Friday, January 18, 2013

How to Make Screw Shoes for Winter Running

Ready for Winter Running

Well the short thaw that we enjoyed for last weekend’s race is over, and the temperatures have plummeted back to below freezing. While the streets and paths are mostly clear of snow, they are often dotted with ice. These are the kind of conditions that used to create a footwear dilemma for me, especially being new to this cold weather running stuff.

I have Yak Traks, which are fine for running in snow. I also have some ice spikes that are good on ice. However, both the Yak Traks and the ice spikes are less desirable in conditions like we have now, mostly clear roads, with patches of ice popping up unpredictably. Both of those options make the balls of my feet hurt, and running with them on clear pavement in between patches of ice and snow I find to be uncomfortable.

I know a lot of people just run in regular shoes in these conditions, trying to watch for ice and hoping for the best. I also know a lot of people who have taken nasty falls.  Since the old ruptured spleen incident from my last bad fall while running, I have become super cautious, and falling on ice is something I definitely want to avoid, so I was never comfortable just going out with nothing on when I could hit ice. Plus, it takes some of the fun out of the run having to worry all the time. Luckily when I was fairly new to Michigan an old-time runner said, “Why don’t you just make some screw shoes? You can search it on the Internet to learn how.” When I mentioned it to Jerry, he said sure. He used to put screws in his motorcycle tires for ice racing in the winter. I was intrigued.  It sounded like it was worth a try.

I searched the Internet, found a site, and made my first set of screw shoes. They were amazing, and I loved them. They were perfect for giving that extra bit of stability and did not bother me when I had to run on pavement. There was a little ticking sound, but nothing too bothersome and uncomfortable.

I have since used my screw shoes extensively and successfully through two winters. I have even found that they work well in races, such as the Sgt Preson Yukon King 5k and the Ididarun, where I feel they gave me an advantage over those who were running in regular shoes in slippery conditions. The good thing is that they don’t interfere with my natural stride or the shoe’s flexibility. I would like to encourage you to give them a try.

Unfortunately, the directions I found online were not quite as good as I would have liked. They basically just said, get some screws, a screwdriver, and go to it.

That is what I did. I soon found that it was not quite that easy, at least for me. Maybe a guy or gal with a lot of hand strength and more hand/eye coordination than I possess can use a screwdriver and just shove them in, but that did not work for me. About an hour later, after exhausting my extensive vocabulary of swear words, I finally hit upon what I consider a better way to make the screw shoes. That is what I would like to share with you now.



  • #6 x 3/8” hex head screws (some people use slightly different sizes, such as #8 x ½”, but these work for me)
  • An electric drill with bits and a nut driver bit (or a hand nut driver) to fit the screws
  • Your running shoe of choice (I usually use an old pair and leave the screws in all winter)

Step 1. First you need to decide on where to place the screws. In general these should be placed around the outside and inside edges of the front of each shoe (similar to most cross country spikes) and in a horseshoe pattern around the heel as well. I do not recommend putting them around the balls of your feet, as this can cause discomfort if you wear them for long runs.  You can adjust this a little bit to fit your foot strike and the wear pattern on your shoe.

More screws in areas
where my foot lands first
For example, I know that I land on the outside edge of the mid to forefoot of my shoe. I put more screws around the outside edges than I do on the inside edge. I do come to the center on toe-off, though, so I need those on the inside edge as well. I do not heel strike, and my heels almost never touch the ground. However, I do put the heel screws in because in icy conditions I do slow down and run more flat footed, and if I start to slide, I want my heels to grab too. If you are a heel striker, primarily, you may want to put a few more in the heel area than I have pictured.

Another thing to note about placement is that they need to be on top of the shoe tread, not down in the crannies. You want them up there where they can grab the surface you are running on. If you put them between the lugs, they won’t reach the ice. That is a little hard to see on the Grits, but they are on the tops. (You may notice the marks of the previous holes. The Grits have shallow treads. For cross country and fall trail running I had these between the treads, where they barely stuck up and gave just a bit of bite. For winter I switched over to the treads for the extra bite for the icy conditinos.)

Step 2.  This is where I ran into trouble before. As I said above, the previous directions I found online said to just grab a screw and a screwdriver and go to it. No matter how hard I pushed with the screw and screwdriver, I could not get the screw started. Eventually it would slip off the end of the screw driver and go rolling across the room and under a bookcase or go flying across the room and disappear (only to be found days later when I was barefoot). Now maybe if you are a big, burly guy (or girl) with more hand strength and coordination than I have, you can just go for it here with a screw driver. I could not.

After a while, Jerry came in to see what was causing me to cuss like a drunken sailor. After watching for a few seconds, he said, “Why aren’t you using a nut driver.” “What?” I said, “What’s a nut driver?” He disappeared to the garage for a minute and came back with a wonderful little tool. It made the screw much easier to put pressure on to put them in, but getting them started was still difficult (and frustrating). That is when I headed for the garage for the drill and decided on the process below.

Drilling holes to help get screws started
Once you have decided on placement, I recommend popping in a drill bit to make a pilot hole for the screws. You would not believe how hard and springy the rubber on the outside of the sole of a running shoe is until you try to puncture it. I mean think about it. They are made NOT to puncture.  You do not want to necessarily drill a hole here, just make a spot for the screw to start to grab. I used my 1/8” drill bit. You also don’t want to go deep (be sure NOT to go deeper than the depth of your outer sole), just a little ways to give the point of the screw a place to grab.

If you are using a hand nut driver, you can just drill and install for each screw. If you are using an electric drill with a nut driver bit, it is faster to drill all the holes first and then switch to the driver bit to install the screws.

I could do it with the hand driver,
but why pass up a chance to use a power tool?

However, be sure that you can see the little holes you have made. In my green-soled Brooks Pure Grits, the holes showed up well, but when I did this on a pair of shoes with black rubber, the holes seemed to disappear and close back up. You will know after you drill the first few holes.

Putting in the final few screws

That is really all there is to it. The great thing is that when the weather changes, you can remove the screws and wear the shoes as normal. Occasionally one of the screws may work its way out a bit and need to be screwed back in or replaced. I check them every once in a while after a run. I also keep a hand nut driver and some spare screws in my running bag in the winter just in case.

Well, I hope this has inspired you to give screw shoes a try in this weather. Again, they are not made for super icy or snowy conditions. They are more for those days when you have mostly clear pavement with some snow, ice, or mud. They also don’t mean that you won’t ever slip or fall, so, of course, be careful out there! 

1 comment:

  1. This is actually a really cool, cheap, DIY idea.
    I applaud you!


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