Best winter running traction, and it’s cheap and easy

winter running traction
#6 sheet metal screws for winter running traction

There are a lot of options for winter running traction. Whether it’s packed snow on trails or icy streets & sidewalks the best answer is cheap, easy, and likely right in your garage. How about a handful of #6 machine screws, 3/8″ long?

First off, the shoe. I don’t go in for a specific winter shoe and have been running the La Sportiva Bushido for several years. I run primarily trails with a mix of pavement, both clear and snow-packed when the trails in the Black Hills are too wet or the snow is too deep. I love this shoe and it’s my go-to regardless of weather or conditions.

Typical traction devices and why they’re just no good

I’m not here to review traction cleats specifically as I think they all have the same flaws, which I’ll address. But I’ve owned or tried several; the Yaktrax Run, the Yaktrax Pro, and the Black Diamond Distance Spike. Briefly, of the three, the Run was the least offensive and the Pro was just terrible. The Distance Spike was good but at almost $100 is excessive to me.

The main issue with all of these products is that they attach to the shoe via a rubber band, velcro, and metal. Getting a good tight fit means distorting the shoe or at least placing pressure as it wasn’t designed to accept. Then there is the thickness underfoot that can roll or cause issues in mixed-use scenarios. I don’t know about you but my winter runs take me back and forth from clear pavement to ice, snow, dirt, etc. Running shoes were not designed to have this elastic wrapper.

There is the thickness of the attachment coming around the shoe. I’d feel an errant velcro strap and just knowing it’s there caused me so much anxiety that I found myself opening the width of my stride. It may sound crazy but I have caught my pants on a traction ‘spring’ that had worked its way slightly off the Yaktrax Pro. Which pitched me onto my knees. In the end, these things all felt unnatural and whether mental or literal, caused issues with my cadence.

I started thinking about car snow tires and winter ‘fat bike’ tires with studs. Being a handy guy with constant projects going on, there is no shortage of screws in my garage. And that is it. Originally I didn’t have screws short enough to not pierce the shoe footbed so I had to clip the ends with sharp wire snips before inserting. The heads were also #10 and a bit large. But it worked great. The screws didn’t change my stride, didn’t put pressure on my feet and they aren’t going to lose pieces and get caught on my pants… And best of all? They are cheap.

The cheap and easy solution

So now here are I am, after a little experimenting I’ve settled on [7] #6×3/8″ sheet metals screws per shoe. And the beauty is, there is no damage to the sole of the shoe. Shoes that still had a lot of miles left, I just unscrewed the studs and away I went. If like me you are running on pavement and cement along with the ice and snow the heads will wear down and you’ll likely need a pair of plyers to remove the screws. As for installing the scews, you can use a hand hex driver but a drill makes the task effortless.

I use four screws on the toe and three on the heel. Both are laid out asymmetrically. I typically go by the wear pattern on the shoes to determine my strike and release zones. But hey, at under $5.00 for a box of 100, go crazy and experiment for yourself.

And that’s it. Cheap, easy winter running traction.

As someone who has spent way too much money on winter running traction devices that I never use (because they’re bulky, unnatural, and annoying), I appreciate this easy (and cheap!) solution. If you’re running on winter trails or just mixing winter running in with your normal routine, give this a try! You won’t regret it.

Happy winter running!