Guess what?! Winter is here…and it’s here to stay for a while. Unless you live in the south [or some other mythical place, you poor thing] where winter doesn’t include snow and ice you’re waging a daily war with the weather. Are the trails snow packed? Are the sidewalks sheets of ice? Is it even safe to drive to work, let alone run for the fun of it?

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If you’re busy living in the “winter wonderland” of snow and ice you have three options when it comes to running – giving up on running until spring arrives, running on the treadmill or risking it outside. Personally, I prefer the risking it outside option [primarily because I really like donuts and ice cream…and despise the treadmill] so that’s what I’ve been doing – running outside.

The downside of outdoor running in the winter? Falling on my ass or breaking my teeth when the ice gets the best of me.
My solution that has kept me away from this fate so far? Screws in my shoes.

Yup, plain old sheet metal screws that you can buy at a hardware store for about $3 [be sure to get 3/8” hex screws – short enough to avoid stabbing you in the foot and knobby enough to provide legitimate traction]. It sounds like a really easy task – buy some screws, find a screw driver and get to work. In theory, it is that  easy. In reality, screwing a metal screw into the pliable sole of a shoe is a lot of work. Annoying, tedious work, not muscle work.

Luckily I work with a few ambitious guys who needed blog + video content so we used my shoes as the demo for a post + stop motion video on the Sierra Trading Post website…which means they had to help me out when I got annoyed with the screws.

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If you’re looking for help with the actual details of how to screw your shoes check out this post on Sierra Trading Post’s blog or watch this video on their YouTube channel. This is how my shoe screwing process started and I’ve only made a few slight adjustments after running with screws a few times.

These are my tips/tricks to make the whole “screw your shoes” process a little bit better…

    • Shorter screwdrivers work better since you can really push the screw into the sole – whatever you do, don’t give up…it gets easier!
    • If you have them…use power tools! I’ve only used elbow grease and while it works it takes a long time…
    • Buy screws BEFORE it snows. After our first real snow all the hardware stores were sold out of 3/8” screws for over a week! Apparently cyclists use these screws for their bike tires so they were a hot commodity!
    • Drill the screws into the thick lugs of your tread, not between the lugs – this gives you more traction and gives you more cushion between the screws and the bottoms of your feet.
    • Screwing your shoes will not ruin your shoes, you can always take them out – however that process is kind of a pain, so try to dig up a pair of shoes you can commit to snowy, icy runs.
    • Experiment with where you put the screws. We started out with just screwing the perimeter of the shoes but since then I’ve added screws more centrally near the balls/heels of my feet for added traction where the majority of my weight lands on climbs/descents.
    • The screws do wear down, but once you’ve created holes for the screws they are easy [and cheap] to replace as needed.

As for my experience with screwed shoes? Well, Sarah and I did a little [unintentional] A/B testing. On our trek to the Centennial trailhead on Saturday morning she was carrying her MICROspikes in her hand while I was walking along in my screwed Saucony shoes…she slide does the stairs on her bum, I scampered down on foot. Proof screwed shoes trump plain ol’ trail shoes…as one would hope.

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My current screwed Saucony Xodus shoes post-modifications!

What about the screwed shoes compared to MICROspikes or other after market traction contraptions? Well, I spent 7 hours on the trails Saturday with three other runners wearing MICROspikes…and I had no problem keeping up with them on the snow and ice, nor did I come close to biffing it any more [or less…] than they did. I’d say the screwed shoes are pretty comparable to other traction devices. There may be a difference if you’re really pushing the pace and hoping to bomb the down hills but that wasn’t my goal on Saturday so I can offer up no personal advice.

Want more YakTrax vs screwed shoes comparison fun?
Check out this post where Boulder Training Mecca does some direct comparing.

On Sunday I ran/hiked up Bear Peak on my own with slightly modified screwed shoes [I added 4 screws under the balls of each foot] and survived without incident. No embarrassing plops onto my bum, no near misses, no tree hugging. However, on the steep descent down Bear Peak I realized it would also be handy to have at least a few screws under the heel of my foot so I got solid traction while scuttling down steep, snow packed terrain. I’ve added those screws [actually, just moved a few from the perimeter of the sole] but haven’t had a chance to really test them out yet.

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Running on ice and dirt, no difference in gait or feel!

