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How to Choose a Traction Device

In summer and fall, you may be a seasoned hiker and climber who can take on the most formidable rocky ridge, but once the snow falls, you'll need to make sure you're setting out with the right winter footwear and all necessary traction devices to keep you steady on packed snow and ice.

Even the most rugged winter boots will likely need the assistance of traction devices, but with so many different kinds available, it’s beneficial to identify exactly what you’ll need for the outdoor activities you plan to take part in. You'll find devices ranging from coiled devices which can be strapped on to any shoe, to jagged 10-point crampons designed for the most intense winter mountaineering. The main point to keep in mind when looking for traction devices is the terrain you'll be trudging, or scaling, through.

Winter Traction

Coiled Devices

The most basic and inexpensive form of traction is a coiled device, which can be attached to just about any kind of shoe or boot. These devices are ideal for simple outdoor work or walks that may lead you over flat surfaces where packed snow or slick ice may have accumulated, such as driveways, sidewalks, and similar terrain. The device is fixed to the shoe with stretchy rubber cables that are wrapped in wires that effectively dig into snow and ice. Some also have a strap across the top of the shoe for added security. You're likely to see several forms of these devices from Yaktrax, a well-regarded traction device manufacturer.

Spiked Devices

When you picture traction devices, a spiked device most likely comes to mind. This form of traction device, made especially prominent by the brand Kahtoola Microspikes, is typically a little more expensive than coiled devices, but you certainly get the most out of your dollar. These devices are more durable than coils, and can claw into ice and snow much more effectively. Featuring several small metal spikes roughly half an inch long, the device attaches to the shoe or boot similar to a coil, using a stretchy rubber harness to wrap around footwear. With spiked devices, you can take on uneven as well as flat surfaces, and on both you'll notice a strong grip.

Crampons

When looking for traction devices, you'll also come across various sorts of crampons, which are used for much more rigorous tasks than a walk down an icy driveway.

Full-length crampons are the preferred traction device for more arduous, slicker, and steeper trails, and are reserved for serious winter activities. These devices typically have 10 or 12 one-inch teeth, making them by far the best form of traction of all devices. However, crampons are strictly worn in the mountains and should not be used in place of coil or spiked devices.

If you know you won't be summiting any frozen peaks this winter, but expect that you'll need additional traction for winter outdoor activities like running, Yaktrax or Microspikes will probably be your best bet. Microspikes, for example, will keep you upright, and the rubber used to fasten the device to your shoe is rated for temperatures as cold as -76 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whichever winter activity you plan to do, be sure you have the appropriate cold-weather gear to keep you safe as you tackle the ice and snow.


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