Traveler's Gear Box: When You Need Good Footing, Consider YakTrax

YakTrax can be a good option for slippery conditions when snowshoes are overkill.

Walking through many national parks in winter can be tricky. In Yellowstone National Park, for instance, the boardwalks through geyser basins can be snow-and-or-ice-covered, hiking trails in Grand Canyon National Park can be icy, and trails in countless other parks that experience snowy winters can be slippery. These are definitely instances when you need good footing.

If the snow is deep, snowshoes with crampons will provide you with great traction. But if the trail has been compacted by lots of feet, snowshoes might not be the best answer. Instead, I've found that YakTrax are a great solution. Made of rubber or plastic (depending on the model) and 1.4-millimeter coiled wire, these stretchy "traction devices" fit over the sole of your footwear. The coiled wire that runs along the bottom bites into the surface of snow, and ice to a degree, to provide you with some grip.

YakTrax fit over hiking boots as well as running shoes if you want to head out for a run in the park for your exercise.

There currently are two versions -- the $20 Walker and the $30 Pro. I found the Pro to be a bit more durable than the Walker, which I managed to quickly break while stretching it over my size-11s. Not only is the Pro made from a beefier natural rubber, versus an "injection molded thermal plastic elastomer" for the Walker, but the Pro also has a strap that fits over the top of your boot/shoe to help keep things in place.

And for those really cold days, the manufacturer says these devices will work in temperatures to minus-41 below zero Fahrenheit.

Comments

I have managed to break a number of YakTrax, and when I sent a pair back to the manufacturer, well within the "year warranty", they didn't even answer my letter. I have tried YakTrax, foot fangs, instep crampons (teeny ones), and Stabilicers. All of them have let me slip at least once on glare ice. I splurged on a pair of Katoolah Microspikes in November, and I have worn them almost every day since. I love them, and I haven't fallen once (except when I managed to catch one of the spikes on my bootlace, but a pair of gaiters took care of that problem).

I bought a pair of YakTrax (the high visibility yellow ones) although I've never used them. I got them cheap on closeout - I think they changed the packaging. They frankly don't seem that stable.

What did work for me to some degree was Get-A-Grip, which uses small carbide spikes in a rubber base that slips over shoes/boots. I took them up the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail during a February. They didn't get in the way when there was bare granite, and where there was ice I never slipped. The only problems I had was that the plastic part that holds the spike wore away quickly and I managed to lose one completely. It also came off my shoe although someone managed to find it after I asked a group if they'd seen it.

I think the company that makes them have discontinued the name and redesigned the product. The current version is called DueNorth.

http://www.surefoot.net/products.php?cat=89

Just started using my Yaktrax this winter. They worked great for me on icy parking lots and frozen, crusty snow. The added bonus came in that I didn't have to remove them every time I went into a building (unlike the spikes or crampons).

To be sure, there are a variety of products out there. My first pair of YakTrax failed quickly. But they were the Walkers. I've got at least two winters, maybe three, on my Pros, and they're holding up well. But I would be interested in more input on the other brands. The more options, the better!

As far as I can tell, the YakTrax Pro just has the additional strap. The coils and rubber components seem to be about the same. Seems good to have if it manages to slip off - at least it won't come off completely as long as the strap is secured well.

We have the YakTrax Walkers and have used them for years. They are very successful at digging in and giving traction on black ice and slushy snow we commonly get in the Southeast. We bought ours in AK when my sister lived there and everyone around Anchorage used them to get around town on frozen sidewalks.

I live in SE Alaska and quickly gave up on Yaktrax. There are some excellent models of Stabilicers that work well, but a local solution is to screw small hex-head screws into your shoes (I use them for running shoes on essentially 1-2" thick glare ice). Works great. Cheap, too. The down side is you don't want to walk on your lineoleum floors with any of these devices.

I suppose my problem trying on the YakTrax was the environment. It was basically a carpeted floor at REI using a set of YakTrax that had never been used or (I suppose) properly roughed up. I was basically sliding all over the carpet.

The MICROspikes seems interesting. Sort of like little mini-crampons attached via chains and secured with a rubber frame similar to the YakTrax. That certainly looks more durable than the Get-A-Grips I tried, but I wonder how stable they are when there is no ice. They would seem to have the same problems that regular crampons would have where there's no snow/ice - that traction is actually reduced when it's metal on granite.

I'm thinking one of the problems with Stabilicers is that the screw heads eventually smooth off over pavement and then the rounded off edges will slide on ice. I have heard of some people taking cheap hiking boots, drilling holes in the tread, and attaching screws.

How about specific snow/ice traction shoes? Modern winter tires use a combination of soft rubber compounds and tread block designs that incorporate little sipes. Sperry Top-Siders have used little sipes in their tread designs for year to aid traction on wet boat decks. I think I read about Hi-Tec trying siped blocks on their winter boots.