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Finding solid ground: winter running with Kahtoola traction spikes

Kahtoola's EXOspikes and NANOspikes will give you confidence in every step this winter, no matter the terrain

Photo by: Beth Price/Kahtoola

When it comes to winter running, one of the main factors that stops people from training outside is ice, snow and slippery terrain. Luckily, Kahtoola, an American brand that focuses on traction products for outdoor athletes, has winter spikes to help everyone run with confidence, regardless of how slippery it may be outside. Kahtoola has many products, but the two that will interest runners most are the company’s NANOspikes and EXOspikes. Designed with road and trail runners in mind, this gear from Kahtoola will keep everyone steady and on their feet this winter. 

Kahtoola’s NANOspikes are designed for winter road running.

NANOspikes 

The idea for NANOspikes came about because customers started asking for traction footwear they could wear on the road, says Kahtoola product designer Chris Bunch. In 2007, Kahtoola introduced MICROspikes, which are designed specifically for the trails. “They’re super popular, everyone trusts them and they’re really durable,” Bunch says. “We had a lot of customers saying they loved MICROspikes, which have chains and spikes. They’re killer on the trail, but they wear out pretty quickly on the road.” 

Customers also told the design team that the MICROspikes weren’t all that comfortable when they took them on the road. “You can’t feel the spikes when you’re on the trail, but you can feel them right away when you step on the road,” Bunch says. “We took all this to heart. We knew the customers were onto something.” 

For the next year that followed, Bunch and the team of product designers at Kahtoola worked on creating a pair of spikes that would perform just as well on the roads as the MICROspikes did on trails. “We came up with a set of goals around that,” Bunch says. “We focused on comfort, and durability, and they had to provide killer traction on glare ice.” 

Photo: Beth Price/Kahtoola

After developing countless prototypes and testing them all themselves, Kahtoola finally released the NANOspikes, which is made up of TPU (which Bunch says sheds snow extremely well) plates that provide a firm but flexible product. Instead of the large spikes found on the MICROspikes, the NANOspikes feature small TPU lugs with tungsten carbide tips that are about a quarter of an inch tall. There are 10 of these lugs (six on the forefoot and four on the heel), all of which work to provide grip on the road, whether it’s clear, icy or snowy.  

“With the NANOspikes, we were inspired by two things,” Bunch says. “Trekking pole tips and snow tires. People drive thousands of miles on snow tires, and their spikes stay in tact.” The team at Kahtoola succeeded with this design, creating an incredibly durable, yet lightweight, product. 

“Road runners definitely love this, “Bunch says. “If someone is a road runner who doesn’t venture onto the trails, this is the product that they want. It’s comfortable, lightweight and it does not wear out.” 

The EXOspikes are designed for trail runners who aren’t afraid to hit the roads.

EXOspikes 

While the creation of the NANOspikes was a game-changer for road runners, athletes who hit the roads and the trails were left wanting more. They couldn’t wear the MICROspikes on the roads, but they couldn’t take NANOspikes on the trails. “Customers were asking for a hybrid product,” says Brad Lever, another member of the Kahtoola design team. “They wanted a product for someone who starts on the roads then connects on the trail.” 

Just like they did with the NANOspikes, the team at Kahtoola began producing prototypes of something between their two spikes. The team found that the MICROspikes are extremely flexible, which isn’t great for the road, whereas the NANOspikes are sturdier, which isn’t ideal for trails. 

“The solution wasn’t as easy as putting bigger spikes on the NANOspikes and calling it a day,” Bunch says. “We could’ve done that, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as what we came up with.” After many prototypes and an equal number of hands-on tests in snowy and icy conditions, the design team produced the EXOspikes. 

“This truly is a marriage of the NANOspikes and MICROspikes,” Bunch says. Like the NANOspikes, the EXOspikes have TPU lugs with tungsten carbide tips. The designers lengthened these lugs, which Lever says helps them “get down into the terrain and get good purchase.” While the NANOspikes have a solid plate on the bottom of the forefoot, the EXOspikes have a hole in the middle, which not only helps with traction by engaging the shoe tread, but also makes the unit more flexible, which is necessary on trails. 

As Bunch says, the EXOspikes will give runners more opportunities for winter running, giving more people access to trails and slippery terrain they might have avoided in regular footwear. Bunch and Lever add that, although the EXOspikes are built to perform well on the road, they’re designed primarily for trail runners. “EXOs are for people who use the roads to get to the trails,” Bunch says. 

To learn more about Kahtoola and its lineup of traction footwear, visit the company website here

In partnership with Kahtoola.