A Guide to Winter Footwear Traction

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It seems like the mar­ket­place is rife with new trac­tion devices for your feet. A lot of them look like medieval tor­ture devices or foot-based weapon­ry for LARP­ing.  This guide breaks down a few of the tech­nolo­gies com­pa­nies are using to keep you in con­trol in icy conditions.

Many boot man­u­fac­tur­ers are now team­ing up with Ital­ian rub­ber giant Vibram (pro­nounced Vee-brahm because it’s based on the founder Vitale Bra­mani) to cre­ate spe­cial rub­ber out­soles that retain their grip on icy and slick surfaces.

Win­ter tires have had sil­i­ca added to them for years to increase their trac­tion on ice, and the new out­soles from Vibram are work in a sim­i­lar way. Some out­soles are filled with flakes of alu­minum and small cir­cles of cot­ton and Kevlar fab­ric to bite into snow, ice, and slick rock. The rub­ber com­pound has been designed so that it remains sticky and soft in cold weath­er. Com­bine this with insu­la­tion, GORE-TEX, a blis­ter-free fit, and excel­lent con­struc­tion, and you have your­self a world-class win­ter hik­ing boot!

We’d love to see win­ter run­ning shoes and pac boots using this same tech­nol­o­gy, because the old run­ner’s trick of coat­ing your shoes in a mix­ture of Freesole and sand does­n’t last very long, and basi­cal­ly makes your shoes unwear­able inside.  Plus, the fumes from the sand/glue mix­ture will, if you inhale enough of them, allow you to shoot light­ning bolts from your eyes (or at least that’s what you’ll tell the arrest­ing officer).

SpikesNext, in the line­up of cool tools for win­ter trac­tion are remov­able steel spikes that you can screw direct­ly into the soles of your shoes or boots. These require a rel­a­tive­ly thick sole/midsole to work, but they’re remov­able and replace­able. Some brands use cold-rolled steel while oth­ers use tung­sten car­bide, both of which are very durable for win­ter run­ning or hik­ing shoes. How­ev­er, they require tools to be removed and they’re not exact­ly some­thing you can swap eas­i­ly from shoe to shoe. Aside from that, you’ll absolute­ly ruin your floor if you wear them inside. They also don’t offer trac­tion on hard, smooth sur­faces like ceram­ic tile (think of ice cram­pons on rock), so if you have a tile foy­er take them off before­hand or you’ll end up on your ass won­der­ing why you don’t remove cob­webs from your ceil­ing more often (true story).

If you’re doing some­thing more than your aver­age win­ter hike, but don’t need a full-size cram­pon, or you’re not rop­ing up, min­i­mal­ist 8 and 10-point cram­pons are a great option. In the past, they required a stiff moun­taineer­ing boot to be com­fort­able, oth­er­wise, the rigid met­al beneath your sole would mess up your gait.  This year, there are a few new options for under a hun­dred bucks that sim­ply strap onto your shoes, turn­ing your once slip­pery foot­ing into stur­dy footwear (Which is much less expen­sive than a trip to the doc­tor’s office, x‑rays of your tail­bone, and an inflat­able donut to sit on for the next few months!).

Be safe out there!