Are you looking for more grip on your winter runs on snow and ice? Having the best winter running traction devices for the conditions you’ll encounter will keep you upright and running confidently through the slippery conditions of a snowy winter. Traction devices are removable and fit over your running shoes to provide additional traction during winter running, whether on snow or ice. The active portion of traction devices is a set of metal teeth, spikes, tips, or coiled wire found underfoot. Any of several materials connect those bits to a harness, usually at least partially made of a wrap around the toe, heel, and sides of your running shoe to keep the business end in place. Whether you call such devices traction devices, ice cleats, running grips, or crampons, this guide will help you find the right device for your next winter run.
To help you find the best traction device for winter running, our team took the most promising options out in all conditions, from daily runs on the snow-packed streets of Silverton to snowy outings on 14ers in the springtime. We used them to negotiate iced-over trails in the Grand Canyon where a slip could have meant a long fall and then stashed them in our packs once we descended past the snowline. Our team analyzed the various traction devices for grip on various surfaces, comfort, ease of use, and durability so that we can help you sort between the options easily.
We found the best overall traction devices for a variety of scenarios so that you can get out there and enjoy your winter running safely, whatever the conditions. To learn more about traction devices for running before buying, check out our thoughts on choosing the correct traction devices for your needs, our testing methodology for this guide, and our answers to frequently asked questions about these devices.
Best Winter Running Traction Devices
- Best Overall Winter Traction Running Devices: Black Diamond Distance Spike
- Best Value Winter Traction Running Devices: Yaktrax Pro
- Best Winter Traction Running Devices for Mixed Snow, Ice, and Pavement: Kahtoola Exospikes
- Best Winter Traction Running Devices for Mountain Running: Kahtoola Microspikes
- Best Winter Traction Running Devices to Carry Just in Case: Black Diamond Blitz Spike
Best Overall Winter Traction Running Devices: Black Diamond Distance Spike ($100)
- Excellent grip on multiple surfaces
- They are very lightweight for what they do
- Easy on and easy off
- Secure fit
- High price
- Annoyance of metal spikes on pavement
- The toe cap is a tight fit for bulky shoes
When launched in late 2020, the Black Diamond Distance Spike instantly jumped to the top of the winter running traction device pantheon. It is a crampon-like, chain-and-metal-spike style of traction device, but it cuts the weight of earlier running crampons roughly in half without losing grip.
Where its predecessors used heavy elastomers and thick metal components, the Distance Spike moves to thinner metal, thinner elastomer, and a fabric toe cap. The 14 spikes are eight millimeters long and strategically placed under the toes and front of the heel to provide optimal traction on packed snow and ice and supplement traction in softer snow. The easy-on, easy-off design is welcome when using them with gloves or chilly fingers. These have now been our go-to choice for a few winters!
Actual Weight: 3.3 ounces (93 grams) each (All weights are for traction device models compatible with U.S. men’s size 9 shoes.)
View the full Black Diamond Distance Spike review for more information.Shop the Black Diamond Distance Spike
Best Value Winter Traction Running Devices: Yaktrax Pro ($35)
- Low cost
- Low weight
- Comfortable on stretches of bare pavement or trail
- Secure fit
- Less traction on ice
- Not suitable for prolonged, burly off-trail adventures
The Yaktrax Pro is unlike any other traction device on the market in that its traction comes from metal wire coiled around an elastomer frame underfoot instead of spikes. The broad crossing pattern underfoot provides good traction on snow, while the metal coils provide some bite when running on packed snow or ice, though it is less than traction devices with actual teeth, spikes, or carbide tips.
That’s the downside, but the upside is that without metal teeth, spikes, or carbide tips, this is the most pleasant traction device for running on stretches of pavement or dirt free of snow. There’s no clicking, no odd high points underfoot, and no worry that you’re unnecessarily dulling your traction devices.
In addition, the small Velcro band across the top of the foot makes for a worry-free, secure fit. The level of performance that you get for the price of these traction devices makes them an excellent investment.
Actual Weight: 2.5 ounces (70 grams) each
View the full YakTrax Pro review for more information.Shop the Yaktrax Pro
Best Winter Traction Running Devices for Mixed Snow, Ice, and Pavement: Kahtoola Exospikes ($65)
- Good all-around option
- Relatively light
- Very easy on and off
- Secure fit
- They can feel a little unstable but plenty grippy on uneven ice
For some time, there’ve been traction devices that mounted carbide tips on flat panels that went under the outsole, but the Kahtoola Exospikes raised the game by putting the carbide tips atop five-millimeter lugs (eight millimeters in total from the TPU base to the tip).
