Petestack Blog

29 December 2009

Running crampon review

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:24 pm

Something I’d been thinking about for quite some time (like years!) before this winter’s prolonged cold spell sent me researching seriously and posting some questions to the UKC Forums. Which saw my initial list (based on Needle Sports’ stock) of Kahtoola MICROspikes & KTS, Charlet Moser Spikys and Grivel Spiders augmented by recommendations/suggestions for Yaktrax and various types of studded/spiked shoes. And (to cut a long story short) resulted in me picking up a pair of locally-available Spiders from The Ice Factor to try while ordering a pair of MICROspikes online as well.

So here are my interim reviews from that UKC thread, starting with what I had to say about the Spiders on 23 December:

For the record, I carried the Spiders up two snowy hill/trail routes on Sunday/Monday without using them before finally giving them a whirl on an icy 12-mile run from Kinlochleven to the Blackwater Dam and back tonight. So this is what I’ve just posted to the parallel ‘Shoe snow chains’ thread:
http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?n=386138

‘First impressions are surprisingly positive because they stayed put on my shoes (Asics 2130 trainers), allowed me to put my feet anywhere I wanted (including passages of pure ice), brought me safely down a significant hill and back along the pavement to my house, didn’t interfere with my gait at all and are still in one piece. If you’re crossing cleared roads from one icy pavement to another, you’ll feel/hear the unit under your instep, but it’s not tall enough to cause problems and not worth taking them off for that. Having said that, I think the MICROspikes look better in just about every way (especially very clever, quick ‘binding’ system and better distribution of spikes), but didn’t find the instep-only pattern of the Spiders as limiting as I expected tonight on ground that’s probably pushing their remit. So they’re clearly suitable for a town environment (where the instep design should be even less of an issue and short spikes are what you want), except that I’m still expecting to discover that the MICROspikes have them beat for everything except weight and price.’

To which I might just add that I did the straps up once (snugly but not over-tight because I was needlessly concerned about creating circulation cold spots) and left them, but never had any problem with the things moving. While they seemed to rotate slightly to find their natural position (aligned with the inside edges of my soles and the inside back spikes maybe toed in a touch), they really did stay put at that (on my running shoes anyway) and let me just run. And made a reassuring and satisfyingly ‘crampony’ crunch on the crispest/iciest stuff, which certainly would have had me flat on my back or picking my way at a snail’s pace without them!

And continuing with my take on the MICROspikes from Christmas Eve (when Eppie, Eileen and I waylaid the post van round the corner after missing their delivery while out to lunch at The Ice Factor!):

Got my MICROspikes today, so had to head out for another run (this time an 8-mile round trip to Tigh-na-sleubhaich in the Lairig Mor) to try them out. Which gave me the chance to run on everything from ribbons of pure ice (where the bottom end of the path forms a natural drainage line) through following existing footsteps in the softer snow to chasing down more compacted Landrover tire tracks on the west (Fort William) side of the highest point. And they did it all as well or better than the Spiders, with the most obvious differences being the ease of fitting with that strapless/buckleless design and the added (possibly partly psychological?) confidence stemming from the more extended spike pattern. Apart from that, both Spiders and MICROspikes benefit from spikes of just the right length, meaning long enough to bite but not long enough to cramp your running style or ball up in softer stuff, which also means you can just fit and forget unless you’re taking them off for obvious stretches of bare ground. Where the Spiders clearly score is in being lighter (NB light enough to carry as emergency spares!), cheaper and ‘one-size-fits-all’, with the MICROspikes (still pretty light!) getting the nod for the brilliant ‘harness’ and more crampon-like performance (think I’d be happy to run over many real hills in these). While the elastomer harness was softer than I expected, it seems to be pretty durable by all accounts and could obviously be patched on the hill with a length of shockcord or similar if any of the eyes did go. So they’re looking pretty well perfect for my needs if their durability matches their functionality!

Hope to do some more testing of both yet, but my interim verdict says the MICROspikes are a seriously clever bit of kit that really works and the Spiders will do if budget (a few pounds) or weight (a few grams) really matters that much. :-)

To which I should add some further notes covering things not otherwise mentioned above:

