I'm thisclose to breaking my hip on my weekly commute.
January 29, 2011 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Native Angeleno new to DC, and even with my snail-pace shuffle, I am still slipping left and right during my walk to the subway. If you spend a lot of time walking on icy roads, what do you use to gain a stable footing and traction? Online, I've found LL Bean Stabilicers, YakTrax, and select shoes by The North Face that are supposed to have better traction because of "Ice Pickā„¢ temperature-sensitive outsole lugs." Before I spend a bunch of money on any of these, I'd like to know - what do you use that works? Is there some secret snow walk I should know? HELP.

I tried Keen's Hoodoo High Lace Boots and promptly landed on my butt right outside my building front door. Any advice will be much appreciated! Thanks in advance.
posted by invisible ink to Shopping (39 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
YakTrax work for me, but you still want to walk carefully and knock the snow out of your soles, etc., every now and then. And then walk very carefully indoors in the YakTrax, because they make it difficult to walk on tile or hardwood.
posted by dilettante at 3:42 PM on January 29, 2011

Yak Trax are great--and a lot cheaper than a new pair of boots.
posted by supercoollady at 3:42 PM on January 29, 2011

Yak Trax work great; although I don't use them much anymore, I used to keep a pair of shoes at work and then a beater pair of boots with the Yak Trax on pretty much 24-7. They don't help much on sheer ice, but then nothing short of serious spikes will.
posted by selfnoise at 3:44 PM on January 29, 2011

Best answer: These Stabilicers have worked really well for me for running and walking in Alaskan winters. Just be careful to take them off before you go inside or someplace non-icy; you'll eat it pretty quickly if you forget.

I went through a bunch of pairs of Yak Trax before I found the Stabilicers....they are even worse on the inside, and the rubber inside the metal springy deals would break after moderate use in my experience. YMMV, but if you're going to use them a lot, the Yak Trax were really not at all sturdy.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:47 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Huh. I was going to suggest that you just need some regular boots and not fancy technology, but then I read your inside note. I've lived in northern Wisconsin for thirteen years and I've never needed anything more than a pair of Vasque hiking boots for regular winter days and a pair of Sorels for big snows (and only Pacs, not even the big Caribous). Could it be that you're just not walking carefully? Short, light steps are key - it's trying to firmly plant your foot that makes you fall. Maybe that's counterintuitive if you're not used to walking in winter weather.
posted by brozek at 3:47 PM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Has anyone mentioned Yak Trax yet? I live in DC and use them all the time in the winter on my walk to work.
posted by procrastination at 3:48 PM on January 29, 2011

Deep treads and rubber that has a bit of a soft feel to it, which means more grip. When walking, make sure to place each foot directly down with a strong, firm action (putting the energy of the step straight down is the key notion).
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:48 PM on January 29, 2011

When this native San Franciscan lived in Northern Michigan, I learned to "walk like a duck" in icy conditions. Point your toes out a bit and keep your feet well apart.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:50 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Winter walking requires a very different gait. You have to virtually eliminate any hip swing when it's slippery out. If it's really bad, a shuffle is truly the best approach - don't take your feet off the ground, just slide them forward. If you are lifting your feet, don't shift your weight onto the front foot until you can feel that that foot isn't going to slide away from you. And then don't move your back foot until your front foot is truly stopped where it is. It's more of a step-shiftweight-step-shiftweight, compared to usual walking which is more like falling forward and trusting your front foot to catch you each time. This will feel painfully slow until you get the hang of it.

Yak Trax are great, but don't wear them indoors. Not only are they ungodly slippery on indoor floors, they will do Very Bad Things to hardwood flooring.
posted by vytae at 3:54 PM on January 29, 2011

I just go with cheapo Columbia snowboots with the rubber lug sole, but again you have to stop every so often to knock the snow out of the treads.

