Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

GEAR REVIEW: Kahtoola NanoSpikes and MicroSpikes for Hiking on Snowpacked and Icy Trails

By Will Rietveld

When I’m not in the mountains skiing or snowshoeing, I like to go on a daily snow hike for exercise. The trails get snowpacked and eventually icy. I don’t want to bust my butt, so I often wear a slip-on traction device. In this review I report on the Kahtoola NamoSpikes and MicroSpikes, two of many options available.
The NanoSpikes are meant for running and walking on hard, icy surfaces, and have 10 tungsten carbide studs for traction. The studs are secured in pads over the boot’s outsole. The boot’s tread is mostly covered by the pads.
The NanoSpike have an elaborate elastomer harness, that stays flexible in cold temperatures. In size XL they weigh 9.05 ounces per pair. Cost is $50

The NanoSpikes are fussy to put on; I found it easier to attach the NanoSpikes to my boots, and then put the boots on. The harness securely attaches to a hiking boot or running shoe; no problem with them coming off.  It works well to leave the Spikes on the boots I commonly hike in. No problem driving a car with them on.

The NanoSpikes make individual impressions in the snow (to the right of the boot). I noticed that the two spikes at the toe end don’t contact much on flat trail, but do help for pushing off on each stride.

How well do the NanoSpikes perform? After several day hikes on snowpacked undulating icy trails, I found they generally provide good traction, but I did not develop complete confidence in them. There was an occasionally short slip on snowpacked and icy trails on level sections and uphills. However, downhill icy trail sections required caution to avoid a slide.

Next I tested the Kahtoola MicroSpikes. This traction device has a similar elastomer harness, but the Spikes are more serious – 12 hardened 3/8-inch stainless steel spikes per foot, connected by stainless steel chain. The design leaves most of the boot’s tread exposed. In size XL the weight is 13.55 ounces per pair. Cost is $70.

One trip is all it took to evaluate the MicroSpikes. For hiking, they are the way to go; da bomb as they say. They never slipped and I had complete confidence on any surface or slope.

My pick is clearly the MicroSpikes for hiking on snowpacked and icy trails. The traction is so good I can walk normally and forget about sliding or falling. The MicroSpikes are easier to put on than the NanoSpikes, but I still like to slip them on my empty boots and then put the boots on. The elastomer harness is well designed and stays flexible down to minus 22F. There is little chance of them coming off, unless they get hooked on something.

Being a weight conscious hiker, I note that both traction devices are on the heavy side. That’s less of an issue for day hiking, and the harness is bombproof, so the extra weight is justified. However, for backpacking where icy trails could be an issue, I would be looking for something lighter.


  1. Confused by your conclusion...in your picture description you say that the MicroSpikes are "da bomb" while the NanoSpikes never gave you complete confidence and yet your final conclusion is "clearly the NanoSpikes"?

  2. First of all, big thanks for the review, Will :).

    I'm a bit confused with your conclusions, too.

    Would love to know what do you think about the Vargo cleats, and even the Chainsen City.

    Again, thanks for your efforts!

    1. Sorry, I'm not familiar with the Vargo cleats. I have reported on the Chainsen City in my OR coverage. They are impressively lightweight but I have not tested them.

    2. Sorry, I'm not familiar with the Vargo cleats. I have reported on the Chainsen City in my OR coverage. They are impressively lightweight but I have not tested them.

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