  • The Spiders are ‘handed’ (left and right), but apparently just to keep the buckles to the outside of the feet because they’re basically symmetrical apart from the threading of the straps.
  • It’s worth pulling the retainers for the strap ends down away from the buckles before doing them up.
  • My Spiders weigh 166 grams the pair (against Grivel’s quoted 140), with the carrying pouch adding another 12.
  • The MICROspikes are not handed, but still have an obvious front and back.
  • My large MICROspikes weigh 412 grams the pair (where Kahtoola quote 280 to 411, depending on size).
  • While all the positive reviews helped, a late look at Kahtoola’s MICROspike fitting video was virtually enough on its own to convince me to buy!
  • I carried both Spiders and MICROspikes again today with the hope of further testing, but needed neither for miles of mostly virgin powder snow to the far end of Loch Eilde Beag before finally fitting the MICROspikes (and still being happy with them) for the return over the icy An Cumhann path and big descent to the village.
  • While a true crampon like the Kahtoola KTS should be better for true hill work, the shorter spikes (nothing you’re likely to catch and trip over there!) of the MICROspikes and Spiders seem more attuned to running. So, while I might yet give the steel KTS a whirl some day (ruling out the aluminium where contact with rock is basically unavoidable) if the MICROspikes get trashed too quickly on my habitual rocky trails and paths, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got pending longer-term trials.

6 Comments

  1. Some further testing today on another crisp run (same as 23 December) along compacted tire tracks to the Blackwater Dam and back when I wore the Spiders all the way out and MICROspikes all the way back. Nothing much to add to my findings so far, but worth noting that the MICROspikes possibly feel more natural on harder-packed surfaces (because you’re never conscious of that Spider ‘block’ under your instep) and certainly let me attack the long descent back to the village (now pretty icy) as if it was summer.

    Not sure whether my previous suggestion re. ‘pulling the retainers for the [Spider] strap ends down away from the buckles before doing them up’ really makes that much difference. So it makes them easier to thread when the pressure of the straps on the shoes makes them harder to adjust afterwards, but they might ultimately be more secure left close up to the buckles. Not that it seems to be an issue either way when they haven’t come undone once yet, but I’m needing to hot-knife off the strap ends to shorten them a bit when there’s far too much left flapping about even with my big feet!

    While today’s attempt to provide a more ‘controlled’ test probably adds little to what I’ve already reported, it seems to confirm that 1. the Spiders are OK, 2. the MICROspikes are better, and 3. they both work and both let you run on ground you’d be struggling to run without something.

    Comment by admin — 30 December 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  2. hi pete, great review, very informative. the microspikes look like they fit the bill for what i’m looking for but i’m wondering if you notice the weight on your feet when you run as they must at least double the weight of each shoe?
    The plus point of the spiders is obviously the lesser weight but do you get any purchase if you’re running uphill and on your toes?

    Comment by RichieC — 30 December 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  3. Interesting questions, Richie, so I’ll try my best to answer them…

    1. Weight. I’ve just weighed several size 11/11.5 shoes (Walshes, Asics and two types of Inov-8s) at between 320 and 400 grams *per shoe*, with today’s still-wet Asics being predictably heavier at 430 grams each. So the large MICROspikes are more in the ballpark of half the weight of a large shoe, and I’m guessing the same might be true of the MICROspike/shoe relationship in smaller sizes. For all that (and it still sounds a significant increase on paper), I can’t say I’ve noticed the difference in practice when you’ve other things to think about apart from what your shoes weigh and won’t be flying along like you might in summer unless underfoot conditions are pretty crisp. If weight’s a real issue, you might also consider the Spikys or Yaktrax Pros, but I’m not convinced by the amount of exposed rubber on the Spikys and Yaktrax specifically state in their FAQ that they’re ‘designed only to be worn on ice or packed snow’ and will suffer from contact with harder surfaces.

    2. Spiders and ‘purchase’. I know, logically you’re going to be landing on anything but your insteps (and rolling through?) when you’ve got both feet in the air at once and aren’t flat-footed, but they seem to work. However, their more limited pattern does promote a slightly more cautious approach to inclines (especially downhills), and there’s no doubt that you keep thinking about that where the MICROspikes just let you run.

    Comment by admin — 30 December 2009 @ 11:30 pm

  4. Hi Pete,
    thanks for the helpful review. Do you know where you can get the microspikes in the UK?
    Tommy

    Comment by tommy hepburn — 31 December 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  5. Hi Tommy, I got mine from Needle Sports in Keswick (see http://www.needlesports.com/acatalog/Mail_Order_Crampons_32.html), but a quick web search will throw up a number of possibilities. Might help to try them first (dunno where!) or cross-check shoe model(s) with supplier if you’re somewhere about the medium/large split (UK 9.5), but my UK 11/11.5 shoes are bang in the middle of the large MICROspike range and fit fine.

    Comment by admin — 31 December 2009 @ 6:33 pm

  6. Very useful reviews Peter – thanks. Having returned to the land of the concrete cow I can now only look longingly at my microspikes. That and watch the fitting video repeatedly. ;-)

    Comment by Brian Mc — 4 January 2010 @ 2:52 pm

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