Here in the Northeast, winter means ICE! Even if you're not traversing the Presidential Range, you're still likely to encounter plenty of the slippery stuff. The good news is that a surprising number of innovative, convenient traction solutions are available to winter runners, hikers, and those just crossing the driveway. This article briefly examines what's out there.
These devices can be pulled over boots or shoes to provide stable footing on ice and packed snow. Though not as convenient as built-in traction that's permanently integrated into the footwear (see below), pull-ons give you the versatility to wear your boots both indoors or out. Simply pull the traction device off when headed inside.
Yaktrax makes several models in this category. The Yaktrax Walker features metal coils wrapped around a thermoplastic exoskeleton for 360 degrees of traction on driveways and slick sidewalks. The Yaktrax Pro uses similar coil construction, but with a beefier rubber body and a Velcro instep strap, making it an excellent choice for winter running and hiking on snowmobile trails and bike paths. The company's most stable platform, the Yaktrax XTR, is made with high-strength steel spikes and chains for extreme traction on snow and ice.
Ideal for winter trail hiking, the Kahtoola MICROspikes traction system is made of chains and spikes that slip over your boots for dependable traction. The system is very lightweight and compact. Also nice is the built-in toe bar that keeps your spikes in place, even when walking or running downhill.
This refers to traction that's an integrated part of the boot, and with the exception of the Icebug BUGweb (see below), cannot be removed. Obviously more expensive than pull-on traction because you're buying the footwear and traction in one unit, this option is also more convenient, as there's no attachment or removal time involved.
Baffin incorporates Icepaw technology in some of its boots. Made of a nonmetallic compound, Icepaw pads are molded directly to the outsole and provide good grip on ice and packed snow. Ideal for traversing both slick driveways and hiking trails, these boots don't damage indoor flooring.
TrekSta also provides footwear with built-in traction. These boots and shoes feature microglass filaments that are electrostatically aligned in the rubber compound to create slip-stopping surface tension. Designed for hiking, this footwear can be worn inside as well.
Icebug is a Swedish company that specializes in winter traction. Realizing that nothing bites into ice as well as good old-fashioned metal, Icebug's BUGrip footwear features 15 permanent carbide studs built right into the outsoles. Icebug BUGrip trail running shoes are outstanding on ice, but like any shoe with metal cleats, they should never be worn inside.
Icebug also makes BUGweb trail running shoes. Like the BUGrip, the BUGweb features carbide studs for supersolid grip on ice. What sets the BUGweb apart is that the system can be pulled off the shoe relatively easily. When attached, the traction device fits intimately into the outsole pattern, so it truly feels like it's part of the shoe.
Not sold with any footwear, Icespikes are actually a collection of separate metal spikes that you can screw into the bottoms of your outsoles to create outstanding traction on any surface. This harks back to the old "hobnail" method that mountaineers used 100 years ago: inserting screws or nails into their boots.
Though not a focus of this article, crampons are still your best bet when headed out into serious winter backcountry. Featuring long metal wedges that are sharp enough to penetrate ice and grip solidly, crampons are used when hiking steep icy slopes, traversing glaciers, and even scaling vertical ice.