If you're slipping a huge amount, do you maybe have other balance issues? I have some after a bad ankle sprain a few years ago and doing some therapy exercises with a wobble board a few times a week has vastly improved my ability to remain upright in the snow... ironic given that I sprained the ankle walking across ice in a hilly parking lot.
posted by lyra4 at 3:56 PM on January 29, 2011

I agree prevention is the key -- it's better to just walk more carefully than blow a bunch of money on expensive shoes. I've always lived in the Northeast. Some winters I never even got around to buying boots, and I was fine. Short stride, firm step, and going slow works for me. Also keep in mind that if the surface is very treacherous it's better to avoid it entirely. Don't walk down hills. If you see bare ice, it's better to walk in some snow or gravel, hold onto something as you're trying to walk, or take another route.
posted by unannihilated at 3:59 PM on January 29, 2011

When I lived in DC and Takoma Park and was subject to icier conditions than I'd encountered in all the years I lived in New England, I found that walking so that my heel and the front of my foot came down at the same time - as if I were stomping, but gently - I was less likely to slip.
posted by rtha at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2011

Best answer: First welcome to DC.

I can't speak from personal experience, but I saw a woman on the Metro removing these "ice grips" from what looked like an ordinary pair of Keens. They are also made by YakTrax, so I'm not sure if they'll be any better than your boots, but I was intrigued. Worse case scenario, even if they don't work as well as you'd hoped, they are not terribly expensive.

I grew up in Massachusetts, has rarely owned a proper pair of snow boots, or really any specifically winter type boot, and in my poor, student days got through the most of one winter in a flimsy pair of keds (until I stepped onto a piece of ice that broke and became a 6" icy puddle), and I rarely fall, although I have suffered a spill or two in my time. So maybe there is a special way of negotiating snow and ice that I just developed through regular exposure. Until you get your "snow legs", maybe these tips will help:

Obviously don't wear slippery leather soles. I've always been fine with any shoe, be they hiking boots or running shoes that tend to have rigid, "grippy" soles.

Make the transition from indoors to outdoors carefully and even tentatively. I think that's the most dangerous point, transitioning from indoor carpeting or a dry indoor floor to an icy sidewalk without checking your speed or balance can precipitate one of those cartoon character who just stepped on a banana peel spills.

Sometimes it's safer to walk to walk where there actually a little bit of snow than a shoveled walk with just a thin layer of snow on the surface. That thin layer is often a lot more slippery than a thicker layer that will give your shoes something to grip into.

Develop strong ankles and good balance. Yoga is particularly good for this. Honestly, while I never had a particular problem with snow and ice, I'd often take a tumble or twist my ankle walking on a regular sidewalk or street. After a taking yoga classes this has completely stopped and when I do stumble over the odd pebble or loose paving stone, I'm able to catch it and steady myself, before it turns into a full fall.

Hopefully others will chime in with tried and true snow boots, but since you already own a pair that has worked for others, I thought some other tips might help.
posted by kaybdc at 4:06 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

on preview too many grammatical errors to count. sorry!
posted by kaybdc at 4:08 PM on January 29, 2011

I've heard good things about those Yaktrak things (based on descriptions and the picture with your link--I'm not sure of brand).

However, I walk around in a very wintery city wearing normal shoes and sneakers, and I've fallen I think once in my adult life. I'm with brozek that walking style is the most important thing here. Are you marching around? Take small, shuffling steps. Look at the ground you're walking on.

Balance is important. If you have poor balance, consider doing something like tai chi. And assume that all surfaces are slippery until proven otherwise.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:09 PM on January 29, 2011

Best answer: DC really can be the land of ice. I come from the north and grew up with snow and ice, and I have trouble walking around here on the ice. You are not wrong to want to get some kind of ice cleats!