These devices are great for adding lug traction for running on snow and carbide tip traction for running on ice to any road running shoes and trail running shoes with modest lugs. They start to feel awkward when used with trail running shoes that already have five-millimeter or longer lungs. While the Yaktrax Pro reviewed above is an excellent option for road running, the Kahtoola Exospikes provide additional reassurance on ice.
Actual Weight: 3.6 ounces (102 grams) each
View the full Kahtoola Exospikes review for more information.Shop the Kahtoola Exospikes
Best Winter Traction Running Devices for Mountain Running: Kahtoola Microspikes ($75)
- Excellent traction
- Very secure fit
- Burly construction
- On the heavier side
- Can slightly curl toes upward
One step down from true crampons, Kahtoola Microspikes are the burliest traction devices entirely fit for running. First launched more than a decade ago, for many of us long-time runners, these were one of our first winter running traction devices. They worked great way back when, and with three incremental updates over the past decade, they continue to work great.
However, amongst all the strong traction device options today, these microspikes stand out for their bomber construction. Many of the iRunFar team use these regularly for running anywhere from the snowy streets of Silverton to the iced-up and snowy trails of the Grand Canyon, where a slip could be serious business, and after years and years of using them, they are still on their first and only pair.
Actual Weight: 6.0 ounces (170 grams) each
View the full Kahtoola Microspikes review for more information.Shop the Kahtoola Microspikes
Best Winter Traction Running Devices to Carry Just in Case: Black Diamond Blitz Spike ($50)
- Extremely lightweight
- Highly packable
- More difficult to put on than other options
- They can come off unintentionally
- Forefoot traction only
The Black Diamond Blitz Spike is the traction device you want to carry if there’s a slight chance you may need extra traction on your run. The same goes if you know there’s a mile or two or three out of a long run for which you’ll want additional traction. Why? These are the lightest removable traction devices out there and pack down to nothing. They’re small enough to get stuffed into a running belt and can even be tucked into the waistband of whatever bottoms you’re wearing.
These traction devices have a couple of notable downsides, as they’re a bit of a pain to get on such that the toe strap is comfortable and secure. Even with the best placement, it’s not uncommon for them to slide off every couple of miles.
In addition, the cleats on the Black Diamond Blitz Spike are located solely on the forefoot and may require heel strikers to adjust their gait to be more of a mid- or forefoot strike to maximize their grip on snow and ice. These factors are enough to prevent these from being a daily go-to option. However, they do work great as a just-in-case option.
Actual Weight: 1.9 ounces (54 grams) each
Comparing the Best Winter Running Traction Devices
|TRACTION DEVICE||PRICE||NUMBER OF SPIKES||SPIKE LENGTH||WEIGHT|
|Black Diamond Distance Spike||$100||14||8 millimeters||3.3 ounces|
|Yaktrax Pro||$35||Coils||1.4 millimeters||2.5 ounces|
|Kahtoola Exospikes||$65||12||7.4 millimeters||3.6 ounces|
|Kahtoola Microspikes||$75||12||9.5 millimeters||6 ounces|
|Black Diamond Blitz Spike||$50||6||8 millimeters||1.9 ounces|
How to Choose: A Buyer’s Guide for Winter Running Traction Devices
So, which is the best winter running traction device for you? There are a couple of factors to consider.
Will you be running more on snow or ice?
To be honest, all the traction devices mentioned above will provide plenty of grip when running on snow. However, what you’re doing the rest of your time makes a difference in selecting a pair of traction devices. If you’ll be mixing in sections of bare pavement or trail and you won’t encounter much ice, you’ll want to consider the Yaktrax Pro, as their lack of spikes, teeth, or carbide tips make them more comfortable when running on stretches of harder surfaces.
Running on ice is best done with traction devices with distinct teeth, spikes, or carbide tips, which are ideal because they concentrate pressure in a small area to bite into the ice. The Kahtoola Exospikes are a great offering with carbide tips. That said, the Black Diamond Blitz Spike and Kahtoola Microspikes also perform excellently on ice.
Will you be running on pavement, concrete, or a bare trail?
If you’ll be running on significant sections of bare pavement, such as running a few miles to a trailhead or climbing on a bare trail up to the snowline, you might want a traction device that’s easy to get on and off, compact to store, but otherwise performs best on the snowy or icy surface on which you’ll eventually run. The Black Diamond Distance Spikes are light enough to toss in a pack for the run to a snowy trailhead and easy to get on once you’re ready to use them.
