Nov 23 2008

Getting a Grip—Yaktrax Traction Devices

Whatever the calendar says, autumn will soon end early here in the northern Adirondack foothills. As General Winter marches over the land, he’ll bring a dusting of snow, slicing winds, and frigid temperatures. Even now, below-freezing nights mean that hiking requires more caution than during the months of warmer weather. This is especially true once new snow masks icy patches. Which is why I’m very glad I have Yaktrax.

I’ve used various traction devices over the years. In my youth, ice climbing was my sport. Whenever I could swing it, I’d seek out frozen waterfalls and spend my days clinging like an addled bat to a vertical sheet of ice with the points of my ice axe, a Pterodactyl, and the paired front points of my Chouinard crampons. For walking on icy surfaces—vertical, horizontal, and everything in between—you can’t do much better than a pair of 12-point crampons strapped to stiff-soled boots.

But these are overkill for me now. I hung up my ice tools long ago, and I swapped my 12-point crampons for diminutive four-pointers. They were cheap and light, and they seemed the best choice for hiking. I’d just slip them into a protective pouch and slip the pouch into jacket or pack pocket. Then they were ready whenever I needed to get a grip.


I still have them. They’re intended to be worn at the instep, and they’re held in place with a looped rubber strap—really a large, heavy-duty rubber band—which wraps over the top of the foot. The plate is made of soft steel, and the points are formed by turning down the corners of that plate. A file will hone the points to the desired sharpness, but don’t overdo it: The points will break off if they’re filed too thin.

Do they work? Yes, but they’re not without fault. Wet snow and mud will ball up between the points, quickly rendering them useless. And the soft steel is easily deformed if you do much walking on frozen ground (as opposed to ice) or rock. Even the rubber strap is a sore point—literally. It can bruise the top of your foot.

The greatest drawback of all, however, is inherent in the design. Instep crampons simply don’t work well for me, so I’ve had to move them forward, under the ball of my foot, and it’s not easy keeping them in place. Bottom line? I wanted something better. And I found it: Yaktrax.

Secure Footing

You’ve seen them in outfitters’ catalogs, I’m sure. The don’t look much like traditional crampons, do they? But these crisscrossed coils of steel wire deliver the goods. And the absence of sharp points makes them easy to store in pack or pocket.


Sizing is wonderfully elastic, too. (The rubber rope that supports the wire coils sees to that.) A single pair slips easily over both my light hiking boots and my wide Neos’ Explorer Overshoes.

Feet First

Here’s how they look from the side:

Side Stepping

OK. They’re clever and convenient. But do they do the job? In a word, yes—up to a point. Mine are the Yaktrax Walkers. They lack the fail-safe over-the-instep strap that the Pro model boasts, but they haven’t slipped off my feet very often. If I’m worried about the possibility, however, I just run a length of cord over my foot instead, tying off the ends on either side. That does the trick.

Of course, Yaktrax aren’t climbing crampons. They won’t help you front-point your way up a frozen waterfall. They won’t even offer a solid grip on steep icy trails. But they make walking on iced-over beaver ponds and other slippery surfaces wonderfully easy. And I’ve had no trouble with snow or ice balling up on the steel traction coils. They’re kind to carpets and car floor mats, too, though—somewhat to my surprise—they’ve proven a little treacherous on smooth flooring. But that’s not much of a problem. They’re easy to remove.


Are you tired of slip-sliding away on icy trails and glazed sidewalks? Then give Yaktrax a try. I’ve been very happy with mine.

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