Outdoor Recreation

Gear I Hold Dear: My Kahtoola MICROspikes

Written by teobrito.com

Thump. My feet slid out from under me, driving my hip into the slick dirt road. I winced. It was my third time falling on my run that winter, and I was over it. I’ve always had a tenuous relationship with the season, which was one of the reasons why I left my frigid home state of Michigan for the comparatively moderate temperatures of Golden, Colorado. But after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I knew I needed to be closer to the mountains even if the snow and ice slowed me down.

During my first winter living at 8,400 feet, I’d been hopeful that my backyard access to the Rocky Mountains would make me a stronger athlete. I knew my partner, a climber and mountaineer, would love the rugged terrain but I hadn’t taken into account the thigh-deep snow drifts, wind-swept roads, or sheets of ice that characterize this high-alpine region for eight months of the year. Throughout the previous decade, I’d lived in various parts of the Colorado foothills, which usually greeted me with moderate temperatures and mildly snowy conditions. A few winter adventures to Breckenridge and other nearby ski towns provided an introduction to high-elevation winters in the state, but I’d never lived up there. After meeting my partner, we both decided being closer to the peaks would be good for us, both mentally and physically.

Little did I know, that romantic journey was how I would find myself horizontal on an icy dirt road. While I was down there, a closer look at the ground revealed rock beneath the ice and snow—and a lot of it. Once I noticed it, I saw it everywhere. Like a long slice of smooth, hard-packed trail, the rock stretched out in every direction. Then it dawned on me: Even when the road was snow-free, I’d have trouble finding my footing. The ground lacked texture that could create traction. And even when it snowed, which would ideally provide a grippier surface to run on, I would struggle to find my footing: Colorado was infamous for melting everything by day with its sunshine and solidifying it at night with its freezing temperatures, so icy conditions were almost a guarantee. It was the perfect recipe for injury. I needed more traction.

After I picked myself up and managed to slide my way back home, I started to rummage through the mud room for my Kahtoola MICROspikes. I remembered an old rust-covered pair that I kept around for slippery, slushy and muddy shoulder-season mountain ascents that would probably fit the bill. They were a proven companion above treeline, accommodating me in light snow and boot-packed environments like those I often found at Colorado’s lower elevations.

Up until that point, I had shied away from using the Kahtoola MICROspikes on runs because I hated the sensation of metal hitting dirt. It made me feel like I was dulling the sharp edges of the spikes, which made me fear they’d fail when I’d truly needed them to stick on a slab of ice or a snow gulley. Even so, the bruise on my hip told me I needed to reconsider.

How to use the Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

The next day, I went through my usual routine, slipping my Gore-Tex trail runners, the La Sportiva Cyklon Cross, over my feet before planning my route. Although I loved my Cyklon Cross shoes for their aggressive tread and built-in winter-resistant gaiter, I knew that even the best running shoes were no competitor against Rocky Mountain road conditions. So, I sat on the back porch and added another layer of defense: my Kahtoola MICROspikes. I pulled the heel tab towards my ankle and fit the elastic snuggly around my running shoes, and wondered if they’d be enough to stop me from falling flat on my face again. Would the added 12 ounces of weight be worth it?

The previous night’s conditions had been typical: wind (and a lot of it), flurries, and sub-freezing temps. That mixture usually led to roads with—surprise!—no traction. I left my driveway, knowing this run might be a bust despite my improved footwear. New drifts of snow lined one side of the road. I jogged down Main Street and eyed the usual wooded cabins before turning onto the dirt road.

Chunks of soft ice started catching between my MICROspikes and the lugs of my shoes, adding even more weight to the setup. Eventually, my feet felt like blocks of concrete.  

As I climbed , the ice became thick and translucent—it was the worst kind, threatening to topple me over at any second. I looked for patches of dirt, a haven for my steps, but found none. The stainless steel spikes were strategically placed to grip the slippery road while allowing me to propel myself forward. With each step, the elastomer binding shifted to support movement while keeping the spikes in place. I wasn’t on the ideal terrain, but I was secure nonetheless—it was like I was wearing snow tires. Finally, I could run fast enough to feel the ice-cold wind whipping against my face. Instead of staring at my feet, I gazed around me, soaking in vistas of Rocky Mountain peaks. This was what running was all about. 

When I finally hit those dirt patches, I felt the uncomfortable crunch of metal against the ground. I felt the dirt separating, making space for my microspikes—but mostly, I ignored the sensation. 

By the end of my run, I clocked in at a speed that was almost as fast as my springtime runs. My heart was pounding from the effort and the joy. I’d made it farther than usual without so much as a slip. 

Over the following months, I would keep my spikes by the door, often grabbing them to run in mixed conditions. The weight became an easy exchange for added traction. While the spikes have likely lost some sharpness over time, the impacts have been unnoticeable. My Kahtoolas have continuously launched me up the 12,000-foot peak in my backyard, giving me regular views of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Finally, I’ve found my footing in the Rocky Mountains.

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