As a result of the harsher-than-average winter we experienced last year, there was a bit of a buzz amongst walkers about products such as Yaktrax, aimed at providing additional grip in slippery conditions. A fair bit of the discussion centred around which of the available options worked best and whether any of them were in fact as good as they seemed.
Described as a safety traction device, Yaktrax are designed to be worn over existing boots or shoes and provide additional grip on snowy or icy surfaces. Before I go any further I would like to make it absolutely clear that these are in no way a substitute for proper crampons and should not be considered as such. High mountain environments can be extremely dangerous places, especially in winter, and the correct equipment for the occasion, knowledge of how to use it properly and experience of such conditions are prerequisites.
I decided to choose Yaktrax over other available options since they were inexpensive and easier to handle than crampons or microspikes. Also, compared to other designs for similar products, the effective part (in this case the coils) covered the whole length of the foot, not just under the instep, so providing traction towards the heel and toe as well – much better for maintaining grip throughout the roll of the normal walking motion.
There are two versions of Yaktrax available – the Walker and the Pro. The Walker is aimed predominantly at general round town walking whilst the Pro is more suitable for running, jogging or other outdoor activities. It’s a slightly beefier version than the Walker, with stronger coils and a removable retaining strap that fits over the top of the footwear for extra security, and is ideal on packed snow and ice.
Below is a summary of the main features of the Pro version (taken from their website but edited by me to be more concise):
· Made from an injection moulded thermal plastic elastomer.
· 1.4mm high-strength, abrasion resistant coils
· 70% recycled metal protected against rust.
· 360° traction thanks to the distinct coil pattern.
· Easy on and off.
· Removable retaining strap for extra security.
· Light weight (145g - 155g per pair, depending on size).
· Conforms to your shoe/boot size.
· Every step places hundreds of biting edges in direct contact with the ice.
· Can be worn in temperatures as low as -40°C (-41°F).
Yaktrax are fitted by stretching them over your footwear and fastening the retaining strap. There are instructions on the box and they are conveniently labeled to show which end is for the toe and which for the heel. There are four sizes available to fit a whole range of boot/shoe sizes from UK4 to UK14, so it’s easy to get the right fit. Size medium fits my size 8½ boots nice and snugly.
A week in the Austrian Alps provided the ideal opportunity to trial them in a real-life situation. Conditions were a fair test – snow and ice on the ground and temperatures as low as –13°C. Our walking was mainly on roads and forestry tracks (with occasional stretches of groomed footpaths) generally with relatively gentle gradients.
Fitting the Yaktrax was a simple job, doable in under a minute with a little practice – just hook them over the toe of your boot, stretch them over the heel, adjust the sides and fasten the strap. Removing them was even easier. Because there are no points or sharp edges to contend with there is very little chance of snagging any clothing. They can be thrown in the rucksack without any need for protection and because of their compact size and low weight (mine come in a few grams below the stated weight) they are perfect for carrying “just in case”.
In use, the Yaktrax Pro proved surprisingly effective, ideally suited to the mix of ice and compacted snow we regularly encountered (and which can be seen in the accompanying photographs). They were very comforable to wear, compact, low in weight, and unconstrictive of the foot. Best of all, no adjustment was required to one’s usual gait to avoid damage or tripping – just put them on and walk as normal. The retaining strap definitely added extra security, especially on steeper ground as there was no chance of the foot sliding out under stress.
The coils bit easily into ice and snow giving much more grip than boots alone and providing a lot more security on slippery surfaces. Traction was noticably improved – a great energy saver over several hours of walking and a valuable asset on uphill sections. There was also a benefit on downhill sections too, where they were good at preventing your feet from slipping out from underneath you. A word of warning, though: in areas of clear ground they are better removed to prevent damage to the coils, and they should not be worn indoors.
It’s probably fair to say that snow shoes would be a better option in deeper snow, as would crampons in steeper, icier conditions – they are never going to be a substitute for either of those – and there are certainly times when a product like Kahtoola Microspikes would be a more suitable proposition. And once or twice we encountered patches of very hard, smooth ice to which these more technical solutions would be better suited – a step too far for the Yaktrax.
However, on the type of ground for which they have been designed – perhaps 80% of what we encountered – the Yaktrax Pro proved a valuable addition to our winter kit: effective, compact and easily carried. They are a real boon on a trip such as our Austria jaunt, and can easily be slipped into a rucksack pocket if you think you might encounter the odd snowy patch when out and about.
And, at this price, what’s not to like?