Running on Ice with Screw Shoes

As I’ve mentioned before, I train primarily in New York City, but also spend a lot of time in Minneapolis. While the snow in New York tends to disappear pretty quickly, once it snows in Minneapolis it generally sticks around all winter. Unfortunately, because most of the running paths along the river and through the park do not get enough use, they’ll keep a nice layer of ice on them all winter long.

I attempted to compensate for this when I purchased a couple of new pairs of shoes for running in Minnesota.  I purchased one pair of road running shoes and another pair of trail running shoes (a big shout out to Adidas outlet stores and buy 1 get 1 sales).  The thought was to use the trail runners on the snow and ice and road runners once the weather became more manageable in mid-April.  Unfortunately, as I discovered on my first run in the Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, this was not going to cut it.  My time was fairly slow, to be expected because of the 13°F air temperature, but it was extra slow because of patches of glare ice and rough ice that I needed to slowly navigate.  On Thursday morning my pace improved slightly, despite a lower air temperature around 4°F, but I chalk that up to regaining some of my Minnesota footing and knowing where particularly icy spots in the path were.

I knew that if I wanted to run better in the ice and snow I needed a better solution.  Talking to friends and googling around, I came upon three possible solutions.


Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats (image from E. Krinker on Amazon.com)

YakTrax are nifty elastic bands encased in a metal spring that wrap around your shoe and provide dozens of extra contact points with the ground. They’re designed to fit over both shoes and boots and come in a variety of styles, including the durable Pro style.  YakTrax came recommended by several friends in the Chicago area who used them for walking through Chicago snowbanks.  They’re widely available at retail stores such as REI and retail for around $30.

Unfortunately, YakTrax don’t seem to be built for running.  While many runners have had great luck using them for light runs, I’m fairly certain that they would break after a couple of weeks of 50 mile runs.  For most runners they seem to break by having one of the pieces of elastic give way.


Stabilicers Sport (image from Amazon.com)

Stabilicers from 32North are a slightly less common option that seem a little more durable than YakTrax. Rather than a series of elastic bands, Stabilicers are more like an additional sole that is strapped to your shoe.  This sole is designed to provide additional traction and features a set of spikes, which can be easily replaced.   It’s also possible to find them at retail, although my REI store didn’t have them, although their online site does.  They retail for about $40 for a pair of the Stabilicers Sport, which have great reviews on REI.  However, the lack of instant gratification made this a little more difficult for me.

Screw Shows

The most low-tech solution was to create a pair of Screw Shoes.  This option was suggested be a friend who read about them in Runner’s World and provide a link to a summary article about screw shoes because the article was not available online.  A little more searching led me to Matt Carpenter’s article about Screw Shoes, where he goes into detail about sizing of screws and extolls readers to make their own.   This seemed like the least expensive solution.  A trip to Home Depot and $3.15 later, I had 36 #6 3/8″ hex head screws in my possession.

Now, here’s the key to my success with Screw Shoes, get a drill with a magnetic hex driver.  If you’re using #6 screws, the 1/4″ hex driver head should work just fine.  Then, just put them all around your shoes in the deepest parts.  In my case this was where the tread was extra deep for trail running. After about 10 minutes of work, I had 18 screws in each of my shoes and I was eager to try them out for New Year’s Day.

My Screw Shoes: The Adidas Kanadia 2 - Awesome on the Top Side

My Screw Shoes: The Adidas Kanadia 2 - Killer on the Bottom Side!

While it was -4°F on New Year’s morning, I still had the best times in the last week. At first I was a little cautious, the shows felt a little funny, especially on pavement.  The whole sole wasn’t making contact and they really bit into the pavement.  It was a hard run.  As soon as I hit ice, about a quarter block away on the sidewalk, the different was night and day.  Where before I was extra cautious, I could easily cruise over the ice with no worries.  I began to tempt fate and run over the black ice, the really slick stuff.  No problems, the shoes bit and let me cruise over at near normal speeds.

After my first run in Screw Shoes this morning, I can easily say that they’re more than worth the $3.15 and 10 minutes of work — not the best $3.15, that would be bandaids or Body Glide, but they make running in winter possible.  Of course, on the down side, I’ve just relegated this pair of shoes to winter running only — but what pleasant winter running it is.

Sadly, it looks like this may be the last time on this trip I get to use the Screw Shoes.  They’re miserable for running on pavement, and I’m sure they’d destroy a treadmill, which as you can see from the forecast for tomorrow, is going to get some use.  Running at -10°F is one thing, but -18°F with a -32°F wind chill is too extreme for me.

-18°F at 9am? That's a bit too cold for running outside. Time to hit the dreadmill!

3 Responses to “Running on Ice with Screw Shoes”

  1. 1 John Tarin
    November 13, 2010 at 4:16 am

    I’ve spent many a winter here in Vladivostok, Russia navigate the streets and so called sidewalks (read craters of the moon)in the winter time with extreme trepidation every winter until several winters ago I came up with the idea to put screws in the bottoms of my winter bootd. The Russians think I’m crazy….like a fox. Now all my Russian friends here are doing it. I was surprised to find other people doing it as well.

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