In certain climates, winter running requires traction beyond what even the grippiest trail shoes can provide. This winter, we’ve tested three new products on the market: two of them are part of the first-ever traction line from Black Diamond and the other is from Kahtoola, a well-established name in this category. Our testing took place in Colorado on a variety of surfaces including loose gravel/scree, snow and ice-packed dirt, snow-packed and icy roads, as well as the occasional section of dry trail or road.
Kahtoola designed their new EXOspikes as a cross-training product with maximal versatility of use, in particular, the transition from road to trail and back again. EXOspikes feature 12 spikes per foot, each with three separate levels of traction: tungsten carbide tips for ice, aluminum steps for grip on uneven surfaces, and TPU lugs for traction in loose terrain. The TPU lugs are more prominent than the stainless steel spikes on the Black Diamond devices, and we thought it might feel odd to strap an additional set of lugs on top of our trail shoe outsole lugs, but in practice this wasn’t a problem at all, as the EXOspikes felt natural underfoot.
The TPU traction matrix claims to be extremely durable and more abrasion resistant than steel, while the TPE elastomer stays stretchy down to -22 degrees. The harness holds the device securely in place, but in our testing we found it a little cumbersome to take on and off. Due to the snug fit of the EXOspikes, it has a tendency to pull up the toe if a shoe has more flexibility. Although these have the bulkiest feel of any of the harnesses in our testing, they became our favorite for their ability to provide confident traction in varying terrain.
Black Diamond Distance Spikes
These spikes excel in their versatility of use, from flat running in winter conditions to alpine scrambling. A unique design element is the hybrid harness combining a softshell forefoot cover with a traditional elastomer material around the midfoot and rearfoot. This cover allows for a snug fit, easier packability and lighter weight than traditional full elastomer models without compromising grip or protection (by comparison, BD has an otherwise identical full elastomer model called the Access Spike that is about 10% heavier).
The design is based loosely on a climbing crampon, with 8mm stainless steel spikes that are heat treated for added strength and resistance on snow, ice, rock and hard surfaces. Fourteen spikes provide full underfoot traction with five in the heel and nine in the forefoot. While we were initially concerned about the durability of the forefoot fabric, it held up well to ice, tree roots and other trail obstacles. The heel webbing loop is easy to grab for application or removal, and does not get in the way when the spikes are in use.
We found these spikes an awesome choice for runs that may have a little bit of everything. We wore them on a longer run that included snow, ice, dirt trails, rock and bouldering, without having to remove them during the run. The Distance Spikes feel surprisingly light and comfortable on your feet, and they stow easily into a compact carrying case when they’re not in use. There’s not much ability to adjust the sizing, so be careful to choose the appropriate size for your shoe with their sizing chart on blackdiamondequipment.com. If you are in between, we recommend sizing down.
Black Diamond Blitz Spikes
The Blitz Spike is an ultralight traction device weighing in at only 57 grams. This makes it the perfect spike to throw into a pack in case extra traction is required, particularly in mountain ultras where the course takes you over high passes, but you still want to travel light. When stowed in the carrying bag, the Blitz is small enough to fit into the front of a hydration pack or a jacket pocket. This model only has spikes in the forefoot, but the six spikes have the same material construction and 8mm depth as the Distance Spike, providing similar traction on snow and ice, and maintaining underfoot stability on rock and other hard surfaces, including the road.
These are easy to put on with a front toe strap secured with dual density elastomer eyelets and a heel retention loop. A large fabric loop on the elastomer heel strap makes it easy to pull over the heel of the shoe, and it manages to stay out of the way while in use. The Blitz Spike is barely detectable on your shoes – to the point where you may not even notice if it falls off. As with the Distance Spike, sizing of the Blitz is especially important as the toe strap is fairly minimal and when not positioned correctly, could slip off the toe. In our testing, this seemed to occur more easily with shoes that had a wider toebox.
Features and Specs
|Model||MSRP||# of Spikes/foot||Weight (size medium)||Coverage||Spike Material||Harness Type|
|Kathoola EXOspikes||$59.95||12||104gm||Full-length||Tungsten tips, aluminum steps,
|Full length elastomer with reinforced TPU eyelets|
|Black Diamond Distance Spikes||$99.95||14||115gm||Full-length||Stainless steel||Hybrid softshell toe cover in forefoot and elastomer in mid and rearfoot|
|Black Diamond Blitz Spikes||$39.95||6||57gm||Forefoot only||Stainless steel||TPU heel webbing with fabric forefoot loop|