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Buyer’s Guide: Kathoola Microspikes vs K-10 and KTS Crampons || Differences, intended uses, and limitations

The Microspikes (left) are best for ice and consolidated snow. They are also light, reasonably priced, and easy to put on and take off. The K10 Crampons are more suitable for steeper slopes and softer snow.

Kahtoola was showing off its new gaiters at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow, but I was more interested in its time-tested traction devices. These spikes and crampons are crux for:

  • Running on snow- and ice-covered trails and roads; and,
  • Hiking on glacial ice, crust-covered snowpack, or steep-ish lingering snowfields.

All the Kahtoola devices are compatible with soft-soled boots and shoes. Unlike conventional crampons, they do not require a stiff sole or a special heel piece. This makes them ideal for runners and hikers who prefer to wear soft, comfortable shoes.

I traded stories and insights with Ric from Kahtoola to better understand the differences, intended uses, and limitations of these products.

Kahtoola Microspikes

  • $70
  • 12 oz +/- depending on the size
  • Four sizes
  • Twelve 3/8-inch spikes
  • More information

Nearly every trail runner in Boulder owns the Kahtoola Microspikes. They are lightweight and compact, quick to put on and take off, and very effective on ice and compacted snow. Especially at the higher elevations and on shady aspects, Boulder’s foothills trails can become luge runs or skating rinks during the winter. Running or hiking without Microspikes is an invitation for a concussion, or just simply impossible.

For pure ice, the Kahtoola Nanospikes work equally well. But they struggle in any kind of snow, and therefore are not as popular.

The Nanospikes (top) work well on ice, but don’t offer enough bite for snow.

The Microspikes have been worn successfully by backpackers on the Wind River High Route, which requires non-technical glacier travel (i.e. no ropes or crevasse risk), and on popular long-distance trails in early-season conditions like the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail. Imagine, for example, trying to climb or descend an established boot track up to or down from a 12,000-foot pass early in the morning before the snow has softened up.

In unconsolidated snow and soft spring snow, the 3/8-inch spikes reach their limit, unable to provide reliable purchase. They would be a poor pick for, say, the Sierra High Route, which gets much less traffic (and therefore has no boot tracks) and tackles steeper terrain. It certainly can be done, but Microspikes would not be a first-choice.

The Micropikes (top) versus the K10 Crampons

Kahtoola K10 Crampons

The K10 are ideal for hiking on steep-ish slopes in early-season conditions, especially on routes without established boot tracks: the longer 3/4-inch spikes bite better than the Microspikes into softer, less consolidated snow.

What does “steep-ish” mean? Personally, I’ll get on slopes up to about 45 degrees, but my tolerance is probably higher than most.

The sharp steel spikes of the K10 will stick to compacted snow and ice just as well as the Microspikes. However, they’re almost twice as heavy, more time-consuming to put on and take off, and less comfortable to wear than the Microspikes. So they’d be overkill for Boulder’s foothills trails and for the John Muir Trail in most years.

The K10 Crampons are available commercially in just one size. It will fit men’s hiking boots between sizes 6 and 13, and women’s in 7 to 14. If you use a trail running shoe, you can probably have a bigger size (maybe up to 14 in men’s and 15 in women’s); if you wear a large boot, it’s the reverse. If you fall outside these ranges, contact Kahtoola for a LeafSpring Flex Bar in size XS or XL.

The K10 Crampons (right) are simpler, lighter, and less expensive than the KTS. For most early-season backpacking, they are the more appropriate pick.

KTS Crampons

The original Kahoola product is slightly more capable than the K10 Crampons, with 1-inch spikes, a trianguled buckle closure system, and a more engineered heel piece. But the KTS Crampons are excessive for nearly all backpackings. Moreover, it’s a few ounces heavier and $70 more expensive than the K10. It’s better suited for lightweight mountaineering.

The K10 has a simpler heel, part of why it retails for $100 instead of the $170 for KTS.

Have questions about or an experience with Kahtoola products, or with similar ones? Leave a comment.


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20 Responses to Buyer’s Guide: Kathoola Microspikes vs K-10 and KTS Crampons || Differences, intended uses, and limitations

  1. Hunter G Hall January 29, 2018 at 5:09 pm #

    I recently got 4 different winter traction devices to try them out in So Cal and Mammoth:

    Vargo Pocket Cleats:
    https://www.vargooutdoors.com/titanium-pocket-cleats.html

    Microspikes:
    https://kahtoola.com/product/microspikes/

    Hillsound Trail Crampons:
    https://www.rei.com/product/875696/hillsound-trail-crampons

    and Petzl Snow Leopards:
    https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Crampons/LEOPARD-FL

    Thus far, I find the vargos fairly worthless, the Microspikes and Hillsounds about equal with some slight differences in weight and spike size-I’d go with the microspikes.

