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Get a grip

Choosing the right pair of ice cleats can be confusing, but not if you know what you’re looking for

Posted: March 31, 2011 - 5:36pm
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STABILicers Lite provide traction on the trail and fit over most boots. While the Lites are reccommended for walking, hiking and jogging, the STABILicers SPORT model is encouraged for more serious runners.   Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
STABILicers Lite provide traction on the trail and fit over most boots. While the Lites are reccommended for walking, hiking and jogging, the STABILicers SPORT model is encouraged for more serious runners.

Oh Juneau. Your steep trails are not only daunting, they can be downright dangerous. That sheer ice that clings to every possible inch can be more slippery than the runny nose of a toddler. It gets old clinging (for dear life) to the alders, blueberry bushes and spiny devil’s club that grow trailside.

But with recent sunny weather that could instill spring fever in even the most devout recluse, what’s one to do?

Get a grip.

Literally.

Yes, whether it’s brand names like YakTrax or STABILicers, there’s one out there that will fit the bill for any outing. I’ve tried many. Some have lost their mate. Some now gather dust. But a few still make it out onto the trails.

I’m no pro, but I do run, hike and scamper up hillsides on a regular basis all over town. And despite the fact snow and ice is rapidly disappearing in town, many trails remain riddled with spring’s slickness.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Cater to your lifestyle: Whether you’re a runner, hiker, walker or mountnain climber there is a product specific to your discipline. For running, I’ve personally had the best luck with a product from STABILicers. It’s a lightweight rubber slipper-like apparatus that snugs tightly over a running shoe. The bottom is laced with concave grips, much like the head of a screw. So far, I haven’t slipped on any surface including snow, ice and a mixture of the two. They don’t, however, offer much in the way of traction if the snow is deeper than a couple inches. I’ve also tried YakTrax. These are best for the walker/hiker who prefers a little extra grip on surfaces covered in either fresh packed snow or a mixture of snow and ice. They will slip on sheer ice or black ice, I’ve found. But, they stay on — a key feature. For the hardcore hiker, Laurie Craig, a interpreter at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center prefers the beefier version of my STABILicer-brand cleats. These feature a more aggressive cleat pattern and a thick, heavy base. The cleats can even be replaced in this model, which is handy since they do wear out. Craig said she’s never slipped using these cleats, and regularly tests them on the East Glacier trail, which is traditionally riddled with frozen runoff. Both these brands are carried locally at outdoor stores and retail for $20 to $40, depending on the model.

Buy the best you can afford: In this case, it’s true that the more expensive models will last the longest. They are also more likely to preserve tushes from becoming painfully bruised. More expensive products are typically made from materials that are of high quality, as opposed to their less expensive counterparts. The cleat will not only last longer, but the straps and rubber will resist cracking and fraying due to repeated use in wet, abrasive conditions.

Bug a friend: It can be easy to take the word of a manufacturer who boasts their product as being better than the rest. But it pays to ask questions of those who have done a little field testing. Ask (multiple) friends and relatives what products they fancy and why. Which ones didn’t cut the mustard? How comfortable were they and did they ultimately stay on? It’s possible the results may surprise you.

Failed: Yes, I’ve tried a few products and created some that just don’t work. I’ve tightened screws into my old running shoes. I’ve tried the cheap brands at discount retailers (who will remain unnamed) that ultimately left me confused and missing one cleat. And I’ve tried to go without, due to sheer laziness (not recommended). Hence, it’s a good idea to go with the aforementioned advice.

Things I have yet to try: New products are constantly arriving on the scene. A quick trip to a local outdoor retailer found me drooling over LaSportiva’s cleat system, which features screw-in cleats they call Hobnails. The running shoe looks just like a regular trail shoe, but the bottom is peppered with holes, like those of a track spike, that can be filled with tiny concave spikes when the trail gets slippery. A co-worker swears by a brand called Ice Bug, which is a European company that makes a completely waterproof, cleat ridden running shoe just for winter use. There is also the Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System, which consists of a rubber exterior attached to a mix of chain and tiny crampon-looking spikes and the Kako ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip Traction System, which is similar. This is by no means a complete list, but it does feature some of the top-rated items I’ve found.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.

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