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When the air turns crisp and the snow begins to fall, my running turns into a test of courage, grit and, well, equipment. Growing up in the great “up north”, I was trained at an early age to shun the thought of becoming a hermit when an unapologetic Old Man Winter brought sub-zero wind chills and snow by the foot-fall, turning our home into a bonafide winter wonderland.
“Bundle up!” coxed my dad. “All you need is a few more layers and you’ll be nice and toasty!
“A little snow can’t stop us!” declared my mom “We can’t afford to miss such a great opportunity to enjoy this winter day!”
This was normal life for me… layer after layer of clothing kept me warm as I memorized the ins and outs of winter wear (make sure your snowpants cinch OVER your snowboots and your gloves are snug around your wrists to avoid the unpleasent arrival of snow stuffed against your skin!).
So when I arrived home from my Freshman year of college in California and started to run (read: slip & slide) down our snow-covered country road (read: ice skating rink the width of 1.5 cars), my mom knew just what I needed. A box showed up under the Christmas tree holding what I could only describe at the time as “chains for my running shoes”… she gifted me a pair of YakTrax.
Winter Running Traction
Over the past two winters, I have become much more skilled in the art of winter activities, particularily winter running. Both winters, I have set goals for my year that include a bit of winter running in my training plans, giving me no choice but to choose between the dreaded treadmill (Oh the monotony! Treadmills can be great at times, but I can’t bring myself to run 5 days a week on one!) or the bone-chilling cold expertly paired by slick winter roads.
I bundle, I layer, I become a moving mummy… and I arm myself with my beloved winter running traction!
Winter Running Traction: YakTrax and NANOspikes
In my winter running years, I have personally utilized two types of winter running traction, YakTrax and NANOspikes. Both of these traction solutions are “over the shoe” products which slip onto my every day running shoes. They both have saved me from a hard landing many a time… but which do I like more?!?
YakTrax: My First Traction
YakTrax are an over the shoe cleat that sports a criss-crossing network of rubber wrapped with steel coils. This web of coils provides a “tire chain” like traction across the base of your shoe. While updates have been made to this product, I am still sporting my original YakTrax. They received only minor use until last year, when they became my only set of traction during our first full winter back in northern Michigan. After a full year of use, they certainly show some wear but they are still functional!
— Will not wear down when running on harder surfaces (in contrast to spikes)
— More comfortable fit on shoe
— Easy on/off of your shoe, has not harmed my shoes
— Performs very well in slighly soft or newly fallen snow
— Lower cost option
— The coil bottom can cause a “rounded” feel when running on flat or harder surfaces, making it feel like I could roll an ankle more easily
— The coils also add more bulk than the spikes, so I notice the difference more and, at times, I feel like it affects my hip/knee/ankle alignment
— On very icy or hard packed snow, YakTrax can still feel pretty slippery
YakTrax are an excellent option when running in slighly mushy or soft snow. They provide plenty of grip in this scenario. But when I run on harder pack snow or ice, I run into two problems. 1.) I still slip a bit. Less than if I have nothing on my feet, but more than if I wear NANOspikes. 2.) The bulk of the steel coil makes me feel like I am running on a rounded base, leading to instability in my ankles and an unnatural feeling hip/knee/ankle alignment.
The YakTrax Pro Traction Cleats are currently listed on Amazon for $19-$25
NANOspikes: My New Love
About a week before Christmas, Mr. Adventure Rich asked me if I wanted/needed anything. I knew exactly what to tell him. Kahtoola NANOspikes, please! I am ramping up my miles to train for my first marathon this year and, while my YakTrax are still functional, they are starting to wear out and have led to an unnatural alignment in my legs. With increasing miles throughout this winter, I wanted to find another traction solution that would help me to keep running outdoors and avoid injury while maintaining a more natural feel. Enter: Kahtoola NANOspikes
— Low profile, I almost forget I have an additional layer on my shoes and my hip/knee/ankle alignent feels more natural
— Excellent in icy/hard packed conditions. They bite into the snow/ice for solid traction
— The traction allows me to confortably run faster paces (tempos, intervals, sprints) without worrying about falling
— Easy on/off of your shoe, has not harmed my shoes
— The grip provided by the spikes is less affective in soft or mushy snow
— The spikes can wear down (I have not experience this yet, but I am only 2 months into these babies!)
— The “nose” of the contraption can rub on my toes a bit. For me, this is just annoying but I know some folks who have blisters because of this (I am guessing shoe type and anatomy come into play here)
— More expensive
Honestly, despite a few cons, I am absolutely LOVING my NANOspikes. They provide supurb winter running traction while keeping my alignment natural and my body stable. Plus, I am able to trust them in a variety of workouts (hills, tempo runs, intervals, long runs).
The Kahtoola NANOspikes are more expensive than YakTrax, and are currently listed on Amazon for $40-$50
My Perfect World Solution
In a perfect world, I would tell you to go buy both YakTrax and NANOspikes if you plan to train outdoors in the winter. I currently own both, my ancient YakTrax and my new NANOspikes, and I find that I use both in the constantly changing conditions (periodic warm ups/thaws followed by deep freezes). I will put on my YakTrax when running in a freshly fallen 3-6 inches of snow, then switch to NANOspikes the following day when the plows have cleared the roads and an inch or two of hardpack remains. If my YakTrax die on me and I am still running quite a bit in the winter… I may consider buying a new pair so I have both Yaks and NANOs next season.
If I had to choose one set of winter running traction… I choose NANOspikes.
But 50 Bucks for a Shoe-Thingy?!?
I often have to remind myself that, in this scenario, I am talking about safety and long term joint health. I have set an agressive running goal for 2018 (a freaking marathon!) and I want to arrive at the starting line healthy and prepared. To this end, I am comfortable purchasing equipment that I consider “safety equipment”. I bike with a helmet, I drive with a seat belt, I run in the winter with winter traction.
Are There Other Options?
Yes! I have seen off brand spikes and yaks like the these OuterStar Spikes or this off brand Yak-like Coil Bottom Tractions System. There are also articles about creating DIY spike systems like this one. I opted for the over the shoe because I didn’t want to drill into my one pair of shoes, but it could be another good option!
I personally have not tried anything other than Yaks and NANOs, so I wanted to give my personal reviews… but there are other options to try!
If you are you a winter runner… what do you use for traction? Or is this just a crazy contraption for the insane (aka- winter runners)?
Always an Adventure,
Mrs. Adventure Rich