If you run a mixture of patches of bare pavement, snow, and ice, you might go with the Yaktrax Pro, which is more comfortable when running on bare ground than traction devices with teeth, spikes, or carbide tips.
Will you be running in dangerous or high-risk conditions?
Here, we’d recommend the Kahtoola Microspikes. They’re bomber, secure, and work in a mix of the burliest conditions. That said, you’ll likely get away with Black Diamond Distance Spike in most conditions.
Why Trust Us
iRunFar’s experts are based in the U.S.’s Intermountain West with long, snow-filled winters where running on snow and ice for months is the only option. We run on slushy shoulder season paths, packed snow trails, and glazed-over roads — where we tested these traction devices.
Unlike some product categories we’ve tested, there aren’t hundreds of legitimate options in the winter running traction devices space. At most, there are a couple of dozen options, and as traction device models tend to stick around for many years with minimal modifications, a handful of the best options for winter running have risen to the top over the past decade.
We tested those top devices — roughly a dozen — to find out in what conditions they each excel. We’ve been running in versions of some of these devices since at least 2007, meaning we’ve logged hundreds of hours in them through the years from Virginia to Alaska and Colorado to California. Our in-depth analysis was conducted mainly on the moderate-elevation, high-usage trails of Colorado’s Front Range and Silverton, Colorado’s burly, high-elevation roads.
Ultimately, we’ve identified what we think are the best winter running traction devices for various situations — we have these in our closets if we’re not out running in them.
Please note that product models are routinely discontinued in the running world, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes, that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing and research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most products will likely remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear you’ll use for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Running and Traction Devices
Do I need traction devices for winter running?
Not necessarily. Good technique for the conditions, such as increasing the vertical aspect of your push-off while decreasing the horizontal aspect, increasing cadence, and avoiding sudden turns and stops when it’s slippery underfoot, can help keep you upright and under control. That said, the best winter running traction devices can provide reassurance, increase safety, and reduce the need to concentrate on footing. Carrying a backup traction device such as the Black Diamond Blitz Spike can give you extra peace of mind when running in the winter. We’ve written more extensively on techniques for running on snow and ice.
Are there other names for winter running traction devices?
Yes. People sometimes call traction devices ice cleats, ice running cleats, snow cleats, traction cleats, running grips, ice traction devices, ice grippers, trail crampons, or even crampons, although the last more often refers to more technical mountaineering gear. The Yaktrax Pro, with its wire-coil design, deviates the furthest from what most people think of when they think of a winter traction device.
Are there any DIY solutions for adding traction for winter running?
A time-tested approach is the screw shoe, in which you screw several 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch hex-head screws into the lugs of each outsole. Setting up screw shoes will only take a trip to your local hardware store, a couple of bucks, and a few minutes of your time if you’ve got a drill handy.
Commercial options for the equivalent of screw shoes include Icespike and La Sportiva AT Grip Hobnails. Unless you’re running exclusively on snow and ice throughout the winter, it’s arguably easier to have a pair of lightweight traction devices like the Yaktrax Pro to put on any pair of shoes you want to use instead of dedicating a single pair to winter running.
Do I need special shoes for winter running?
While any running shoe can work for winter running, when there’s snow on the ground, and it’s not rock hard, trail running shoes with decent-sized lugs can add traction without needing traction devices. On the flip side, it can be annoying to wear most traction devices over deeply lugged trail shoes, as the combination of external spikes or teeth and deep lugs can lead to a mishmash of very tall spikes and spikes recessed between deep lugs. (Note: If you’re interested in making screw shoes as described above, you’ll want your shoe to have distinct lugs with a bit of depth to place the screw in.)
A few running shoes use winter-specific outsole technology that increases outsole grip on ice. One example of a shoe containing this technology is the Saucony Peregrine ICE+ 3.
A whole category of running shoes has carbide tips embedded in the outsole. These generally provide outstanding traction on ice and can be pretty good on packed snow if they have some lug depth. The downside is that the metal tips can be annoying on bare pavement and wear down relatively quickly when used on hard surfaces frequently. You’ll only want to wear these shoes on winter runs where traction will be an issue. You also won’t want to wear your spiked shoes into your house, stores, or, likely, even your car. Examples of running shoes with spikes include many models of Icebug running shoes, the Salomon Spikecross 5 Gore-Tex, and the La Sportiva Blizzard GTX.
