pace, rather than trying to artfully navigate through deep snow without them on (read: slipping and sliding).

I also appreciate that they pack down to a reasonably small overall size, and the included carrying case keeps the spikes from tearing into whatever else I’ve shoved into my day pack. They go on easily, even when wearing thicker gloves, and the chains don’t really “rattle” the way I thought they might. I do try to avoid pavement and gravel when possible; the spikes are plenty durable, but it feels a bit off to me for an extended stretch on asphalt and similar surfaces. — Nathan Borchelt, Product Tester



Best for Mountaineering: Black Diamond Contact Crampons

Black Diamond Contact Crampons

Black Diamond

What We Like
  • The top pull strap is glove-friendly

  • Easy sliding adjustments

  • Durable

What We Don't Like
  • At 1 pound, 13 ounces (per pair) they’re a bit heavy when compared to non-mountaineering winter traction devices

  • Potential for standard flex bar to be too short for larger shoe sizes

Designed for mountaineers and skiers who live to brave the snow-choked confines of high-alpine environments, the Contact Crampons from Black Diamond utilize a stainless steel construction that fends off rust. Ten long spikes—including two toe kick spikes—will gain purchase on the hardest of surfaces, and track well in deep snow and slush. A recent redesign into a lower profile makes it fit better with modern boots, and a fast-adjustment system makes it easy to dial the perfect fit.

Best for Running: Korkers Ice Runner Traction Devices

Korkers Ice Runner Traction Devices

REI

What We Like
  • Includes 11 backup spikes in case any wear out

  • Easy to take on and off

  • Boa laces create a firm fit

What We Don't Like
  • Deeper snow, slush, and mud be tricky might due to the short spikes

Rather than using a stretchy rubber harness, the Ice Runner from Korkers utilizes Boa lacing tech to effectively sandwich the lower and upper parts of the flexible harness around your shoe. This creates a snug fit from top to bottom without introducing any friction points. Eleven durable push-through carbide spikes run underfoot for serious traction and are short enough to not interfere with your stride, but ample enough to bite into snowpack and ice. The Boa laces are constructed of 49 strand steel cables for max strength, and the form-fitting harness tightens with a twist–push down to engage. Give it a turn to tighten, pull it up for a quick release.

Best Lightweight: Yaktrax ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip Traction System

Yaktrax ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip Traction System

REI

What We Like
  • Very low profile

  • Will stand up to asphalt, concrete, and gravel

  • Provide great stability

What We Don't Like
  • Prone to rusting

  • Not very durable

Weighing in at just less than 12 ounces per pair (in XXL), the Diamond Grip from Yaktrax won’t weigh you down and its diminutive profile doesn’t sacrifice performance. Patented diamond-shaped beads made of case-hardened steel alloy provide hundreds of biting edges that grip in all directions and rotate independently to cut down on snow and ice buildup. The steel aircraft-grade cable adds durability. Finally, the streamlined harness is easy to use and will remain secure even in sub-zero temps.

Best Everyday: Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats

Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats

REI

What We Like
  • Packable

  • Solid grip despite lack of spikes

What We Don't Like
  • Deeper snow or full-on sheets of ice may still prove tricky to navigate

Relatively inexpensive and simple in design, the Yaktrax Pro provides the grip you want on ice thanks to abrasion-resistant 1.4-millimeter steel coils that bite into slick terrain without all the added features you don’t need for daily use. The spineless design makes them very streamlined, with a durable natural rubber outband that stretches around the lower part of your shoe, and a removable upper strap that straddles the top of your midfoot for an optimal fit. Better still, they pack down small, won’t tear into anything else in your pack or shred your pockets, and weigh only 7.6 ounces (in size XL).

Best for Versatility: Hillsound FlexSteps Crampon

Hillsound FlexSteps Crampon

Moosejaw

What We Like
  • Works with a variety of activities and shoe types

  • Great grip

  • Very durable

  • Lightweight

  • Stay put

What We Don't Like
  • Potentially not great on wet snow

Suitable for hiking, running, or navigating the icy sidewalks of a frozen urban or suburban environment, the Hillsound FlexSteps utilize a chain-free design and a flexible harness. This harness can work with all types of footwear, from trail runners to insulated boots. The grip is assured via 18 low-profile, high-impact stainless steel spikes mounted on a flexible plate that won’t restrict your shoe's natural flex.

In addition to the flexible harness, it also comes with a Velcro upper strap that stretches across your shoe’s laces to really lock the device in place. Riveted attachment points mean the FlexSteps are built to last (and a two-year warranty is included), and they pack down into an included carrying sack for when not in use.

