A Winter Shoe Worth Having for Icy Conditions

Living in Edmonton brings along winters with often treacherous weather conditions. Having grown up in coastal BC, it took me a few years to adopt to the cold, the snow and the ice. Over the past few years it seems that there’s been an increase in the frequency of freeze-thaw cycles. With these climate changes, it can make walking outside a rather challenging affair.

Consistently cold temperatures with compact snow can be reasonably easy to navigate as shoe traction is less of an issue (although cold toes may be the bigger issue!).

I find the most challenging condition is black ice which becomes all too common during frequent freeze-thaw conditions that take place throughout Edmonton’s winter.

The Standard Solution Has a Major Drawback

The standard recommendation to dealing with slick conditions is the use of removable shoe cleats that you attach to the bottom of your shoes. These include the popular Yaktrax. A quick search on MEC’s website will give you many options as many new brands have flooded the market in recent years.

These ice crampons can work well if you plan on going for a dedicated walk where you are not required to go in and out of buildings. However, ice cleats can be a major pain when you’re running errands and getting in out of the car or stores. You’re left to carry wet, dirty, dripping cleats with you which can be frustrating and ultimately dissuade you from wearing them.

What’s the result? You end up not wearing any ice traction cleats which can leave you at an increased risk for falls.

A new technology for shoe soles from Vibram may give you the freedom to avoid using cleats altogether!

There is Another Option and Our Patients Love Them!

I came across a shoe by Merrell that incorporates new Vibram sole technology called Vibram® Arctic Grip. (Here’s a quick video showing traction on ice). I tested this sole with a slip-on shoe from Merrell called the ColdPack Ice+ Moc Waterproof. (For the record, I have no affiliation to Merrell or anyone who sells these shoes.)

I found that this shoe performed very well on icy conditions and was comfortable to wear through the day. It was easy to slip on and off which is nice if you’re needing to go outside to run quick errands.

It really was quite amazing to see how the shoes performed on ice and the grip you experience without cleats. Now, it’s important to note that nothing will replace the grip you get from cleats, but its traction was noticeable and consistent.

Now, there is a caveat. These soles did not perform well if there was a light dusting of snow on top of ice. Unfortunately, it appears that the snow creates a rather slippery surface so this is something to keep in mind.

So here are the advantages of the Merrell shoe we tested:

  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Good grip on black ice and transitional icy conditions
  • Comfortable to wear throughout the day
  • Reasonably warm, although on very cold days will likely not be warm enough
  • Waterproof
  • Excellent grip on wet indoor surfaces (such as store entrances, etc)
  • Very good build quality and a supportive shoe

And here the disadvantages:

  • More expensive (~$150)
  • Poor grip on icy surface with a light dusting of snow on top
  • Not as warm as winter boots
  • There are a number of locations that do sell these shoes including Atmosphere, Campers Village, and Kunitz Shoes.

A Final Thought

In addition to a good quality shoe, I do recommend working on your balance. Training our balance systems can be especially important with slippery conditions and can help improve your reaction time to recover from a near fall.

About the Author:

Andrew Koppejan, PT

Andrew Koppejan, PT

Andrew is an Edmonton physiotherapist helping patients young and old regain pain-free movement and activity. He takes a systems-based approach to addressing painful movement conditions using a combination of techniques including manual therapy, movement pattern retraining and needling techniques such as GunnIMS and acupuncture.

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