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).
Next, 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!