If your winter running includes roads and non-technical trails with packed snow and ice, then the Kahtoola EXOspikes ($60) are a great option for removable traction devices. Kahtoola has been making spikes since 1999 and has the perfect testing grounds right outside their door in Flagstaff, Arizona. Without a doubt, they know running spikes for ice and snow, and they introduced the EXOspikes for the winter 2020/2021 season.
Polar vortexes, Punxsutawney Phil’s continued winter prediction, and snow stretching into unexpected geographies all over the world mean we runners are digging into gear bins and Google searches to look for ice cleats that will help us keep the rubber side down. The EXOspikes do just that.
Kahtoola EXOspikes Design
In the Kahtoola EXOspikes, the company uses the same durable, stretchy elastomer harness found in their MICROspikes (review) with the integrated heel-pull tab to conform the traction device to your shoe. On the bottom, the EXOspikes have 12 tungsten carbide spikes embedded into their TPU traction matrix, which seems to shed snow better in wetter and warmer conditions and is a bit stretchier and more accommodating if you’re in the upper end of a size’s fit range. The small, round spikes are 0.29 inches (7.4 millimeters) in length and are arranged 8 in a hexagon under the forefoot and 4 in a square under the heel. Metal rings attach the traction portion with the harness through reinforced holes and are proving to be exceptionally durable even when wearing the spikes over rocks, ice, dirt, and snow.
EXOspikes are sized from extra small (US men’s 5 to 6.5/women’s 6 to 7.5 and Euro 36 to 38) through extra large (US men’s 12 to 14/women’s 13-plus and Euro 45 to 48). They are 3.6 ounces (102 grams) per spike in a size medium. This lighter weight makes them less burdensome in a pack and keeps the fatigue level of the legs a bit lower over the course of a long run. The TPU doesn’t allow them to fold up as small as other spikes on the market, but the included stuff sack is still only 5.75 x 3 x 2 inches, which stows well in small hydration packs.
Kahtoola EXOspikes Use and Traction
While the Kahtoola EXOspikes don’t offer the bite of a triangular spike into angled snowpack and luge-like ice, the carbide tip offers significantly better traction than any screw shoe I’ve made. EXOspikes do very well on most moderate inclines and terrain in winter conditions because of the design—the spikes keep you upright on the ice while the aluminum steps they’re sunk into grip rocky and rooty surfaces. The surrounding TPU acts like trail-shoe lugs in looser rubble and snow, thus allowing the device to function more like a traditional lugged outsole. Because of the lower profile beneath the shoe, I am able to leave the EXOspikes on through dry sections of trail during a mixed-conditions run instead of taking them on and off as frequently as I would with larger spikes. When I do remove them, they’re easy to fold and stow in my pack and light enough to carry in my hand if I know they’re going back on soon.
Just like the MICROspikes, the EXOspikes have an integrated toe bail, which keeps your shoe from working its way forward through the harness. This seems like a really small detail to highlight, but if you’ve got a long downhill, it’s great peace of mind knowing your traction device will stay exactly where you want it on your shoe.
Kahtoola EXOspikes Overall Impressions
All in all, the Kahtoola EXOspikes offer excellent traction for those who don’t quite need burly crampon-esque aggressiveness but still want to be able to run in most conditions on moderate terrain all winter long. Though I haven’t been able to travel to test these outside of my home state of Colorado, I know friends in the U.S. Midwest who have been particularly happy with the new EXOspikes option. With a two-year warranty offered, it’s pretty stress free to give them a hearty go.
Other Winter Running Traction Devices
For more on the subject, check out our Best Winter Running Traction Devices article. You can also check out these individual reviews of traction devices for running on snow and ice.
Call for Comments
- Who’s running in the Kahtoola EXOspikes? What do you think overall?
- In what conditions do the Kahtoola EXOspikes perform the best for you? And in what conditions do you need a different kind of spike?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]