I have been using YaKTrax Walkers on the DC ice and my husband has been using Stabilicers Lite. I am about to get a pair of Stabilicers Lite because they seem to be a bit more durable than my YakTrax. As others point out, most of these ice cleat things are indeed slippery on indoor floors and Metro station tile floors, and it is a bit of a pain to keep taking them on and off, but my area is hilly, icy, and a lot of people make no effort to clear the sidewalks, so some kind of aid to walking is a really good idea in my neighborhood. DC seems to get enough ice storms to make getting stuff like this worthwhile, and we get this nasty - thaw in the day and refreeze at night - cycle going on which promotes black ice.

Cozy Winters is having a sale right now on this kind of thing.
posted by gudrun at 4:13 PM on January 29, 2011

Response by poster: Great points, thanks everyone, please keep the advice coming!
posted by invisible ink at 4:19 PM on January 29, 2011

It's hard to tell from the picture, but the Keen boot almost looks like it has a regular athletic shoe sole; I've always found athletic shoes to be terrible for staying upright on ice and snow. I've had good luck with some inexpensive leather boots from Payless Shoes, of all places. The key is the deep lugs on the sole and in taking short, deliberate steps.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:22 PM on January 29, 2011

If you get Yaktrax, get the stainless steel Pro version. Stabilicers IMHO are even less durable than regular Yaktrax. Neither will work on sheer/black ice; they simply aren't designed with aggressive traction.

Kahtoola Microspikes are my solution de jour; so far they are holding up to multiple walks a day, and unlike last year, I haven't fallen. Yet.

I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by vers at 4:27 PM on January 29, 2011

YakTrax work. For me, they totally took the fear out of walking on icy ground. It's bit of a pain in the neck to deal with the off-and-on, but worth it without a doubt.
posted by Corvid at 4:28 PM on January 29, 2011

Depending on what else you have in your hands, ski poles + non-slippery soled shoes work particularly well on icy uneven terrain. I didn't like YakTrax because they exacerbated my lower back pain (due to the fact, I think, that I was constantly going from icy to non-icy walkways).
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 4:43 PM on January 29, 2011

Walk on your toes, not your heels.

Free and works 100%! :)
posted by DrtyBlvd at 4:52 PM on January 29, 2011

Oh, and vers is right that the Microspikes are good, too. I haven't used them enough to speak to durability, and haven't used them for regular walking, but they are great as a lightweight crampon substitute for hiking. The reviews on the REI site for any of the suggested products might be helpful to you, incidentally.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:58 PM on January 29, 2011

(for example, here's the page for the Yak Trax, and pretty much all of the reviews mention that they break sooner than you would expect or hope. REI replaced all my pairs that broke for free, because REI is awesome like that, but it was really starting to get silly and I finally said to hell with it)
posted by charmedimsure at 5:07 PM on January 29, 2011

Ice skating helps. It teaches you how to relax and go with the slide when you slip slightly; rather than seizing up and having your feet flying out from underneath you.

But yeah walk on snow and expect ice with every step.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does DC get the pools of slush at the curbs like we do here in NYC? Regardless, do you think you'll be hiking or traveling in the colder parts of the Northeast? If yes, then get boots that are waterproof and reach your ankles so you have a chance of staying dry while getting some ankle stability. Winter gear is going on sale about this time so you should find some great deals.
posted by paindemie at 6:13 PM on January 29, 2011

Keep your knees bent, your body loose, your eyes on where you're going, and your steps tentative rather than commanding.

I spent 0-12 in Los Angeles and moved to Michigan just in time for a record-breaking winter. I've done winter (or late fall/early spring) in Texas, Connecticut, Ohio, Virginia, and DC, and the above has been sufficient. I suggest also that you practice walking on straight-up ice - take up broom hockey or find a frozen pond in a park. Practice makes perfect.
posted by SMPA at 6:20 PM on January 29, 2011

Best answer: Walk on crunchy surfaces (frozen slush or snow or grass) if you can, much better than flat surfaces with ice.
If you must walk on a flat surface with ice: try to find a handhold, walk along edge of a building etc.

