I’ve never been one to give a whole lot of attention to gear reviews myself, so I won’t be offended if you don’t give much consideration to this. However, I have been thinking that the past couple winters have given me plenty of opportunity to put this simple piece of equipment to the test quite often, and I’d like to share some of what I have experienced in hopes of others finding my experiences useful.
Please don’t ask me why, but over the years I’ve assembled quite a collection of various ice cleats, or snow traction devices if you will, and I’ve had the opportunity to use them all on multiple occasions, with the thought of a gear review in the back of my mind. I’m pretty confident when I say that I’ve put them to the test in every form of ice and hard packed snow condition that one could dream up.
My father grew up on a farm near the edge of a lake back in the 1940s, and he told me about making his own ice cleats as a young man. He would use these homemade cleats out on the lake while ice fishing. He told me about taking a large tin coffee can lid and puncture holes all over it with a large nail so that the nail punctures formed tiny cleats that protruded from the bottom side of the lid. He would then step on the lid and fold any excess metal up each side of his
shoe adding a hole in this folded up part for a string that could be tied across the top of your boot. Now that’s ingenuity if you think about it.
Believe it or not I have a set of these old fashioned one strap, wrap around the boot ice cleats that are really good for nothing but an emergency where you have no other options.
The Ice cleats of today have evolved from the homemade tin can lid cleat, and these one strap pieces of light metal, into an enigmatic configuration of rubber straps, chains, and various pieces of metal designed to cut your fingers and tangle as you try to stretch them onto your boot. But the reality is for the hiker they can be a critical piece of equipment that can make your hike a safer and more comfortable one.
I’ll start off here by saying that my test methods are not scientific by any stretch of the word; they are rather just the common use of the product over the years by a common guy. You may find that something works great for you that I really despise. I’ll just show you what I’ve tried, and I’ll tell you what has worked well for me. So let’s jump right in and start with the low end of the price range and move our way up.
I won’t name any brand name on this particular model because there are around 20 different ones out there that produce this same type of design that range from as low as 7 dollars up to as high as 20 dollars.
I have 3 different sets of these all by different manufactures that all have slight variation in the overall design, but the results have been the same for all of them. They are probably the quickest and easiest to get on and off, and I have used them many times in conditions ranging from very hard packed snow to smooth sheet Ice. They have replaceable hard plastic flanged buttons with a small hardened steel pin/spike. These small spikes really bite and you can walk confidently on smooth ice.I really liked the ease of getting them on and off, but after only 3 or 4 uses with all the brands I tried, I ran into the same problem.
What I found was on extended hikes the entire thing tends to creep up around the side of my boot requiring me to stop frequently and readjust. I think a lot of this problem comes from them being made from a rather thin rubber that has quite a high degree of elasticity. Worse yet was that small debris constantly collected in my boot tread between the boot sole and the rubber and was causing the plastic buttons in the cleats to push out of the holes in the rubber. With each set of these I would get a mile or two into my hike and have to stop and remove them in an effort to clean and readjust things. This is when I would notice that I had lost one or more of the plastic buttons completely. In snowy conditions I also noticed that snow would build up under the rubber strapping on the under sole of the shoe causing a person to have to remove and clean them frequently.
Conclusion: I think these would work ok for the casual walker, but they are not going to fit the bill for the avid hiker. I like that they are easy on and off, and I liked the traction that they provided. I disliked the lack of durability with the buttons popping out losing them completely. One other quirky dislike was the sound they make as you would walk on a smooth sheet of ice. It is something akin to someone dragging their fingernails across a blackboard.
These are going to set you back around 20 dollars. I found them a bit more difficult to get on and off of my boot because they seem to be of a heavier rubber construction and just don’t stretch as easy as the less expensive model above. I found them to stay in place on my boot without shifting around much, so I wasn’t stopping and readjusting very often. The traction that they provided in all the conditions I used them in was satisfactory, but the one big issue that I had with them is that after walking a couple miles they started to cause pain in my feet. I’m hiking in winter with my Gortex Merrell hiking boots and the front portion of these cleats starts to feel like you are stepping down on a rock with the ball of your foot after every step. It just seems that the rubber portion where the cleats are molded in is just too thick. Just imagine taking a good size stone and placing it between the rubber of the cleat and the sole of your boot and walking on that for a while, that’s the only way I can describe how these feel after walking a couple miles in them. This could just be an issue with me and my boots, but I would approach these with caution if you are considering buying a pair.