    The Snow Leopards are awesome. Superlight and capable but easy to thrash being made from aluminum.

    Have you ever tried the Snow Leopards? Definitely expensive, and overkill for most trails, but in extensive snow travel, they rock.

    • Andrew Skurka January 29, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

      Your comment the Pocket Cleats is interesting. I’m more intrigued by that product. It needs to be improved, but it’s the only traction-ish device that I will take just-in-case. i.e. I might hit some lingering snow on the north face of this pass, but I also might not. If I’m going to carry Microspikes or anything heavier, I best damn sure know that I’ll need them.

      Have not used the Snow Leopards. When I need something with that much bite, I still have the original aluminum KTS Crampons. They switched over to steel about 5 years ago.

    • Alec January 29, 2018 at 10:04 pm #

      Hunter, how well do you think the Petzl’s would perform (and how comfortable) with a regular trail runner? I’ve read that the ankle strap is better suited to a mid-height shoe.

      • Hunter January 29, 2018 at 11:16 pm #

        Alec,

        The snow leopards would not work that well at all with a trail runner. They’re designed for sturdier boot style footwear with stiffer soles and above ankle height.

        If you need the snow leopards for a particular trek, a trail runner isn’t going to cut it anyway.

        I use the Salomon Chalten in a size 12, which is a snug, but perfect fit for the snow leopards largest setting.

        Incidentally, this boot is really nice in my opinion. It’s a little bit wider than the winter CS model, rated to a lower temperature, and is cheaper all for the same weight.

  2. Hunter January 29, 2018 at 5:33 pm #

    I just didn’t feel any confidence in them I guess. The traction is almost entirely towards the front of the foot and there is no heel strap, which to me is dicey going up or down steep hills.

    From a product development standpoint, I would be very interested in something like a .75in titanium ‘Microspike’ like product with complete foot coverage. Around 6 ounces I would assume… That’s something I would be willing to pay premium for, and I think others would as well.

    • Brad January 29, 2018 at 10:07 pm #

      Are the Vargo Pocket Cleats you used the older version or the newer V3 cleats? I’m curious if anyone has any input on the V3s.

      • Hunter January 29, 2018 at 11:25 pm #

        Brad,

        I got my hands on an older pair I think. The kind with the separating “V“.

        Looking at the new(?) version, it looks like the biggest problem with them is the fact that there is little to no traction on the edges of the foot, only right down the middle.

  3. sean January 29, 2018 at 9:13 pm #

    I’m curious about the new gaiters, and was unfortunately out of the country during OR. I sent an email to Kahtoola some months ago about a warmth/waterproof-ness solution to go with the KTS or K-10 that is a bit more high tech than bread bags inside your running shoes, and they hinted at something in the works.

    As for microspikes vs. K-10 vs. KTS, I’ve only owned the aluminum KTS and the K-10. If I had a do-over, I would probably buy the steel KTS for durability and comfort (the K-10 binding is not great on running shoes). My aluminum KTS lasted almost a decade of solid use, so $170 for more time than that is pretty reasonable. Heck, companies are charging that much for trail runners that last a few weeks.

  4. tf January 29, 2018 at 11:52 pm #

    As a runner I love the microspikes, but they are quite treacherous, because the loss of traction is sudden and in more serious terrain than if you were wearing nothing at all.

  5. Andy January 30, 2018 at 10:06 am #

    I’ve been using KTS with my trail running shoes in the PNW for a couple of years. Mostly steep snowpack that last until mid July around here. They are rock solid, comfortable and work great. I used the same set up to summit Mt. Baker and they worked great- complete confidence and no issues. I did get some second glances and condescending stares from the guided groups. I actually find myself grabbing them more often than my microspikes. The only downside is transition time, but they don’t trap snow and shift.

