February 2, 2022

This Winter, Get a Grip!

- Beth Daisy, Supervisor of Occupational Therapy

a young man using a walking stick to cross the road with a young woman guiding him

Hi, I’m Beth Daisy and I’m an Occupational Therapist at Future In Sight.

Today I’m going to talk about getting better traction with your footwear when you are out and about this winter. Getting out, getting some exercise, and getting some fresh air and Vitamin D can be really beneficial to your health. Instead of staying inside all winter long, it’s important to take some proactive steps to avoid a slip or fall on the ice.

I’m going to show you a few options and talk briefly about the pros and cons of each one.

A pair of brown hiking boots with spiral metal cleats attached by a thick rubber bandOption 1: YaxTrax

The first option I have is a product many of you may have heard of, called YaxTrax.

They add a coil-based traction sole to your existing boots or shoes. Some of the pros are that they can simply be added to your existing footwear and they cost between $15 and $20 for the basic model. The higher-end model costs a bit more and adds a Velcro strap across the forefoot to keep them from accidentally coming off and getting lost in deep snow.

There are also knock-off brands available. They can be purchased online at most major online retailers or in some larger department stores during the winter months. They really help when walking on packed snow which otherwise might be very slippery.

In use, I find that I can still slide on sheer ice.

In addition to maybe not being the best product for ice, they can be difficult for some people to put on their shoes because you have to be able to pull apart the rubber while you manipulate putting it onto your shoe. For some people you can make this a little easier by putting it on your footwear before you put your footwear on, therefore eliminating the need to bend over and fiddle with them. Best uses include shoveling your walk or driveway as long as there isn’t an underlying sheet of ice.

A pair of hiking shoes with metal cleats attached by a thick rubber bandOption 2: Ice Cleats 

The second option I have is similar to the YaxTrax except that instead of using coils for traction, it uses metal studs on the bottom of the foot to give you grip.

These are sold under a variety of names generically called “ice cleats” and sold under the brand name Stabilicers. Like YaxTrax, the base model just goes on over your footwear. The more expensive models add a strap across the forefoot to prevent you from losing them.

Again, find them online or in stores at major retailers. Expect to pay between $10 for a knock-off pair, around $30 for the Stabilicers, and close to $70 for some higher-quality options. The difference in price is going to be due to the quality of components with more expensive models tending to have carbide steel studs which are more resistant to dulling if your walking takes you between snow and asphalt.

Generally, unless you are spending a LOT of time on highly slippery surfaces, the more mid-range model should suit your needs fine.

Some models within this category, like this pair, require you to pull apart the stretchy rubber to put on over your shoes. Others require a lot less pulling and are sized more closely to your footwear. A con for this style is that the tips can wear down or fall out over time and then you’ll likely need to get a new pair as servicing would likely be cost-prohibitive or impossible. Also, these will damage wooden surfaces because of the nature of the studs. The best uses would be walking on snow and ice in situations where it would be difficult or impossible to avoid the ice.

A pair of hiking boots with a thick rubber band and metal chains with spikes attached to the bottom of the bootOption 3: Microspikes 

The third option I have is a more aggressive type of traction which is really needed if you plan to head out to the mountains or the trails in the winter.

They function as mini crampons and have longer steel points on the underside. Sold as Kathoola Microspikes for around $75 or as Boa Traction Footwear by LL Bean for around $80. The Kathoola Microspikes are donned much like YaxTrax—you pull and stretch the rubber apart to put them on. The Boa version operates very differently. The Boa closure system uses cables and a knob that you can tighten using one hand. While it may take some getting used to, this is probably the best option for individuals who may only have the use of one hand.

You probably need to shop at outdoor retailers either online or in-person to find this product as they tend to be used for those venturing beyond the neighborhood walk or shoveling the driveway. That said, you can find a lot of knock-offs for around $10 either online or in some discount chains. Consider though that if you are 5 miles away from your car on an icy mountain your gear failing you at that time because you bought poor quality could have dangerous ramifications.

If you’re sticking close to home and not venturing out into the wilderness this product is probably overkill and in fact will make for pretty uncomfortable walking if you have to cross long patches of asphalt.

Tall black winter boot with built in spikes on the bottom

Finally, I have a really different option.

So, you can actually buy boots that have the studs embedded in the sole.

They may be sold under a few different names, but Icebug seems to dominate this part of the market and they are the boots I use. These once again rely on carbide steel studs on the sole, but unlike the other options you don’t have to put someone on over your boot—they are always there. So, because of that, this might not be a great option if you are going to go inside—in fact, when I wore them on tiled floors, I felt like I was going to slip, I worried about scratching the tile, and they were noisy. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to wear them on wood floors and they might damage your wooden decks.

If you are going to be spending a lot of time outside in the winter on mixed ice, snow, and some asphalt conditions whether it’s because you just want to get out or because you have a furry friend that still needs to get their exercise, this is option might provide the best combination of ease of use with comfort.

Their product line has something for everybody from casual walkers, to hikers, to runners and they will send you repair kits if you ever need to replace any of the studs. I would rate the quality of the boot as being right up there with other mid-to-high-end winter boot companies. The studs mean that I feel confident even running on ice all winter long.

A downside of this product is that if you go indoors you’ll need to change into other footwear—could be inconvenient for trips to the market, and, as you might guess, these come in at a higher price point than the other options which are just “add-ons” to your existing boots. Expect to pay between $100 to $200+ for these boots.

A low black boot with retractable spikes on the bottomBut wait there’s more!

There’s still one more option but I don’t have a product here in person—Boots by NexGrip and Navatex use a retractable traction system on the bottom of your boot that flips open when you need traction and stows away when you go inside. Some have only 1 cleat in the heel while others have one under the forefoot as well. Again, for this luxury, expect to pay a bit more—approximately $100-$200 for these boots.

Vibram Winter Hiking Boots with Artic Grip Rubber BottomsFinally, some boot makers have begun impregnating parts of the lug sole with materials specially designed to give more traction on ice and slippery surfaces. Vibram® for example uses what they call Arctic Grip to give you more traction on wet ice surfaces. While they may be better than traditional soles, they will not offer as much traction as some of the models we’ve already talked about today.

Okay, well I hope you found that interesting! This information should benefit anyone in the wintertime who’s looking to get a better grip when they are outside.

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