Thursday, January 3, 2013

Yaktrax: My Winter Hiking Insurance

I noticed on Facebook today that "Shenandoah National Park" posted the following:  "Awesome hike to Marys Rock this morning. BUT!!! Couldn't have done it without traction coils on my boots!!"  (Link.)

I have come to learn the hard way that winter hiking in Virginia is best done with a pair of lightweight traction coils in my backpack.  I must admit that when I first received a pair of Yaktrax Pros as a gift from my wife a couple of years ago, I was skeptical of their usefulness.  What do non-hikers know about the needs of obsessive hikers?  But I would bring them along (still in the box they came in) when hiking in the winter, and after several times using them, they found their way into my winter hiking pack on a permanent basis. 

I used them again on a New Years Eve hike in Shenandoah when, about as far away from the car as this hike would take me, the Hannah Run Trail descended steeply through a sheet of crusted snow/ice to its namesake stream.  There are many trails in the Virginia mountains that receive snow when there is none on the ground in Charlottesville, and these trails often get only an hour or two of sun during the day.  This is enough to melt the top half inch of snow, which then refreezes as ice after sundown and seems to stay as ice for days afterwards.
The Hannah Run Trail descends steeply through ice covered snow, December 31, 2012.
Yaktrax contacted me a couple of months ago asking me if I would be interested in reviewing their product.  I didn't tell them that I already had a pair and and am happy to add my comments to others out there on the web.  The pair they sent me is exactly the same as the pair I already own.

The Yaktrax Pros are perfect for hiking in Virginia.  Because we aren't in the north, even the mountains in Virginia are subject to winter cycles of freezes and thaws, and the snow does not really accumulate.  Therefore, heavier spikes that one might consider for hiking in northern mountains like New Hampshire's Whites don't make sense here (here is an example of the spikes I am talking about).  Further, the Yaktrax are lighter in my pack (weighing 4 ounces) and don't cost as much (they retail for under $30 at REI) as the bigger spikes. Because they aren't spikes, I don't worry about having them on my shoes when rock-hopping a stream crossing like I would with the alternative.  I feel I have more control using coils on wet rocks than I would in real spikes.  I almost never need to wear Yaktrax for an entire hike, and make it a point to take them off when I drop elevation so I am out of the snow.  They hang outside my pack and dry off.  

You put them on like a big rubber band, first covering the front of the boot, then expanding them to cover the back.  You have to be careful putting them on - let go at the wrong time and you have a big rubber band zipping down the mountain.  After they've been attached to the boot sole, there is a velcro strap that helps further adhere the Yaktrax to the boot.

When descending the Hannah Run Trail, the difference after attaching the Yaktrax to my boots was immediate and dramatic.  Combined with the spikes on my hiking poles, I was able to negotiate the 30% grade drop relatively easily, and never once fell during my descent.  I left the Yaktrax on for two stream crossings and an ascent then descent on the ridge on the other side of Hannah Run (shown towards the back of the photo above) without incident.  Without these coils, I would have been sliding down the mountain on my rear, and would have really struggled with the ascent on the other side of the stream.

I made this descent having not seen another person since I left the road connecting the Nicholson Hollow Trail to the Old Rag parking lot, on a day when snow had closed the Skyline Drive.  My only alternative was to hike back 6.6 miles the way I had come, and it was getting late in the afternoon.  I was glad to have my Yaktrax to get me back to the car without problems.

Yaktrax asked me to comment on how I would improve their product.  I can come up with one thing.  I would recommend they produce a plastic container that is custom made for the coils.  That way, I wouldn't worry about having them in my pack next to my emergency rain gear and the coils wouldn't be adding dirt to the inside of my pack.  I am going to search through our kitchen to see if I can find a plastic container that will do this task, but a custom fitted one would be preferable.


Disclosure: Jeff Monroe (Wandering Virginia) owns one pair of Yaktrax Pros received as a gift from his wife, and received a complimentary pair of Yaktrax Pros from Yaktrax for review. 

3 comments:

  1. Cool...I also got a pair from Santa...they're required if you want to go on the ice after a hockey game to take pix...

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  2. If you ask me, my winter hiking insurance is my boots. But I have to admit that the Yaktrax Walk Traction Cleats offer better grip for superior hiking in the cold. I also found some resourceful winter hiking boots that can be used with the Yaktrax here: http://hikingmastery.com/top-pick/best-winter-hiking-boots-for-men.html

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