March 6, 2014

Gear Review: STABILicers SPORTrunners

Stabilicers, from 32north, are ice cleats that strap on to existing shoes, similar to Yaktrax and other traction devices. I chose them over the market-leading competitor (Yaktrax) since they looked more durable, and because I needed them for a trail race in three days and my size was available for free two-day shipping (impatience always wins). Per manufacturer 32north website, they are “engineered to be lightweight with Tension-Fit Binding...hold securely to your favorite running shoe or hiking boot, and can be worn with most casual footwear.”


The Stabilicers have almost a full sole of traction, providing grip on all the usual striking surfaces; the heel has 4 metal cleats and the forefoot has 5 metal cleats. They are held on by a rubber toe cup, rubber heel strap, and a stretched middle section under foot. The middle strap under foot didn’t seem that durable on my initial fitting, so I have some concerns on the long-term prospects of that possible failure point; but the manufacturer website claims “dual-Density TPE Elastomer construction with replaceable cleats provides longwearing durability.” The Velcro “PowerStrap” feature sounds like a selling point, but it’s really just a loop of Velcro. Be warned that Stabilicers do add a noticeable weight to your shoes; they add 193g per shoe, about a 58% increase in shoe weight in my test case (my Asics went from 334g to 527g each). The design seems strong enough, with the only concerns being the fit and form of the heel (see next section) and a possible improvement opportunity to add more cleats on the front to avoid toe slipping. The quality regarding rubber durability is a question, but I don’t anticipate putting long miles on them and testing that in the near future.


My main fit test was on a pair of Asics GT 2000s with size large Stabilicers (suggested for shoe sizes US 10.5-12.5). After reading other reviews online, I was ready for a struggle, but attaching them wasn’t too difficult. It was a tight fit, as it needs to be, and definitely took two hands and some stretching. You may want to have a friend help. Once on the shoe, all sides felt pretty secure except for the heel. As the heel is not a fully-enclosed cup like the toe, the back strap tends to slip down the shoe unless you have a clunky heel or other feature on the back of the shoe to hold it in place. As you can see in the pictures below, this results in a large gap on the heel between the traction sole and the shoe. Securing the PowerStrap, due to its placement further forward on the shoe (picture below), does not mitigate this fit concern. Figuring it may be due to a worn heel on my test shoes with 425 miles on them, I tried it on other sets with the same result. Additionally, the manufacturer website images seem to show a bit of a gap as well, so I figured this was expected. I’ll address the “in use” fit in the next section.

Real-World Performance

My test run was 4 miles at 7:00/mile pace, and rather than shying away from ice, I ran right for it. Though there were patches of exposed asphalt on the rail-to-trail course, I purposely ran through the hairiest line possible, hitting all the snow, slush, and ice possible. I ran intervals and 5k sprints over exposed ice to see if the spikes would slip, and I ran recovery pace through snow drifts to see if the sole would shift. Ultimately, the Stabilicers passed each test I threw at them and came back for more. That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing; it was definitely still evident I was running on unstable surfaces with extra heft on my shoes. During faster intervals, when the force was greatest on my toe at push-off, there was a slight bit of slipping. This may have been attributed to the temperature and snow composition, as the ice and snow was a bit soft on top. On sections of pavement, which these are clearly not designed for, the ride was really rough and I could feel the added force in fewer pressure points on my foot from the cleats; that resulted in a little more soreness in spots, but again, you obviously aren’t supposed to run on concrete with these. I did feel the added weight at times, also leading to some more soreness at the end of the day. Ultimately, I wasn’t expecting the run to feel exactly the same as spring, and it didn’t. But I consider the test run very successful; I never fell, I never felt significant sliding, and most importantly, I had total and complete confidence to run straight over ice and snow.

I wore one shoe with the Power Strap and tried the other shoe without. I had zero issues with the Stabilicers shifting during my run, Velcro strap or not. And I really tried to shake them; I hit 4+ inches of snow and slush, I tried midfoot landings and heel striking, I went through snowbanks, and I hit all terrain types, from asphalt to mud to snow. I did all I could to expose the heel gap and they never shifted.

The Verdict

In summary, if there’s a mix of exposed asphalt and snow/ice, I may opt for regular trainers and just pick my way through the snow. Additionally, between the weight and different pressure points on the sole, I’d suggest breaking these in slowly in your training schedule and allowing your body plenty of miles to adapt. I wouldn’t personally wear them on long runs of 10-20 miles, as I have some concerns that they would lead to overuse injuries or tweaks if putting 50 miles a week on them given the different pressure points and added weight. They do allow you to run outdoors, but as much as I hate the treadmill, I’d probably stick indoors for the shorter speed work and wear these outside for 4-8 mile recovery runs.

 Ultimately they performed as intended and gave me the confidence to hit the ice hard. They’re cheaper in price than their competitors, and I’m guessing they’ll hold up a bit better than the DIY ice spike running shoe conversions you’re read about on the internet. And outside of running, they’ll see a lot of winter use between shoveling and walking the dog.