Stride: Your goal is keep your center of gravity over your back (stable) foot until you can test that the front foot is on a stable non-slippy surface. Then keep your stride short so that your center of gravity never has to make a big move; avoid building momentum. So - short steps, and take your time. This also lets you survey your route to see if you can avoid ice further along.

Also: be sure your hands are always out of your pockets when walking in slick areas. If you fall, you need your hands out to break the fall, or else your chin will. Ask me how I know.
If your hands get cold easily, get mittens rather than gloves -- mittens are much warmer than any glove. "Thrummed" wool mittens are the warmest kind, but may be overkill.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:04 PM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

On re-reading, I think vytae has done a nice job describing the kid of gait I mean - "step-shiftweight-step-shiftweight" as separate things.

The point about being especially careful at transition points (indoor to outdoor) is an excellent one.

I've never used the Yaktrax or related things, but do use a pair of Columbia boots with the deep treads. I still avoid ice whenever possible, even when it means going a different route; when you can't avoid it, the best method is slow, slow, slow.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:15 PM on January 29, 2011

I've got a pair of YakTrax. The sole is like a thick, plastic tube stretched across the bottom of your shoe, and the metal is coiled around the tubing. On the one hand, ever since I bought the YakTrax, I have never fallen on ice or snow. So, there's that. I don't feel 100% secure with them, though. I feel like it's better for certain terrains which might not be what you're experiencing in a metropolitan setting. I felt that they were best for impacted snow (a harder snow) with a slippery surface. If the snow was more slushy in spots, there really wasn't anything for it to grab at. Walking on bare pavement that has nothing slippery and nothing for the metal coils to grab at feels sort of dangerous.. at the very least as if you might cause damage to the coils, if it wouldn't actually cause a fall of its own. So, basically, I found it to be most successful on harder snow or really thick ice that could be penetrated by the coils. Otherwise, it would (or could) cause more problems than it could solve. Finally, the YakTrax (for me, anyway) are a bit of a pain to put on. I have terrible balance, so I need to sit to put them on, and you really can't leave them on and walk around when you're indoors (very similar experience to walking on bare pavement, above). Basically, I wouldn't recommend them for walking around town or a city. Usually, I would attempt to walk in the snow instead of the pathway when I was wearing them because I felt more stable, and that kind of defeats the purpose.
posted by Mael Oui at 10:25 PM on January 29, 2011

I live in New York, have successfully walked on icy sidewalks for years. But this year (obviously) it's a whole new ballgame. So far I have been using nothing but my shoes, and I've largely been OK.

One thing I'll say - the only time I've fallen hard into the ice/snow/slush, I was wearing my good Doc Martens with great traction. As others have said, it's not about the boots, it's about the stride.

In my opinion, it's all balance. As pakoothefakoo says, you sort of have to slide into it. And go slower, of course.

There's also a bit of a science to it. In the dark, I'll choose to trudge through snow rather than walk on the supposedly "cleared" path, which, chances are, has frozen over. It's hard to slide in the snow - it's a stable, even gritty, surface. The real risk is paths that look clear but you can't tell exactly what the surface texture is.
posted by Sara C. at 10:54 PM on January 29, 2011

Absolutely take the YakTrax off. My father in law was wearing YakTrax on his shoes (forgot he had them on) and slipped on the floor and hurt his leg.

As Sara C. mentions, the real trick is choosing the right surface to walk on, more so than the shoe itself.

Another menace to look out for: once snow starts melting, slush will float above the melted water. So on corners it will look like you're about to step on just a bit of slush when actually you're going to step onto 2 inches of slush floating above 4-5 inches (or more! yay!) of ice-cold water. I always try to lean my foot out gently and tap on the slush, just to make sure it's solid under neath and not floating on water.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:21 PM on January 29, 2011

You avoid walking on clean, smooth ice whenever possible. Snow, dirty ice, frozen grass, snow drifts, are all safer.

