Hard-Pacsked Snow Trails
In Wisconsin, especially southeastern Wisconsin, it is not uncommon to receive a few good (great) snowfalls. The woods become painted in white, and the trails are deep with snow. It’s great for winter photography.
After a few days of hiking, the local state forest trails become hard-packed snow from the foot traffic. At that time, snowshoes (unless going off-trails) are no longer needed.
With the very cold weather that typically follows a good snowfall, this hard-packed snow can become quite slippery, especially on the hills and down slopes. Some type of “ice grippers” make hiking in these conditions much more enjoyable.
But That’s Not All The Weather Provides
We also receive a day or two of unseasonably warm weather during winter, which reduces the trails to a mushy mix. If, during this time, we receive a little rain, the mix becomes all the mushier.
As people hike on these trails, their footprints (often deep depending upon the original snow depth), remain.
Then Cold, And Icy
Being winter, the cold temperatures quickly return, creating very slippery trails throughout the forest. They go from slippery snow-packed to very slippery, icy, and often deeply indented trails.
To continue to enjoy hiking in the winter woods with these trails conditions, some type of “ice grippers” become (in my opinion) an absolute necessity.
In Search Of The Ice Gripper”
For a number of years, I would stumble between ice and snow as I navigated these trails. It really wasn’t smart, or fun.
With many different types of “ice grippers” on the market, I initially purchased a low cost pair with wire/cable combination that slipped quickly over the boot. These worked well on a flat surface (like a parking lot), but once on the trails, I had problems.
It didn’t take too many days of hiking that these units would stretch. My boot would slip out as the cable would grip the snow/ice.
Eventually, the cables broke and required replacement. The season wasn’t over and I was purchasing another pair.
I tried others with longer spikes connected with a chain to a rubber top that slipped over the boot. These too, eventually failed.
The snow would grab the long cleats and hold tight. My foot would step up, leaving the ‘gripper’ securely fastened to the trail snow. Lost one more than once. A hike becomes much longer when you have to backtrack to find it! (This happened so frequently that I clipped the gripper to my shoe laces. When it did fall off, I still had it).
Other Styles Met With Same Results, Until -
My search for a more optimal pair led me to the “Stabil Icer”. (Purchased in 2015). I have to say - they are great.
There are a number of features that make this pair perfect for my winter hiking, both on hard-packed slippery snow and icy trails.
Stay On, Providing Great Traction
First, they are very easy to put on and take off. Once the front wrap-over velcro strap is adjusted to the boot, no further adjustment is required. Slip the boot into the front. Secure the ankle with the back cross-over velco strap. Off to enjoy the trails.
I have yet to have them fall off on any of my winter daily hikes. Because of their secure attachment, my boot doesn’t slip off when the gripper grabs the ice on a downhill or uphill slope.
Secondly, this pair has a hard rubber sole, in which a screw-like (replaceable) “gripper” is fastened. The bottom is further supported with rubber winged grips. Combined with the hard rubber pegs (which the screws are attached), these units provide great traction, holding the trail nicely.
Always In The Car
These are now in my car throughout the winter, ready for wherever I’m hiking or winter photography.
A Note About Size & Maintenance
I wear Danner hiking boot, size 11. The medium size “Stabil Icer” fits perfectly.
Maintenance is easy. I’ve learned to check and tighten the screws at least monthly if walking primarily on ice. Hard-packed snow seems to have little affect on the screws. Enjoy the winter trails!
Modifications I've Made
I used my first pair of Stabil Icer’s daily during the winters of 2015 through 2019. (I purchased a new pair after 2019 winter - see below).
During this time, I made a few adjustments.
Centering my foot
After the first year, I noticed my boot kept wanting to slide to the outside edge of each Stabil Icer, regardless of how tight I had the toe strap. The fix was simple. A few wraps of 1″ wide black duct tape around the toe strap (lower portion of the strap on the side that is the outside foot). I wrapped it to perhaps a 1/4″ thick, and now my foot stays perfectly square in the Stabil Icer.
Toe strap velcro
Earlier in the 2017-2018 winter, the velcro on the toe strap of one started to open. Quick fix. I tightened the velcro for my boot, then used black duct tape to permanently secure it. No problems since.
Check & tighten the cleats
It is also necessary to periodically check and tighten the cleats. A screw driver is all that is needed. You can purchase a small box of replacements in the event you lose a couple during the winter, (which has happened to me).
From my experience, the cleat comes out because the hole has been worn too large for the screw. Simply replacing the cleat doesn’t work.
Instead, screw the replacement cleat into a different section of the rubber base, off to one side. Do this far enough away so your new screw hole doesn’t intersect with the original location. Once the screw is in place, take “Shoo Goo” (actual product name, available from local hardware store), and squeeze into the original hole and at the base of the new replacement cleat. Let it sit for 48 hours, and you’ll be good to go.
2019 Update - new pair, Maxx 2
It was late in March 2019 when the first pair I had started giving me problems. The bottom rubber that holds the screws was starting to wear, and I would lose the screws for traction. Time to get a new pair.
This pair I ordered on-line through J. Harlen Company from Raleigh, NC. They were fast, efficient, and very easy. I received the new pair in just a couple of days. Although Amazon indicated they were available, the order I placed in late winter kept getting delayed, until finally in June I searched and found these available through Harlen. I will order through Harlen again, when it comes time to do so.
The new Maxx 2 are lighter than the originals, though they still use the same “cleat” system - which is what I prefer. I’m looking forward to the icy trails again next winter, knowing I will have sure footing.