Black Diamond Distance Spikes Traction Device Review

Black Diamond Distance Spikes Review

Black Diamond Distance Spikes are microspikes (lightweight winter traction devices) specifically designed for use with trail runners. They’re really quite ingenious and worth getting if you use low shoes with a soft mesh or textile-covered toe box for winter running and hiking. The main thing that makes them different from Hillsound Trail Crampons Ultras or Kahtoola Microspikes is a softshell toe cover that slips over the front of your shoes to keep your toes warm and dry, without any pressure from an elastomer harness.

Specs at a glance

  • Spikes: 14
  • Spike length: 8mm
  • Weight: 230g / pr

Light Winter Traction Devices

At first glance, Black Diamonds Distance Spikes look like another knock-off copy of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras or Kahtoola Microspikes. Those early lightweight traction devices revolutionized winter hiking when they first came out, freeing hikers from having to wear heavy crampons and rigid mountaineering boots for hiking on snow and ice-covered trails.

But Trail Crampon Ultras and Microspikes are designed for use with mids or winter boots with burly soles and rigid toe kicks, not soft, mesh shoes like trail runners that have thinner soles and a lot of flex. If you’ve ever tried to wear a pair of them with trail runners, they feel like you’ve put your foot in a vice, squeezing the crap out of it, while the spikes below feel like someone is using a power drill on the sole of your foot.

For example, the Hillsound Trail Ultra binding overpowers a soft trail runner, compressing the toe box. The chains are also too long for the shoe and squeeze the foot along the sides.
For example, the Hillsound Trail Ultra binding overpowers a soft trail runner, compressing the toe box. The chains are also too long for the shoe and squeeze the foot along the sides.

In contrast, the binding used on these Black Diamond Distance Spikes is specifically designed for use with low, soft shoes like trail runners and running shoes that have thinner and softer soles and are closer to the ground.

Distance Spike Features

The front of the Black Diamond Distance Spikes is a piece of softshell material that covers the entire toe box and distributes the force of the binding evenly, eliminating pressure points. It also provides a moisture and weather barrier to keep your toes and sock warmer and drier if you’re running or walking on wet or snow-covered trails. This is a huge benefit if the toe box is made of non-waterproof mesh.

The softshell cover distributes the force of the binding and prevents pressure points while keeping the toebox warmer and drier
The softshell cover distributes the force of the binding and prevents pressure points while keeping the toe box warmer and drier.

The softshell covering also has a front rubber toe kick that helps lift the covering above the top of your shoe, creating more front volume, so there’s less downward pressure on the toe box. That front tow kick also provides additional impact protection at the front of your shoes, since many trail running shoes provide so little.

The Distance Spikes has a front toe kick which adds additional protection.
The Distance Spikes have a front toe kick which adds additional protection against ice and packed snow.

The chains connecting the elastomer binding to the spike apparatus are also shorter than you find in regular microspikes because trail runner soles are not as thick or high as those on mids or winter hiking boots. In addition, the holes where the chain connects to the harness are reinforced with plastic inserts to prevent the chain from tearing through their anchor point, which does occur with Hillsounds and Kahtoolas all too frequently.

The metal spikes on the Distance Spikes are much shorter and smaller than you find on Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras or Kahtoola Microspikes, so you don’t feel them digging painfully into the bottom of your feet. For example, the Distance Spikes have a crampon length of 8mm compared to 12mm and 15mm on Trail Crampon Ultras and 9.5 mm on Kahtoola Microspikes.

The smaller spikes are noticeably more comfortable on long hikes with soft soles trail runners.
The smaller spikes are noticeably more comfortable on long hikes with soft soles trail runners.

The shorter length really does make a difference in comfort, without noticeably compromising traction. I suspect that having a softer sole shoe on a trail runner, even when wearing spikes, helps to orient the spikes more effectively than the more rigid soles found on winter mids and boots. For instance, I’ve climbed up snow and ice-covered trails with the Distance Spikes and marveled at how much traction they do provide. They’re also a lot lighter in weight, which makes them much more pleasant to wear and carry.

A rear handle makes it much easier to put on and take off the Distance Spikes, even when wearing gloves.
A rear handle makes it much easier to put on and take off the Distance Spikes, even when wearing gloves.

Black Diamond also added a handle at the rear end of the Distance Spikes that makes them much easier to put on in the cold or when wearing gloves. Just slip the toe cover over the front of your trail runners and pull on the rear handle to stretch them onto your shoes.

Black Diamond Distance Spike Pattern
Black Diamond Distance Spike Pattern

One final note, you can wear the Distance Spikes with mids or boots that have a low stack height like trail runners, but I’d recommend checking frequently to see whether they’re still attached. These spikes are so lightweight, you won’t feel it when they fall off.

Related Winter Traction Devices

Make / ModelBest For
Kahtoola MicrospikesPacked snow, icy trails
Hillsound Trail Crampon UltraPacked snow, icy trails
Hillsound Trail CramponsPacked snow, icy trails
Black Diamond Distance SpikesPacked snow, icy trails
Hillsound Trail Crampon ProMixed ice, snow, and rock
Kahtoola K10 CramponsMixed ice, snow, and rock
Kahtoola KTS CramponsMixed ice, snow, and rock
Black Diamond Contact Strap CramponsNon-technical mountaineering
Petzl Irvis FLexlock CramponsNon-technical mountaineering
Petzl Leopard Flexlock CramponsNon-technical mountaineering

Recommendation

If you wear trail runners in winter for running or hiking, I’d recommend getting a pair of these Black Diamond Distance Spikes for added traction on icy or snow-packed trails. They are designed specifically for use with low, soft-soled, and mesh trail runners and not for mids or heavier winter boots, with features such as a covered toe box and shorter spikes that significantly boost the comfort of cold weather hiking and running.

See Also: Winter Hiking in Trail Runners

Disclosure: The author owns this product.

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One comment

  1. I was hoping you’d review these, you have much more snow and ice experience on trails than I get here in the West. As you pointed out, they are way more comfortable than competitors when wearing Trail Runners and much lighter.

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