Kahtoola EXOspikes Review

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.

The Kahtoola EXOspikes. All photos: iRunFar

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.

A lateral view of the Kahtoola EXOspikes.

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.

A medial view of the Kahtoola EXOspikes.

The carbide tips and TPU matrix forming the bottom of the Kahtoola EXOspikes.

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!]

The elastomer harness of the Kahtoola EXOspikes.

Kristin Zosel: is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

View Comments (5)

  • I live in the Midatlantic - so what snow we get frequently turns to, or comes down as crusty, icey and slick. I have the nanospikes which seem to be the same , maybe just an older version. I put them on over my most destroyed old trail shoes with no lugs left and.... they are AWESOME! Trails, fields, sidewalks that go unshoveled, and some pavement. Even runs with my 70 lb Lab are safe.

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  • What might be a disadvantage to a snowshoe on a hard packed, difficult, technical and steep trail in cold temps. I’m thinking of trying a winter Catskills hike in New York on the Devils Path

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  • Tim, disadvantages? Off the top of my head—exposed rocks/branches, increase weight, decreased agility... if the trail is firmly packed then snowshoes don’t provide much advantage... if the snow is deep without a firm base then they’re excellent for the flotation. I don’t know the path you’re speaking of, so I can’t comment specifically.

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    • thanks for the insight. that's what I thought but as an inexperienced winter hiker I wanted an expert opinion. Basically, I guess it depends on the trail's packed downed ness, lol

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  • I bought a pair of EXOspikes at the beginning of winter in New Hampshire, but after a mild January and a couple big snowstorms in February, I had yet to try them out. In the last couple weeks that snow has melted off to reveal the treacherous ice sheets beneath. I've found the EXOspikes to give me all the traction I need running flat-moderate trails. They're even great on steeper uphills. The only time I've found them to be limited is on steep downhills. While not as grippy as Microspikes, the weight trade-off and versatility (I don't need to bother taking the EXOs off on stretches of bare trail) are making these my go-to shoulder season traction for trail running (for hiking I still prefer Microspikes). I'm curious to see how long they last. Some of the rubber on the bottom is starting to get scuffed up after about 100 miles.

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