Support Gear Review: Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola Microspikes

Kahtoola MICROspikes

Andrew here. If you saw my “Preface” post, you know a couple of things about me already — I love “bad” weather, and I like to find gear that lets me go out and take photos in that weather. I took my Kahtoola Microspikes with me to Iceland and they not only worked perfectly, I’d never go to Iceland in the winter without them. They were crucial for getting around since most trails and paths, especially around waterfalls, were frozen over. Sliding around in boots is slow, dangerous, and just unpleasant. The spikes gave us a freedom of movement and a level of safety that made the trip much more enjoyable and productive. After my great experience, I figured they were worth a writeup.

For most people, most of the time, crampons are overkill. They’re also a pain to use. On the other end of the spectrum, my limited experience with Yaktrax was that they weren’t very durable and were best suited for walking the dog on icy sidewalks. What happens when Crampons and Yaktrax meet in the middle? Kahtoola’s Microspikes. And the result is awesome.

The Microspikes have twelve ⅜” spikes on each foot, chained together and attached to your boot with a heavy duty rubber strap. The strap is allegedly flexible to something like -70 degrees F. That’s way beyond where I stop being flexible. These are pretty much the perfect hybrid of real grip and convenience. Overall, these are extremely durable, comfortable, and convenient.

When walking with them, you eventually forget you’re even wearing them. You can just walk on ice like it’s pavement. (For science, I even went for a brief jog on a solid sheet of ice. No problems.) The spikes are short enough and the whole system is durable enough that you can cross mixed terrain without having to take them off. Most of our Iceland hikes involved interspersed icy and rocky areas and it was good that we didn’t have to take the spikes off every 200 meters. I’m sure heavy use on rocky surfaces will dull the spikes, but I’d bet you can sharpen them again. Even with the amount of hiking we did, I didn’t notice any wear on the points.

One concern I had was that they’d be great on ice, but slippery rocks would be a problem if the metal didn’t grip (back to my original use for these, walking in mostly frozen streams). A few tests (without the camera gear in hand) proved my fears were unfounded. They’re awesome for slimy wet rocks too.


This was Day 1 and an early win for the Microspikes which let me easily walk the frozen trail and up the frozen stream to get to this incredible spot.

So, what’s the catch? Just like normal crampons, you can potentially step in a way where they don’t grip. The sides and back obviously don’t have spikes, so if you get too complacent in uneven terrain and forget you’re relying on spikes for traction, you could find yourself without grip. If you’re even mildly attentive to what you’re doing, you’ll be fine… but because they’re so comfortable and easy to get used to, complacency isn’t an unfounded concern. Walking on ice on metal spikes also makes a fair amount of noise, so if you’re planning to sneak up on wildlife, I’d either get there well ahead of time or stick to the kind being eaten by vultures. Finally, they’re not cheap. At somewhere near $65, you’re going to consider how much you’ll use them, but if you’re traveling or hiking with camera gear in the winter, it’s probably a very good investment.

As an aside, check out FStoppers’ awesome video series with Elia Locardi in which they discover they probably should have gotten themselves a few pairs of these before their trip to Iceland. You can see one such instance here where the icy terrain stopped them from getting the composition they planned, but I’d definitely recommend checking out the whole video series.

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[Thanks to my friend Norm for taking the awesome shot of me on Skaftafellsjokull glacier sporting my spikes.]

You can, of course, buy them through Amazon (if you buy through the links on this post, we’ll get a small percentage which will go toward more photography and support gear):
Kahtoola MICROspikes

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An Ice Sunset

Andrew here. If you saw my teaser post on the Iceland trip, you already know we didn’t have the most cooperative weather for photography. To be more specific, we had hurricane and “strong gale force” winds, rain, sleet, snow, and/or hail for a lot of the time. This meant we also had a lot of dim, flat, gray light to work with. The one morning we had some good light was one of the days my camera was completely non-functional (more on that another time), so the few shots I have with anything resembling interesting light tend to stand out for me.

This is the famous glacial lagoon of Jokulsarlon in the southeast corner of Iceland. A glacier calves icebergs off into this large body of water, which empties into the sea. The glacier is shrinking rapidly, so the lagoon keeps getting larger. It’s a famous site for photography; you see lots of photos of clear ice on black sand beaches taken near here.

