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Hillsound FreeSteps6 vs Kahtoola NANOspikes: Winter traction smackdown

Kahtoola NANOspikes, Hillsound Freesteps6


Slipping and sliding on the snow and ice in winter and early spring is the largest reason why runners surrender themselves to soul-depleting treadmills and indoor running tracks. But running outside fights winter blues, burns more calories and generally improves your endurance and energy levels.

Instead of toothed cleats, the Kahtoola NANOspikes have 10 hard tungsten carbide studs that allow the spike to move away from the foot for better shock absorption and stability on icy paths and snow-packed trails.
Kahtoohla NANOspikes
Hillsound FreeSteps6

The best way, I have found, to make it safe is with winter traction devices like the Hillsound FreeSteps6 ($39.99) and the Kahtoola NANOspikes ($49.95). Not a single slip or fall on the ice from this runner.

Hillsound. Kahtoola. Is one better than the other?

Hillsound FreeSteps6

The Hillsound FreeSteps6 is great for trail running on hard-packed snow and general winter walking on icy surfaces and are relatively light at 10.6 ounces (for a small size).

For trailrunning, I found that I like them better than the Kahtoola MICROspikes because the twenty-one spikes are 1.2 centimeters in length, making them a lower profile. I also didn’t experience any issues with snow balling up on my heel.

My only complaint with the FreeSteps6 is the light surface rust that developed on the cleats and chains after only a couple wears.

Hillsound’s website says that the chains and spikes are made of 304 stainless steel, which is a lesser-grade stainless steel than that used on the Trail Crampon Ultras (420J stainless steel). I have used the Trail Crampon Ultras to death this winter and have had no issue with surface rust.

Kahtoola NANOspikes

Instead of toothed cleats, the Kahtoola NANOspikes have ten hard tungsten carbide studs that allow the spike to move away from the foot for better shock absorption and stability on icy paths and snow-packed trails.

These studs are incredibly low-profile. The base height is 0.125 inches and spike length is 0.210 inches or 0.3175 centimeters. They weigh in at eight ounces for a size medium. That is really light.

I have been running in a sample pair that Kahtoola gave me at Outdoor Retailer. Even though it is a size medium (I normally wear a small), it still gave me an excellent feel for how a correctly-sized pair would work on icy paths.

The Winner

You would think that the twenty-one 1.2 centimeter spikes of the Hillsound FreeSteps6 would deliver better performance and traction than the mere ten 0.3175 centimeter spikes of the Kahtoola NANOspikes. We are talking about half the spike count here.

Dare I say it?

I dare. It’s not the number of spikes that enhance performance but the size. And this is the only example of when small, short and few deliver better performance than big, long and many.

Ba-dum tish!

The brilliantly-designed Kahtoola NANOspikes are my choice for running on sidewalks and asphalt with patchy ice. They will hit market late summer/early fall 2014, just in time for the 2014-2015 winter running season.

For trailrunning, and despite the light surface rust, I recommend the Hillsound FreeSteps6. But you’ll need to dry them with a towel after each use to stave off rust. If you’re too lazy to do this, then just spring the $69.99 for the Trail Crampon Ultra’s or the $64.95 for the Kahtoola MICROspikes.

In the end, choose the traction device that best represents the type of running you do and the cash available in your wallet.

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