Staying active in winter can be challenging. It’s not just the cold that makes you want to stay indoors — all the slick snow and ice make slipping and falling a real possibility, so venturing outdoors can be a hazard. If you want to avoid injuries in the cold weather, investing in a pair of ice cleats is definitely a smart move.
Ice cleats are devices with small spikes along the bottom that attach to your shoes or boots to provide better traction. Ice cleats typically attach to your footwear with straps that span the heel and toe or a single strap that covers the center of the foot. Some models are designed specifically for winter jogging or hiking, while others are designed for everyday use.
Finding the right ice cleats for your shoes can be tricky, however, because there are so many options available. You have to figure out what activities you’ll be wearing them for, what type of terrain you’ll be navigating, and what other features will make your ice cleats as safe and functional as possible. Not to worry. Our buying guide is packed with tips to help navigate this slippery terrain and find the best ice cleats for you.
When you’re choosing ice cleats, the first thing to consider is what activities you’ll be wearing them for and where you’ll be wearing them. If you need ice cleats for walking to and from your car in the winter, nearly any pair will do. But if you plan to use the cleats for more rigorous activities, you need to be sure they can keep you on your feet in even the most rugged terrain.
Some ice cleats are designed specifically for winter running or hiking. They typically offer the best grip because you’ll either be moving more quickly or traveling over more uneven, rugged terrain. Some ice cleats are marketed as all-terrain, which means you should be able to go from icy sidewalks to snow-covered hills seamlessly.
Metal vs. rubber
Metal: Cleats designed for rugged terrain are typically made from metal chains with longer spikes for a superior grip. You can find cleats manufactured from stainless steel, aluminum, or carbide-steel. These are extremely durable, sturdy materials that hold up well to regular use. While they can handle heavier activities, they’re usually lightweight enough for everyday wear.
There may be issues with getting metal chain ice cleats to fit on your shoes or boots, though, since there’s no “give” in metal. They could also rust with regular exposure to snow and ice, so it’s important to choose cleats made of non-corrosive metal.
Rubber: Ice cleats are made of rubber are extremely lightweight, which makes them comfortable to wear and easy to take on the go. In many cases, they can fit around your footwear more securely than chain cleats. While they can be used for running, rubber ice cleats aren’t usually the best option for extremely rugged terrain.
Spike length and number
Ice cleats all feature spikes to help grip slippery terrain. But the number of spikes can vary greatly from shoe to shoe. In most cases, the more spikes a pair of cleats has, the better traction they’ll provide in winter weather. The length of the spikes is important, too. Ice cleats with longer spikes typically offer a better grip for hiking. For daily wear, however, shorter spikes are usually more comfortable and practical.
Size and fit
Ice cleats should fit over your shoes or boots securely. Most manufacturers offer multiple sizes, such as small, medium, large, and extra-large. Consult a brand’s sizing chart to see which size corresponds to your usual shoe size. Most brands provide both men’s and women’s shoe sizes for each ice-cleat size.
Keep in mind that rubber ice cleats are typically more forgiving because they can stretch a bit if the fit is slightly off. Metal chain cleats don’t offer any give, so getting the size right is vital.
While ice cleats are meant for walking outdoors in winter weather, it’s important to know whether you can safely wear them indoors, too. You don’t necessarily want to have to stop to take off your cleats when you stop in your favorite coffee shop on your way to work, so look for a pair that won’t make you more likely to trip, slip, or fall on indoor surfaces.
If you want to be able to wear your ice cleats from year to year, durability is a key feature. In general, metal chain cleats are more durable than rubber options, which can get worn down by heavy use. Metal cleats also tend to perform better in extremely cold temperatures.
Ease of use
You want ice cleats that are easy to put on and take off. You don’t want to spend too much time fussing with them, so look for models that are easy to slip over your shoes and fit comfortably.
Winter gloves: Carhartt Waterproof Insulated Gloves and Terra Hiker Waterproof Microfiber Winter Ski Gloves for Women
Your hands can get cold in a hurry in winter, so you need a good pair of winter gloves to keep them protected. These men’s gloves from Carhartt have a durable outer shell that won’t get damaged when you’re shoveling snow, and these women’s gloves from Terra Hiker are super convenient because they’re waterproof but still have touchscreen-compatible fingers.
Ski jacket: Burton Covert Jacket and The North Face Cinnabar Triclimate Jacket
If you’re active outdoors in cold winter weather, you need a warm ski jacket that allows plenty of mobility. We like this jacket from Burton for men because of its waterproof, windproof design. For women, we love this North Face jacket for women because of its multiple zippered pockets and adjustable hood.
Neck warmer: Arctic Extreme 2 Pack Thermal Insulated Fleece Lined Neck Warmers
Forget about having to deal with a scarf that’s always getting in the way. A neck warmer can keep the chill away without any fuss. This option from Arctic Extreme includes two neck warmers that have a super-soft inner lining.
Rechargeable hand warmer: The Outdoors Way Electric Hand Warmer
If you’re wearing your ice cleats for hiking or other activities that will keep you outdoors for a while, you’ll appreciate having a rechargeable hand warmer when your fingers start to feel frozen. We love the fact that this model from The Outdoors Way can not only warm your hands but charge your devices and serve as a flashlight, too.
Ice cleats prices
Ice cleats vary in price based on the material, the number of spikes, and the length of the spikes. Most pairs cost between $5 and $70.
Inexpensive: The most affordable ice cleats are typically made of rubber, which gives them a lightweight feel. They tend to have only a few short spikes and work best for everyday wear. They typically cost from $5 to $25.
Mid-range: ice cleats in this price bracket are often made from a combination of rubber and metal. They have quite a few spikes, which are generally medium in length. They can work well for running, but may not be the best option for hiking or more uneven terrain. You can expect to pay between $25 and $50 for these ice cleats.
Expensive: The priciest ice cleats are made entirely of metal. They have many spikes, which are often long. They are generally suitable for hiking and running on uneven terrain, but they’re usually too heavy for everyday wear. These cleats cost between $50 and $70.
- Walk naturally. When you’re wearing ice cleats, don’t alter your gait. Walk with your normal stride to avoid tripping or slipping.
- Beware of inclines. Be careful when walking up stairs or ramps. If you’re new to wearing ice cleats, you may feel a little unstable on inclines.
- Stay safe indoors. If your ice cleats aren’t meant for indoor wear, remove them before you enter a store, office, or other building. Otherwise, you may slip and slide on indoor flooring surfaces like tile and carpeting.
- Inspect, detect, and correct. Examine your ice cleats periodically to make sure the spikes are still intact and stable. Don’t wear the cleats if any of the spikes are loose.
Q. How difficult is it to put on ice cleats?
A. Most ice cleats are fairly easy to put on. You can usually wear them over any shoes or boots by sliding them over the front of the footwear and then pulling them back to stretch across the bottom of the shoe to hook over the heel. Some cleats even have a tab at the back to make securing them on the back of your shoe or boot even easier. If you’re new to wearing ice cleats, you may have an easier time putting them on if you opt for a rubber pair.
Q. Can rubber ice cleats crack in subzero temperatures?
A. Some rubber cleats can become stiff in subzero temperatures and crack when you put them on or wear them. If you’re interested in rubber cleats, look for a pair that’s made with vulcanized rubber, which can stay flexible even in subzero temperatures.
Q. Can you replace the spikes on ice cleats if they come loose or wear down?
A. Some ice cleats do have replaceable spikes. Which means that if you a spike breaks off or wears down, you can replace it rather than the entire pair of ice cleats. Not all cleats have replaceable spikes, though, so check product descriptions carefully before buying any cleats if this feature is important to you.