We got there for sunset, which was mostly obscured by heavy clouds but for a brief window when just enough light and color was poking through to get me this scene. Photography frustration aside, I’m happy to say that just being there to see these amazing features is reward enough. That said, I’d be lying if I said I’m not hoping for better light next time…

Father’s Day

Sarah here. I took this picture while walking along Alki Beach (Seattle) on Father’s Day, and it’s been rattling around in my head since then. I finally worked on it this weekend. The moment between these two was so sweet; I’m glad I caught it.

I showed the picture to my mom this morning, and she said, “I bet the two in this picture would love to have it.” Of course, I don’t have any idea who they are. If anyone sees this post and knows them, or if you think you know someone who might know them, please pass it along. The picture was taken on 16 June 2013, on Alki Beach in Seattle, Washington State.

(And if it does make its way to them, please tell me!)

Bragging Rights

Sarah here. Andrew and I hang out on a few photo-related sites, including one called ViewBug, which runs regular photography contests. Since he won’t brag about it, I will… Andrew won the Healthy Lifestyles contest with his picture of kayakers at Silver Falls.

(As an aside, that picture was taken with my old camera –a Nikon D5200– since his D800E was several thousand miles away in the shop for repairs at the time. Just goes to show that you don’t need the fanciest gear to capture great shots; the photographer and the subject matter a lot more than the camera.)

And today, I noticed that ViewBug used Andrew’s shot of Gljúfrabúi – Hidden Falls as the headline picture for their summer photo contest. Ironically, the picture was taken during an Icelandic winter, but never mind. I still commend their taste.

To wrap up with a little joint bragging, the picture on the homepage of Langdon Tactical was a tag-team effort between Andrew and me: Andrew took the picture, and I did the Photoshopping.

Whew… it’s been a busy week! Andrew and I are pretty new at putting our stuff out there, so it’s very exciting to see our work getting some attention!

Keep Trying

Andrew here. I’m rarely somewhere scenic for long. I’d say 99 times out of 100, I’m in front of something photographically compelling once, either as an intentional destination, or stopping while in transit to somewhere else. If I’m going there on purpose, I *try* to time it for good conditions — the right light, the right time of year, the right weather… and so on — but that’s not always an option. That’s even less likely when I happen upon something interesting.

So, on those rare occasions when I will be spending time at or around something with good photographic potential, I really try to make the most of it.

In this case, I spent most of a week at the Grand Hotel Baglioni in Florence, Italy. I was there for work, so I couldn’t really focus on photography but because I was there for a week, I did have many chances to check out the incredible view of Florence from the rooftop. I saw it in the morning, I saw it at night (no tripod… alas!), I saw it in the rain, and I saw it at sunset. In this case, I saw it in the rain at sunset, and when I saw the side light start poking through the clouds, I grabbed the camera and headed for the roof. I didn’t stay for long (thunder plus rooftop shooting = bad idea), but I managed to come away with a few shots, including this one.

Wet Zoo Day

Sarah here. Andrew and I went to the zoo last weekend. It’s been hot and muggy here recently, but we lucked out and got a cool and (very) rainy morning. There weren’t many people out, the light was soft if not exactly plentiful, and some of the animals didn’t mind the wet at all. Like this little guy, for one.

It was also a good test of rain gear. Even our cameras were wearing rain coats.

Otter

The Strobist – Cooking Light

Sarah here. In my quest to learn how to bend light to my will, I’ve been working through the Lighting 102 class over at the Strobist. I did the early exercises, but got stuck for a bit on the first assignment, aptly described as “deceptively simple”:

The assignment is to photograph one or more kitchen utensils – knives, forks, spoons, whisks – whatever you like. The look you are going or is that of ordinary object elevated to high art. Or at least commercial art, as this is the kind of thing that might appear as a catalog cover or in a calendar or on the wall of one of those ubiquitous “fast casual” restaurants.

It’s harder than it sounds. I finally buckled down and knocked it out today, using my super-fancy homemade cardboard light box to make a single speedlight nice and soft and less unidirectional. One of the harder parts was getting my subject to stay in position; I built a little mountain out of a dome diffuser and old corks to hold the corkscrew at a good angle, but it was less stable than a house of cards. More than once, I got everything set up perfectly, was juuuuuuuust adjusting the focus, had my finger resting on the shutter button……… and then the whole wobbly structure collapsed unceremoniously. Le sigh.

But eventually it held together long enough to pull off a few shots, and I actually kinda like a few of them.

Strobist - CookingLight

Washington, D.C.-based photography and digital art, natural and unnatural.