    • Alyssa February 17, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

      HI Andy! Im hiking the PCT starting in Washington down to California first week of July. I have been struggling whether to purchase microspikes or crampons. As you have more experience in the snow in the PNW would you recommend crampns? I have 0 experience hiking in snow and thought I was being overkill with crampons (as that is what I am leaning towards) as most people use microspikes. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

      • Andrew Skurka February 17, 2018 at 4:58 pm #

        There are two variables at play here:

        1. Your comfort and skills on snow, and
        2. The nature of the snow and terrain through which you’ll be hiking.

        Zero snow experience would be cause for bumping up the capability of your traction.

        However:
        * Lingering snow in the PNW is very consolidated by July 1, and you’ll get decent purchase even without the bigger spikes on the KTS and K10. And,
        * The PCT mostly avoids crazy steep slopes. The scariest I remember was just north of Snoqualmie Pass, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, where the PCT is threaded below a steep ridgeline for a few miles. The trail was blasted into the rock, but early in the season the snow fields fill it in. I don’t recall other sections being as intense.

        Moreover, there is a history of PCT hikers safely doing the PCT at this time of year with Microspikes.

        So, I would say Microspikes!

        • Alyssa Williams February 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm #

          Thank you so much Andrew. Just recently came across your blog and it has been a huge help!

  6. Mark Turner February 1, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    FWIW in the same category as the vargos, I’ve lately used Snowline Chainsen City for my flat trail running (LOBO trail) and just in case traction. Climbing something like Mt Sanitas they are 90% of microspikes. Descending, you’d better Point Those Toes! Or you’ll be on your rear faster than you can imagine. I can run down the milder Lions Lair, Sunshine Canyon side with them. The pair packs down smaller than my fist and are noticably lighter than the microspikes.

  7. haiku February 1, 2018 at 1:57 pm #

    I also used the Snowline Chainsen, the “light” ones. They honestly looked identical to the Kahtoola microspikes, tho the rubber was slightly thinner. They worked great on my PCT thru last year. Saves a couple ounces. I only met one other person on trail with them, he had hiked the PCT the year before with them and he said they worked well also. Anyway another option.

    • Matt J February 5, 2018 at 8:58 am #

      Amazon (and ebay) sells dozens of variants of the microspikes at all price-points. Would be interesting to see a comparison of the quality of them.

  8. Jacob February 7, 2018 at 11:22 am #

    As a runner new to the Boulder foothills, I’m struggling with the best strategy for carrying and deploying the microspikes for winter runs. My experience has been that on most days, 90-95% of the trail is in great condition, but the other 5-10% can be super icy and treacherous, especially on downhills. Unfortunately, that 5-10% is spread out enough that I don’t want to wear the spikes for the whole time, but close enough together that it’s a hassle to take them off and on constantly.

    I definitely like having them for the icy spots but they’re a hindrance (and sometimes danger from a stability perspective) otherwise, especially when there are a fair amount of rocks (which is often). I’ve resorted to carrying them in a little hydration pack, breaking them out and wearing them for long stretches where I think it might be bad, and then just giving up after a while and packing them away. Sometimes I even carry them in my hands between icy spots.

    Anyone have a better way or other tips?

    • Andrew Skurka February 7, 2018 at 11:36 am #

      You have just explained a primary reason for my decision to run on roads all winter. (It turns out that the improved turnover really helps when I return to the trails, too). There’s no great way to handle inconsistent ice. When you need the traction, you really need it; and when you don’t, you really don’t want to continue running with your spikes on.

      One option is to find routes that will be consistently dry or icy, so that you can at least run for a while without needing to put on or take off spikes.

      Another option is to wear spiked shoes, like the Salomon Speedspike CS. These run almost as smooth as normal shoes, but you have full time carbide spikes for the ice patches.

      Finally, try giving up the trails and run on roads for a few months like most people have to do. You might actually enjoy it.

      • Jacob February 7, 2018 at 12:02 pm #

        Run on roads! All winter? You’re killin’ me! I guess it’s probably worth mixing it up a bit; I’ll have to discover some interesting road runs around here.

        Good thought on the spiked shoe. Maybe I’ll do a test run with the “screw shoe” method (http://skyrunner.com/screwshoe.htm) on a pair of shoes I’m phasing out.

        • Andrew Skurka February 7, 2018 at 12:24 pm #

          It’s worth mixing it up. Even if you commit to running on roads half the week, that’s 3 or 4 days you don’t need to futz with ice.

          And, I’m being serious, your trail running will improve if you run on roads more. If you run slow all the time, you get slow. And on trails, well, we all run slow. The only way to improve your speed is by running faster, and you can run much faster on roads (and much more safely) than trails.

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