Where your shoe meets the ice, you have some static friction and with your movements you are trying to minimize any forces that might overcome the static position of your foot.

For the times you have to walk on sheet-of-glass or, worse, rippled frozen ice, you step down rather than forward. You maintain balance at each step, with no side-to-side component and a minimum of forward momentum. Your stride should be shorter than normal, and when your lead foot comes down it comes down with less forward force than the usual walk, which is more like controlled falling forward.
posted by zippy at 11:28 PM on January 29, 2011

When this native San Franciscan lived in Northern Michigan, I learned to "walk like a duck" in icy conditions. Point your toes out a bit and keep your feet well apart.

Yup. I grew up in Michigan, and walking on ice requires an entirely different gait than you may be used to. You don't really need to walk like a duck, although it can look like it. Just don't put any energy into your walk. Walk as neutrally as possible. Don't try to walk fast, don't try to walk straight, just walk as gently and as upright as possible. Much like driving over black ice, if you try to put any power into it, you will fall on you butt. You are guaranteed to look stupid, but it beats the hell out of falling on your butt. The key is to keep your weight balanced above your feet, not ahead and not behind. Upright and without vigor is the key.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:05 AM on January 30, 2011

Forget funny footwear. YakTrax and the like are great for navigating icy trails in the woods but not really the answer for city sidewalks. The best and simplest option is to walk with a cane. This gives you a third point and adds a great amount of stability to your stride.
posted by yclipse at 2:27 AM on January 30, 2011

My mother in law, who has balance issues, likes to use either one or two children's ski poles to help her balance with snow and ice.

Point of information, as I indicated above, I've used ice cleat type stuff both in the country and the city successfully (been using them in DC for several years). My neighborhood in the DC area is one long hill that I have to kind of slide slowly down to get to the subway stop I use for commuting. We often get icy conditions. I've never been in a place with as much ice as we get in the DC area. I long for reguar snow! We also often get snow that people walk on and then thaws and then freezes so you get this thick layer of bumpy ice. People walk in the street when they can (risking death from our crazy traffic), or walk on the grass or dirt where the snow is, rather than walking on the ice, but sometimes you wind up walking on the ice.

All the advice on how to walk is spot on, and I do practice this type of walk even when wearing ice cleats, as they are not a magic solution to walking on ice, or on snow that is half ice, but my experience is they have really helped me for city walking (including after one particularly bad ice storm a couple of years ago where several people I know broke wrists, arms and other body parts after falls on ice).
posted by gudrun at 6:46 AM on January 30, 2011

My best winter shoes (in New York) have surprisingly been my rubber rain boots. They're not fancy, but I haven't slipped once. I'm still very careful stepping on and off sidewalks, and up and down stairs. But they've served me well on icy sidewalks, stomping through pools of slush, and treading through shin-high piles of snow. The boots (along with a good pair of long socks) manage to keep my feet warm, and I switch to a normal pair of shoes at work.
posted by zerbinetta at 9:49 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

As LobsterMitten said - whatever you wear on your feet, keep your hands free, because if you fall forward, you'll want to catch yourself on your hands (if not your butt), not your chin. People who grew up with snow might do that instinctively, but people who didn't need to learn it.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:40 AM on January 30, 2011

In addition to the modified gait people above have talked about, I've gotten into the habit of applying a slight twisting force to my foot each time I place it on the ground in front of me, before actually putting weight on it, to test the grip. Once you're in the habit of it, it doesn't slow your stride much. I twist the foot to test, instead of pushing it forwards/backwards/sideways, because if it slips then, it doesn't affect balance as much, because you're putting no net force on it.

I think learning ice skating is helpful. It will get you comfortable with maintaining balance with one extra degree of freedom: slipping forwards and backwards. (Skates do provide a lot of grip laterally though, so its not exactly the same as walking on ice.)
posted by Hither at 12:44 PM on January 30, 2011

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