Overall, I think screwed shoes really work. My shoes kept the natural feel and I never felt any hot spots from the screws – this may be because I put the screws in very thickly treaded trail shoes. In the past, when I’ve worn Yaktrax, ICEtrekkers or MICROspikes my toes have always felt smushed, no matter the size of the traction contraption the tips or upper canvas of my shoes started to rub weird shortly after pulling on the device. This is one of the reasons I resorted to screwed shoes – my toes get to stay happy!

The one catch with screwed shoes is the fact you can’t just take off your traction. When you hit pavement or dry trails you’re still running with screws. This isn’t exactly a problem as it didn’t affect my gait but it makes for some very noisy pavement running. I’ve covered about 2 miles on pavement so far, it’s bearable. Also, if you head into a restaurant with tile floors [crazy slippery with screwed shoes!] or hardwood floors [screws scuff up wood!] you get to be the fool that takes off their shoes…which would probably much weirder if I wasn’t in Boulder at the time.

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More examples of the terrain the screwed shoes took me on – this is pre-modifications + my first long run in screwed shoes.

Of course, adding traction isn’t the only option. You can skip the traction all together and just ice skate along the trails…much more advisable if you’re running on flatter, paved bike trails. But seriously, if you randomly come upon an icy stretch of trail don’t give up on your run, just change you gait a bit. Rather than really pushing off with your feet let your feet fall and pick up more naturally, without much force. Sure, you’ll end up running slower but you won’t lose your front teeth after a painful face plant!

Have you screwed your shoes? What was your experience? Any tips, tricks or recommendations? Share!


11 Comments

eric · January 15, 2015 at 7:03 am

I have done both screw shoes and hillsound traction. I agree the MICROspike style (hillsounds) can feel strange, and suck on dry stuff, in my opinion they are far superior for REALLY running on slick ice and hard pack.

I am pretty confident on my feet, and screws are super affordable, but when push comes to shove, i go with the spikes…

When will we bomb down some hills together on a trail run?

    Heidi Nicole · January 15, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I cannot find a pair of strap-on traction contraptions that don’t mess with my toes/upper feet which is why I’m loving on screws. Of course, I’m not a speedster on the trails, more of a power through stubborn idiot! 🙂

    Come visit — Colorado is calling! It’s always calling…

Colorado Gal · January 15, 2015 at 10:06 am

We’ll have to conduct some experiments! I have the traction section for the magazine this season, so I’ve been testing YakTrax, Hillsound, Nanospikes, and a slew of other brands. Thus far, I’d opt for them just because I’m not convinced screwing your shoes isn’t bad for the integrity of the sole. Our Saturday run will be an experiment! 🙂

    Heidi Nicole · January 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Ooh — we’ll have to do some see-who-can-fall-the-most testing. You know, the reverse of what you want in reality, just so see! In the name of science and testing, right?!

    As for the integrity of the soles — I screwed older shoes, these Sauconys have well over 300 miles on them so I’m willing to sacrifice them for winter training. I will report back though to see what kind of damage does/doesn’t happen!

Cassie @ Rural Running Redhead · January 17, 2015 at 6:44 pm

Oh my gosh, thank you for posting this. I tried screwing my shoes a couple of weeks ago without looking anything up, because “how hard could it be?’ Yeah… I did it 100% wrong. So thanks for telling me how to do it right. I’ll have to try again.

    Heidi Nicole · January 17, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Ha — it does sound really simple but then you try to do it and, whoa! So much more complex than you’d think! Hopefully it works out for ya!

Laura · February 1, 2015 at 7:29 pm

This is so helpful! I’ve been scared off from more than a few runs by snow/ice this winter, and so far have been too lazy to shell out for YakTrax (until I see a big sale). I have a TON of old sneakers though so may give your technique a try!

    Heidi Nicole · February 2, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    If you’re no using it every day, all day then start screwing! It’s not exactly quick [hello elbow grease!] but after you get the screws started it’s easy and super cheap!

carrie · February 3, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Any repercussions when you remove them from your shoes?!

    Heidi Nicole · February 3, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    I haven’t removed them yet, only to replace them — no real damage, the holes from the screws didn’t have much on effect on the soles at all.

Fatass Frozen Dead Guy 50k | Veggie Runner Girl · February 1, 2015 at 6:00 pm

[…] at times, but nothing too icy to manage.  There were moments where I was wishing I had brought my screw shoes (I was testing out my Hokas this time), but those were brief.  The climb up to the top of the […]

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