Final Verdict

Kahtoola’s NANOspikes (view at Amazon) are capable of handling most winter surfaces that might otherwise tie you up thanks to a network of ten tungsten carbide spikes spread across the flexible panels at the heel and forefoot. They’re easy to pull on and fit reliably well. But if you’re focused on extending your running through the winter, consider the Korker Ice Runner (view at Amazon), which utilizes a Boa lacing system for an even, tight fit across the shoe without pressure points. Eleven spikes spread throughout the sole provide ample traction, and they come with 11 backup spikes if you manage to damage one of the carbide tips when running on rock, gravel, asphalt, or concrete.

What to Look for in Winter Traction Devices

Footwear Compatibility

Almost all brands of winter traction devices are made to fit any sort of closed-top shoe by utilizing a hard-rubber elastic harness that wraps around either part of or your entire shoe. But some devices like those specific to hiking or mountaineering may require wearing boots to work with the additional straps on those products. Most manufacturers also offer their product in a range of sizes (typically XS-XL) that correspond with a range of shoe sizes.

Spike Quantity and Materials

The main variable in winter traction devices is the overall length of the spikes. Low-profile models that perform well on ice and hard pack use smaller spikes—either set in a plate that runs under your feet, or in a network of smaller spikes threaded onto a durable cable or chain. Expect them to be lighter than devices with longer spikes, but know that they don’t track as well in mud and deep slush. Bigger spikes naturally provide more bite, and will let you gain purchase in deep snow, mud, and dense slush, as well as on ice and hard pack. Most spikes are constructed of either hardened stainless steel or a more durable material like tungsten carbide, which will stand up to abuse when you inevitably encounter rock, asphalt, gravel, and concrete.

Weight

Adding ounces to your feet can definitely drag you down, so weight should always be considered. If you’re only dealing with ice or hard snow, you can get a streamlined model that’ll help shave off the ounces. But if you’re going into the deep backcountry, want to target alpine ascents, or plan for a multi-day outing, those with more aggressive spikes (and the confident traction they provide) are worth the extra weight.

Intended Use

This is the key consideration when choosing a winter traction device. If you plan on only hiking or running on hardpack or iced-over terrain, go with a lower-profile design that boasts smaller spikes sharp enough to gain purchase on that type of terrain. This design will cut down the overall weight, and also reduce the risk of accidentally snagging your pants cuff on a spike. But for deeper forays into the wild, where deep, loose snow, as well as mud and slush, are a distinct possibility, longer spikes afford more confident footsteps. And if you’re looking to go mountaineering, upgrade from a standard device with only spikes underfoot for crampons, which include forward-facing spikes at the toes to help you ascend.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What are winter traction devices useful for?

    Whenever you’re navigating icy, slippery terrain, winter traction devices are a godsend. They assure confident footing on frozen-solid ice as well as slush and other winter realities. Those with smaller “teeth” will easily bite into the ice and hold fast, but shorter spikes also mean you get less traction in mud or deep snow. Traction devices with larger spikes help you find purchase in snow and mud, but obviously add more weight and…lots of sharp edges to the equation. Upgrade to full-on crampons and you’re able to navigate the landscape much like a mountaineer or ice climber thanks to longer spikes, and toe spikes that help you climb.

  • How do winter traction devices attach to my footwear?

    Most traction devices use flexible, high-density rubber that stretches over your shoes, typically starting by nestling the toe into place, and then pulling the heel tab over the back of your shoe. Some also use an additional stretch strap that goes over the shoes’ laces for added stability, while boot-specific traction devices can also attach to the upper part of a hiking boot via a clip strap system. But at least one brand uses a Boa-style lacing system–thin, high-strength flexible wires laced between the upper and lower parts of the traction device–that lets you literally dial in a snug fit with a few turns of the adjustment wheel.

  • What kind of shoes should I wear with my traction devices?

    Any sort of closed-top shoe will work with most devices, though given you’ll typically encounter cold conditions, some waterproofing and insulation is good to have. For more rugged outings, consider wearing a pair of winter low-top hikers or hiking boots for added protection.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Nathan Borchelt is a freelance writer for TripSavvy who has been testing, reviewing, and writing about outdoor and travel gear for decades, with a special focus on things that make winter exploration easier. Each product was evaluated on the overall fit, traction, packability, and price, and several have been pressure-tested on winter trails over multiple years to also evaluate the products’ durability.

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