Shoe Screws: The $1 Fix to Run on the Ice and Snow

All you need for running in the winter is a pair of shoes and a few #10 1/2-inch hex head screws.
All you need for running in the winter is a pair of shoes and a few #10 1/2-inch hex head screws.

When winter snow and ice pile high, most runners head for the nearest treadmill. We’ll admit, there are advantages to being indoors — fewer layers of clothing and sure footing top the list. But, where’s the fun in that? If you opt to go outside, you want to be sure you stay on your feet. A slew of slip-on devices promise to do just that, but they can be almost as expensive as a new pair of shoes. A simpler, cheaper solution is to drive a dozen #10 1/2-inch hex head screws into the bottom of an old pair of running shoes.

The length and shape of the screws is important: You’re screwing them into the shoe from underneath and don’t want the pointy end jabbing into the bottom of your foot, so opt for 1/2-inch screws if you wear fairly standard road running shoes. If, however, you prefer thinner, lightweight shoes, you should go shorter; likewise, if you wear extra-thick shoes, like Hoka One One, you can go longer — I drove 3/4-inch screws into a pair of Hoka’s for a snowy ultramarathon last winter. A good guideline is that you want them to be long enough so they don’t easily yank out when you’re running. To help with that, drive the screws into patches of rubber, rather than any areas of exposed foam.

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The reason you want "hex head" screws is because it’s the six-sided, sharp-edged head that will be sticking out of the bottom of your shoe, digging into snow and ice. With 4 or 5 at the front of each shoe and 2 or 3 under the heel of each, you’ll have plenty of traction on slippery surfaces. If you hit rocky, exposed patches of ground, you’ll likely lose a couple. But don’t worry about running over bare pavement with the screws: You’ll hear the clicking of steel on asphalt, but your stride won’t suffer and the steel is remarkably durable — even if you do grind them down, they cost only about $1 per dozen.

Driving the screws through your rubber outsole can prove challenging if you only use a flat-head screw driver. That’s why I use a 5/16" magnetic nut driver and a cordless drill. That combination will help you complete the task in just a minute or two, without breaking a sweat. (Tip: If you use #8 screws, get a 1/4" magnetic nut driver.)

When winter ends, you can easily remove the screws without harm to your shoes. (Though, if your shoes have air or gel pockets, insert the screws toward the outer edge to avoid puncturing those.)

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