Gear up for traction

Gear up for traction- Kahtoola MICRO-Spikes

Ok, it’s December 27 and the Christmas fantasies are over now.

When 14 inches of pure powder fell from the sky at mid-month I fantasized that we would have a real snow winter this year. I hoped for the kind of winter where you can dig down through 3 feet of loose granular snow in February before finding any hard-packed ice.

But the Christmas ice storm of 2013 put the nix on that particular sugarplum vision. For those of us in central and southwestern Maine this will apparently be another winter of

Christmas Ice

Christmas Ice

crust, ice, freezing rain, slush and the occasional promising snowstorm that fades away to rain showers.

It’s time to be realistic. We won’t be ski-touring through knee-deep powder out the back door this winter. All woods trails, except those regularly groomed by machine, will be sheets of frozen slush and otherwise crappy snow.

Let’s be honest. Real snow winters have become so infrequent that unless we change our approach to getting outside we are in serious danger of limiting ourselves to woodshed and woodpile excursions as our only outdoor exercise. If we keep waiting for those perfect snow conditions that populate our memories — we will be pale, flaccid beings come next spring.

The answer is traction.

While the snow equipment of our misspent youth was all about flotation – what we want now is traction. Our grandfathers needed bear-paw snowshoes and wide wooden skis to float on the surface of reliably-soft powder snow that would accumulate to great depths.

What we need is equipment that gives us secure footing on the packed snow and ice surfaces that prevail in the era of global warming.

Traction over Flotation

Traction over Flotation

The revolution in snowshoe design over the last decade is the best evidence that our needs and tastes are changing. Flotation on soft powder is almost an afterthought in modern snowshoe design. The surface area is quite small and the plastic shoes are much narrower than their rawhide and wood ancestors.

The Draw is the Claw

The Draw is the Claw

Instead, the big attractions are the huge metal claws attached to the bottom of the shoe under the harness. The claws provide traction on ice-encrusted surfaces. And the sight of hikers wearing these modern snowshoes in less than an inch of loose snow is quite common.   It’s all about the traction.

In fact, many hikers forego the flotation deck of snowshoes altogether. Kahtoola Micro-

Reality sets in.

Reality sets in.

spikes™ have changed the face of winter hiking in Maine and everywhere else. These mini-crampons attach effortlessly to everything from running shoes to serious winter backpacking boots. More importantly, they stay firmly attached over miles of rough terrain – something their predecessors cannot truthfully claim.

I rarely speak up in favor of specific products but I have owned my pair of micro-spikes for three years now. I use them year round – including over my deer-hunting boots for late-season snow hunts and over my wading boots for early-season fly-fishing.  Weighing in at less than 13 ounces – it would be a crime to leave them behind on almost any hiking excursion – winter or summer.

So go ahead and return some of those less-desirable Christmas gifts to the store this week. Trade up to some serious traction for the months ahead.

Christmas 2013 336

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About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine. Find Self-propelled on Facebook: