I have worked for Eastern Mountian Sports for six years (give or take), and for six years we have sold this crazy contraption called Yaktrax.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Yaktrax are a series of connected rubber bands that pull over your shoe, similar to galoshes (dating myself).  However, these rubber bands also have a metal wire that runs over them; the theory is that the metal wire bites into the icy ground, enhancing your traction on icy surfaces.  Furthermore, because Yaktrax do not use spikes like crampons and Microspikes, it allows a more natural walking motion.

Not only do we sell Yaktrax but we routinely sell out of them, leaving our customers irate.  Often after a snowstorm a customer will come in for Yaktrax, not realizing they are the billionth customer to come in for them that day, and be pissed that they are out of luck.  (That is unless they have the feet of an infant or an NBA center, in which case we have plenty.)  The demand runs so high for these items I often wonder: A) Why does no one think to buy these things ahead of time and B) How did we manage to walk on icy surfaces before the invention of Yaktrax?

Icy conditions at Mount Wachusett

The funny thing about Yaktrax is that even though I have sold a ton of these things over my retail career, I have never actually worn Yaktrax.  In fact, I have always considered them the gear of the newbie, gumby, or little old lady.  I certainly never thought of them as a true ‘technical’ piece of equipment, and would have never considered packing them or using them on a trip.

The last few winters I have been doing a great deal of earn-your-turn skiing and snowboarding.  In other words, I have been doing a lot of hiking and a little bit of skiing/riding.  When the conditions are good I am able to skin up the trail, never having to remove the skis from my feet (or am able to use my splitboard to skin the trail).  However, in years like this one so far – where the only snow on the ground is man made and it is relegated to the ski slopes – we have been forced to do a lot of hiking with our skis attached to our backpacks.  Also, at places like ‘The Stash‘ (where the runs are short) we often find it more convenient to boot (hike) up the trail rather than skin.  

Not enough snow for snowshoes, not enough ice for crampons

While booting is not as convenient as skinning, I typically do not mind and am just as happy to boot as to skin (probably due to my snowboard background, where booting is more prevalent due to the difficulty, expense, and efficiency of splitboards).  The problem with booting is that the snow in well-tracked bootpacks can be packed, icy, and difficult to ascend without the aid of a traction device.  These conditions make the booting more difficult than it should be by forcing you to kick steps or pick a line of ascension carefully.  A result of this is that it takes extra time and energy to climb, and more time climbing is less time to ski or ride.

Over the past few seasons we have tried numerous solutions to deal with the problem of icy terrain.  We have tried crampons; the downside to them is they are heavy, slow to walk in, and heavy.  Also, crampons can be overkill for where we are using them.  We have also used snowshoes; however, snowshoes come with their own set of problems.  Snowshoes are cumbersome, a trait that is accentuated when you are putting them on your back for a snowboard descent.  Snowshoes are also often overkill for merely icy conditions.  While they work well in frozen bootpacks, they are over the top for a trail that only has some icy sections and is in otherwise good shape.

Luke making good time up the mountain (thanks to some added traction)  

Which brings me to Yaktrax.  Last week Luke procured a few sets of Yaktrax and brought them with him the other day for a hike up Mount Wachusett’s backside.  I was skeptical of the Yaktrax at first, but was pleasantly surprised by their performance.  The first thing I noticed about the Yaktrax was how light they were, barely weighing anything.  Another trait that was noticeable immediately was the packability of the Yaktrax, they folded down to nothing.  As for performance the Yaktrax handled small patches of ice admirably and gave improved stability on the frequent icy sections offered up by Mount Wachusett.

While we quickly found the end of the Yaktrax ability (anything remotely steep), we were both happy with the ease of use as they fit easily over both snowboard and telemark boots.  They also provided a more than adequate improvement in traction over nothing and without the penalties of other options such as snowshoes and crampons.  While I would not be taking Yaktrax on any serious adventures, and I question their long-term durability, they are incredibly affordable and could be finding themselves as a regular item I pack.

Typical conditions on the trail so far this year