That was the question that weighed on my mind as I prepared for a February backpacking trip on what’s reported to be the most treacherous winter trail descending the walls of the Grand Canyon. The backcountry office informed me that the north-facing, higher elevation Grandview Trail, “more than any other, tends to turn around unprepared hikers due to the combination of narrow sections of trail, exposure, and ice.” I’ve heard others talk about one tight section in particular where the snow and ice pile up alongside a sheer drop that can feel life-threatening.
Back home in Michigan’s icy winters, I also hoped Vargo’s Cleats could help me get in more trail running days. And if they proved effective, I figured they could also seriously lighten my load on future shoulder season backpacking trips in the mountains.
I reviewed Vargo’s Titanium Cleats, but the Stainless Steel version is nearly identical.
Photo: Vargo Outdoors
- Strong, durable ultralight titanium cleats: 12 spikes per shoe.
- TPU coated nylon webbing
- Duraflex™ quick release cord locks
- 12 mm reflective nylon cord
- Unique “tie-in” design
- Lateral stability brackets and reverse cleats to prevent side-to-side movement
- Fit into included nylon stuff sack
- Sizes: One size fits all
- Spike length: 1/2 inch (13 mm)
- Weight (each): 2.4 ounces (69 g). 4.8 ounces for both shoes.
- Pack size: 5 x 4 x 3 inches (127 x 102 x 76 mm)
Lighter and more nimble than heavy-duty mountaineering crampons, traction gear serves a critical safety role for backpacking in winter and at higher elevations much of the year. It can also be used for trail running and just getting around town when needed. Key features that lightweight backpackers look for include:
- Solid traction for safety and speed.
- Low weight to reduce fatigue.
- Durability to ensure your plans won’t be thrown off by gear failure.
- Ease of use to get a solid fit and save time and hassle when taking them on and off.
- Flexibility to work with different footwear and conditions.
Before reaching the Grand Canyon for my February descent, I had plenty of opportunities to test Vargo’s Cleats in a variety of Michigan’s ice and snow conditions which changed from day to day. I also tested Vargo’s V3 Pocket Cleats on different footwear: Altra Lone Peak 2.5 trail runners, Altra Instinct 2 running shoes and Merrell Mid Moab Gore-Tex hiking boots.
They say the Inuit people of Alaska have more than 50 words for snow. While our vocabulary may be less comprehensive, our experience with different types of snow here in Michigan is nearly as wide. From the icy-snow that crusts up after sunny days to the snowy-ice that hides super slick surfaces under a dusting of new snow – I took Vargo’s cleats on daily trail runs and hikes to see what they could handle for more than a month. I also tried them out on city street runs to see how they would handle the variation as I passed from snow to ice to abusively long stretches of bare pavement and salt.
And then there was the Grand Canyon, which held its own surprises. In the days before my descent, the canyon had unseasonably warm weather that melted most of the snow. Because of its northern exposure and narrow shaded sections just below the rim, the Grandview Trail still held small sections of snow, though I felt like the cleats had gotten off too easy. But five days later, when the weather greeted me with freezing rain, sleet and snow as I climbed out of the canyon, I was glad I had the Cleats handy.