There are also shoes with waterproof membranes. These can be great for shorter runs on ice or through an inch or two of snow. However, once you get into runs of an hour or two and longer, nearly all “waterproof” running shoes will become damp from sweat, if not from snow entering the ankle collar and melting. Although uncommon, the occasional winter running shoe has a water-resistant upper, which can be a nice middle ground.
Even though membraned shoes will eventually get wet on the inside, they can help keep wet feet warm by reducing airflow through the shoe and holding in the heat generated by your feet. This makes them a viable choice for winter running for some people. Still, a membraned shoe is a very specific shoe for particular conditions. Having one of the best winter running traction devices in your closet, such as the Black Diamond Blitz Spike, can allow you to choose your shoe based on the conditions.
How do I care for winter running traction devices?
Little needs to be done for these devices as all metal components should be made of stainless steel or another non-corroding metal. Still, it can’t hurt to shake them off and let them dry after an outing before storing them. For traction devices with elastomer portions, avoid leaving them in direct sunlight and hot temperatures to prolong their life. While an uncommon situation for most of us, stretching the elastomer while below the rated temperature can also decrease its lifespan. The elastomers of our picks, especially the Kahtoola Microspikes, are durable and can withstand challenging conditions.
How do I choose between the available winter running traction devices?
Regarding performance, two primary considerations exist when choosing between the various traction devices intended for winter running.
First, consider what winter conditions you will most commonly be running in or, more importantly, on. Soft snow, hardpacked snow, and ice interact differently with traction devices. Toothed cleats tend to work well on all sorts of snow, while thin carbide tips bite better into firm ice. Those carbide tips won’t add much traction in deeper snow but will add some purchase on hardpacked snow.
Second, consider what kind of and how much ice-free and snow-free firm terrain you’ll run on, such as pavement or rocky trails, as the cleats and spikes of traction devices can be uncomfortable on such surfaces. This annoyance and possible discomfort can be mitigated if a traction device, such as the Yaktrax Pro, is easy to take on and off and store, so long as there’s relatively infrequent alternation between bare, hard ground and wintry conditions underfoot.
Other important considerations in choosing traction devices include price, durability, weight, and portability.
Can I use winter running traction devices for technical mountaineering?
None of the traction devices above will fully substitute for a full crampon attached to a mountaineering boot, but many perform quite well on steeper terrain. The Kahtoola Microspikes are the closest option to a full crampon and grip well when snow slopes get steeper. The simple fact that running shoes aren’t as stiff as boots makes them less capable at kicking steps in hard snow, regardless of how burly an attached traction device is. Running-focused traction devices also lack the front points of crampons, making them less adept at steep terrain. That said, most winter running traction devices will easily handle most of the terrain runners take them on without a problem.
What about using traction devices for walking?
While all the traction devices we looked at would be suitable for running, check out this traction device roundup that’s more tuned toward walking and hiking if that’s your primary use. The Yaktrax Pro is a popular traction option for walkers.
Other Winter Running Resources
Now that we’ve hopefully helped you stay upright, here are some additional resources for winter running.
- Finding Footing: Techniques for Running on Snow and Ice
- Embracing Winter: How Do You Do It? – Lots of good commentary from personal perspectives in the comments
- Winter Training: Making This Your Most Effective Off-Season Yet
- Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Power of Positive Self-Talk
- iRunFar’s treadmill articles, with Treadmill Training: Welcome to the Machine being a good start
- Snowshoe Running Basics: The Why and How
- Snowshoe Racing
Fun Winter Running Reading
Finally, here are some entertaining stories about winter running.
- Why I Hate/Love Running in Winter – An amusing take on running through the winter
- What a Drag: Joe Grant’s Susitna 100 Experience – Joe Grant writes of his struggles pulling a sled with mandatory equipment for 100 miles in Alaska’s Susitna 100 Mile
- Geoff Roes’s 2012 Iditarod Trail Invitational (350-miles) Report – Geoff Roes’s blow-by-blow report of his 2012 Iditarod Trail Invitational run through the Alaskan winter
- David Johnston, 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational 350-Mile Champion, Interview – An interview with David Johnston after his record-setting win (4 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes) of this 350-mile race through Alaska’s winter wilderness
- Beautiful and Brutal: A 2018 White Mountains 100 Race Report – Bryon Powell shares the experience of running his first Alaskan winter 100 miler, the White Mountains 100 Mile, in 2018
Call for Comments
- What’s your favorite winter running traction device or devices?
- What winter running advice do you have?