Conclusion: Great quality in the construction, and they would work great for short walks or working around an icy area for a short time, but I would not suggest them for long term use, or even short hikes of a couple miles if you are using a soft sole shoe. These may work great for a hard sole work boot. Again I like the quality of the product and I liked that it did not shift around on my boot at all. Also I did not notice the problem of getting debris between the rubber and the sole of the shoe with these either. My dislike is simply the fact that they get uncomfortable after a short distance walking.
These run around 30 dollars. These are now my go-to cleats and I really can’t find anything negative to say about them. I have used these in all types of terrain and have had zero problems with them. They are probably the easiest to get on and off your boot and I’m pretty sure that I can do it one handed at this point. I can put these on and never have to adjust them for the entire day. Honestly these are the only ones that you can put on and truly forget that you are wearing them. I have heard people that have the Yaktrax Walker version talk about readjusting but I can’t comment on that because I’ve always had the Pro version with the strap and again, have never had an issue with them working around my boot.
Conclusion: These are the best thing out there in my book; they provide the most traction in the most conditions with the least amount of problems. Yaktrax Pro is simply all likes and no dislikes. I can’t even come up with one suggestion for a modifications or improvement.
These are going to set you back something in the neighborhood of a whooping 60 bucks. The Yaktrax xtr is exactly what they claim to be, and that is extreme. The Yaktrax extreme’s have very sharp quarter inch teethe protruding from steel sole plates. Do not walk indoors with these at all; don’t even walk on anyone’s wooden deck, they will do some pretty extensive damage. (People still ask me about the teeth marks in my deck boards) These go on and off quite easy and I really have no complaints on how they performed on ice or hard packed snow, what I do find is that in most conditions on the trail I prefer the regular Yaktrax pro over these. I honestly can’t think of a situation where I would rather use these over the regular Pro series other than just to look cool.
Conclusion: These are a very expensive set of ice cleats that I really can’t say are worth the extra cost over the Yaktrax Pro model. The likes are pretty much all the same as the Pro series but with this model I do have some dislikes. They just seem to be overpriced and overkill. I can walk up on my deck and even out my back door with the Pro series on my boots, but these need to stay away from anything you don’t want to leave teeth marks in.
NEOS Navigator 5 Stabilicer Overshoe,
These run around 130 bucks, and are at the extreme end of the ice cleat spectrum. The Neo’s overshoe is designed to put on over your regular hiking boot or shoe; they have a very aggressive sole with screw in replaceable steel ice studs. The particular model that I have is completely water proof and has a gator that rolls up and snaps to the top of the boot. I really have only used these a few times now, but so far I think they are great. Just the other day in a heavy wet snow I put them on and hiked while brush clearing on our new snowshoe trail for a total of about 2 and a half miles. Honestly I was worried about them being big and clunky but after walking through some pretty rough terrain with them for a couple miles I’ve found that I’m willing to give them a bit more testing. I didn’t find them to be big and clunky at all. With your favorite hiking boot or walking shoe inside I can see these doing a great job. They seem very lightweight yet durable.
Conclusion: it’s too early to tell, but I am impressed so far. More review of these to come later.
At the end of the day I really have to put all my money on the Yaktrax Pro as being the best bet for Hikers. Between things creeping around your shoe and needing frequent readjustment, and being uncomfortable to wear, the Yaktrax Pro has none of the issues that I found with the other sets that I tried. In my book they are well worth the 30 dollar price tag. My tip of the day is to get online and check around to find deals on the Yaktrax Pro. I’ve found them priced under the 30 dollar mark on many different sites.