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How to Repair Kahtoola Microspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons

How to repair microspikes and trail crampons

Kahtoola Microspikes and the more aggressive Hillsound Trail Crampons are the most popular forms of winter traction used by winter hikers today. Their popularity is based on the fact that they:

  • Require no training to use like crampons
  • Provide traction on pretty serious ice and snow
  • Compatibility with all kinds of boots
  • Lightweight to carry

While they do break if you’re hard on gear, you can also repair them fairly simply using cable zip ties or stainless steel jeweler’s wire. This becomes necessary if their chains rip through the holes connecting them to the elastomer harness or the chain links attached to their spikes snap and break free.

Both of these gear failures can happen on hikes but are field-repairable if you carry a few simple items. They’re also fairly durable so you can also keep using them indefinitely afterward or until you have to repeat the same fix.

Torn Elastomer Harness

Microspike and Trail Crampons have a stretchy elastomer harness that has reinforced eyelets around the perimeter. Chain links are threaded through the eyelets to connect the chain and spike complex below to the harness. However, the links can tear through the reinforced eyelets after much wear and tear or if you try to stretch the elastomer harness over a boot that’s too large.

Run a zip tie through the chain link and a large hole in the harness.
Run a zip tie through the chain link and a large hole in the harness.

The fix is simple. Simply run a zip tie through one of the large holes nearest the torn eyelet and the dangling chain link as shown above and pull it taut. It can help to cut off the extra end of the zip tie, but it’s not strictly necessary. To use, simply stretch the harness over your boot, as usual.

Broken Chain Link

Another common failure occurs when a chain link attached to one of the spike clusters breaks This happens to me several times every winter. The simplest way to fix this is to run a 3-inch length of stainless steel Jeweler’s wire through an intact link next to the broken one and the now freed hole in the spike cluster, as shown here.

Reconnect the chain to the spikes with stainless steel jeweler’s wire
Reconnect the chain to the spikes with stainless steel jeweler’s wire

You can pre-cut lengths of this wire and carry them in your pack to do a quick field repair. Once threaded, simply twist the wire and fold it down so it doesn’t interfere with walking. This is best done with a small set of pliers, but you can do it by hand too. This repair will last a surprisingly long time, even in rough terrain.

A Reserve Pair

Another approach is to buy two pairs of microspikes or trail crampons, use one pair, and hold the other in reserve at home. When the first pair breaks, you’ll have a fallback pair on hand for your next hike. Both microspikes and trail crampons are in such high demand in winter, that REI sells out of them, so having an extra pair around is often prudent.

In the meantime, if you bought your microspikes or trail crampons at REI and you’re a member, you can trade in the broken pair within a year of purchase for a new set under the REI guarantee. While the morality of that tactic is open to debate, it does provide REI with an incentive to force Kahtoola and Hillsound to make their products more durable, which would be good for everybody.

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11 comments

  1. Forget about the morality aspect of returning a product that has been WELL used and, at no fault of the manufacturer or REI, has broken or worn out, it is all of the rest of us who must pay higher prices to “guarantee” the products that others buy and return, well used, for such reasons as “the item didn’t fit right” or “it did not meet my expectations” and so on and so on. It is the consumers’ responsibly to do their due diligence in deciding to purchase a product and to accept the fault of their own decision, and not to place the burden on all of the rest of us after using, in what I have seen at some old REI garage sales, the product to death.

    • REI has built that all into their business model. I don’t necessarily agree with it but I don’t know how to change it, even though I’m a coop member.

      But I do consider chain links snapping to be a product defect and one that the manufacturers should fix. I had three pairs of trail crampons break last winter. That’s a recurring design defect.

  2. I’ve also had good sucess with split ring key rings for microspike repairs in the field.

  3. I bring a length of 22 gauge green-covered floral wire in my repair kit. Looped around itself, I carry several feet in a small, light bundle. It’s strong enough to hold a repair like you’d need for a microspike chain (looped a few times and twisted like your example), but also thin enough to nearly sew rips in clothes back together by itself without a needle. You could also field-repair shoulder strap or belt webbing, nearly anything. Highly recommend! You can get a 100-foot spool for $3 (you certainly don’t carry all 100 ft).

  4. Any suggestions for making microspikes smaller! I am a ladies size 5 and the kahtoola small size is still loose on my regular hiking boots (Merral Moab). Maybe would be OK on the insulated winter version, but I am a fair weather winter hiker. . I’ve considered taking them to a key cutter to see if they can take out a link. I’ve also reached out to some folks on Facebook who post their kids winter hiking adventures asking what they use and have some suggestions for cheaper designs from Amazon. But wondered if anyone else has taken a link out to get a tighter fit.

  5. My first Kahtoolas died with the eyelet rupture (love the zip tie idea as an emergency backcountry repair). My second pair’s elastomer tore completely in two — a couple of months past warranty end. Both were properly fitted and hadn’t been abused. I’ve always been careful with them, minimizing traveling on the occasional rocky surfaces that can interrupt snow and ice.

    I’m now using microspikes from a different manufacturer. Too early to see if those will be more reliable.

    • I have a friend whose husband is an engineer and who has examined the cheap microspike knockoffs you find on Amazon with a microscope, and found microscopic cracks in new pairs. it wouldn’t surprise me if they are also in more expensive models.

  6. While the zip tie fix is a temporary one,,that can still mean a couple or more days of hiking, and plastic can get brittle on very cold conditions. Stainless steel zip ties will hold longer and easily available on Amazon. Note they require a leatherman or similar snipping tool to trim off the extra length.

  7. Wish I saw this last winter. I should have thought of it since I had to repair snowshoes with a similar problem while winter hiking in the Adirondacks one day!

  8. When Katoola changed the design adding additional teeth and thinner elastomer, I purchased a pair, thinking to replace my old ones.
    I was in the process of trying them on my boots in the living-room when the elastomer broke! They hadn’t even been used once! They were the same size spikes and same winter boots as I had been using for years. A sign of lower quality in order to sacrifice weight?

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