Finding “Traction” On Winter Trail Runs

Traction devices are essential accessories for many trail runners during chilly winter months. Icy and snowy conditions often make it difficult to run on trails without slipping or falling, even when wearing shoes with grippy tread. Traction devices, which come in a variety of forms such as removable or built-in cleats, metal studs or screws, provide the grip and confidence you need to enjoy the trails all winter long.

In this article, I explain the different types and uses for traction devices as well as a list of the top traction devices for trail runners in 2022.


Don’t slip!

When Should I Use Traction Devices?
Traction devices are designed to provide better grip on ice or snow. If you find yourself running frequently on icy sidewalks, roads, or trails it might be a good idea to invest in traction devices. Even if you feel you have good balance or you don’t often slip, these devices will give you more traction than you’d otherwise have on slick surfaces. Extra traction will allow you to run faster and more efficiently.

Another consideration is when during your run to put on traction devices. Some traction devices feel awkward or clunky to wear in normal conditions or on roads in route to snowy trails. If you use removable traction devices, you have the ability to store these devices in a running vest or belt until the portions of your run when you actually need additional traction. For example, if you go on a winter run where you climb to the top of a hill or mountain you may not need traction devices on lower parts of trails, but as you ascend in elevation the terrain may become more slippery. If I’m exploring a new area in hilly or mountainous terrain, I will often bring traction devices with me just in case I hit unexpected snow-patches. In certain snow-prone environments, I have even brought traction devices with me during summertime!


Got traction?

What Type of Traction Is Right For Me?
Different styles of traction devices are designed with specific functions in mind and it’s essential that you find one that suits your needs. For starters, avoid any type of traction device that isn’t running specific. Traction devices are made for walking, hiking, construction, etc., but none of these devices will provide the same type of fit and traction that you need for trail running. I’ve had non-running traction devices fall off of my shoes during technical downhills or short sprints because they aren’t designed to grip the foot and provide traction in the same manner as running-specific traction devices.

Another consideration is the variability of your running environment. If you encounter small patches of ice and snow occasionally on your runs, a traction device with smaller studs or spikes may be sufficient. These devices will also feel more smooth under your feet while running, as opposed to devices with large cleats, spikes, or chain features. However, if you find yourself running on snow or ice for the entire duration of your run or you encounter extreme icy environments, more heavy-duty options are probably a better fit for your needs.

You should also consider whether or not you prefer removable or built-in traction devices. Removable traction devices are great when your whole run will not be on snow or ice. Built-in traction devices may be preferable for runs entirely on snow or ice. Built-in traction devices also alleviate concerns that the device will fall off, since the traction is built into your shoe. Shoes with built in traction devices have the additional advantage that the shoe has been specifically designed with traction in mind. With removable traction devices, you may run into fit problems because shoes and traction devices are not necessarily designed for one another.

[PROTIP: Many heavy grip or large-lugged trail running shoes don’t work well with removable traction devices. I’ve found that shoes with flatter grip on the bottom, or even road running shoes, work best with many types of traction devices because these shoes provide a level surface on which the spikes or cleats will rest.]

Winter doesn’t slow down trail runners in Rochester, NY.

How Much Do They Cost?
One of the best things about running-specific traction devices is that they are relatively affordable. Lower-end removable devices may cost $15 to $20, whereas upper-end or heavier-traction devices may cost closer to $60. Shoes with built-in traction devices may cost slightly more than high performance trail running shoes with a price tag between $200 to $300.

Special Considerations:

Size and Fit: For removable traction devices, finding a device that fits your shoe properly is essential. Most companies will provide a sizing chart and provide S,M or L devices designed to fit a given range of shoe sizes. Most devices are also built with flexible materials or provide straps that allow for fit adjustments. The device should not be too difficult to slip on, but certainly should not feel loose. If your traction device falls off during a run or needs to be readjusted constantly, you may consider trying a different size.

Shoe Materials For Built-In Traction Devices: When purchasing shoes with built-in traction devices, you should be aware not only of the traction devices used (metal studs, cleats, etc.), but the materials of the shoe itself. For example, the Swedish company Icebug designs their studded running shoes with specific rubber grips that compliment ice and snow running by providing additional grip in these conditions. You may also want to look for waterproof ratings or other features such as GORE TEX or BOA that reduce the chances of ice and snow penetrating your shoes.


Choose the appropriate traction for the conditions.

Trail Running Traction Devices:
Below is a list of some of the top traction devices and brands for trail runners for the 2022 winter season:

Removable Traction:

Built-In Traction:

Looking for more information on traction and winter running? Check out these articles:


Pikes Peak Road Runner’s winter series

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