Six types of foot traction: Left to Right: HT Fishing, Under arch creeper, YakTrax, Stabalizer, 10 stud carbide, MicroSpikes (red)
Summary: During winter, foot traction is really important on the ice and on the sidewalk. Getting on or off the ice often involves climbing over inclined ice or rock. Crossing rubble bands and jumbled ice goes much better with traction than with normal boot soles or skates.
Steel spikes have the best grip on ice and are the longest for walking on ice with a thin snow cover. Carbide studs are best for all surfaces and do less damage to wood surfaces. Coiled wire types are good in snow but not so good on cold ice and other hard surfaces.
My recommendation: Micro-spikes for something you are going to put on another shoe and Icebugs for a shoe you will wear in all conditions. For something you are going to put in your pack, Yak Trax (with the velcro retentions strap) are the lightest and have reasonable traction on warm ice even if they are on the slippery side on cold ice or around town.
Details: Some ice traction aids work well on ice but are slippery on hard, smooth surfaces. Some work OK on warm ice but are slippery on ice at temperatures that are well below freezing. This article reviews the effectiveness of different types on soft and hard ice, linoleum, tile and quartz rich granite. The method is to stand on the test surface and increase the angle until just before the shoe slips off. The performance is shown in the following table as slope of the surface in degrees.
MicroSpikes have not been tested on all these surfaces yet but they should have performance similar to other hard steel spike systems( Stabalizers, HT Fishing)
Sneakers on ice are 2 to 3 degrees. Below 5 degrees is just plain slippery. Anything over about 10 degrees is OK. Over 20 degrees is pretty darn good. The best system stuck at 42 degrees.
Traction aids can be either shoes with spikes (track shoes and Ice Bugs) or rubber traction aids you pull over your shoes. There are three traction approaches:
1. Coiled, hard steel wire (Yak Trax and Snow Trax)
2. Steel teeth molded into rubber or spikes screwed into track shoes
3. Tungsten carbide studs
The best systems have reasonable and similar grip on all surfaces so you can predict how they will behave. They also need to stay on your feet well. The coiled wire types are good in packed snow, OK on warm ice and slippery on almost everything else. If you go that route, get a type with an 'over the foot strap' to help keep them on your feet. One significant advantage of Yak Tracks is they are 1/3 the weight of some other types.
The steel tooth systems work well on ice and pretty well on smooth surfaces.
The carbide stud systems wear well and have relatively uniform grip on a range of surfaces but they do not have as much traction on ice as something with longer teeth like track spikes of the HT fishing cleats or Microspikes. Most of the items tested are new so their bite on hard surfaces was probably better than it will be once the edges round off after a few miles of walking on concrete. If you are walking on snow over ice and the packed thickness of the snow is thicker than the spikes, you are depending only on the grip between the snow and ice surfaces. That can be pretty good or pretty slippery, depending on the conditions.
Ice Bug shoes are, in my opinion, the best option for overall winter use. They are expensive ($80-$140/pair) but they are very cheap compared to the most minor injury from a fall. They have 15 studs, more than other carbide traction aids. (Note: some Icebug styles have a removable rubber stud system. They have about half as many studs). Icebugs have reasonable grip on all surfaces and stay on your feet better than other systems, they wear well, and are more comfortable. When walking on ice, especially if there is a little snow on the ice, they may slide an inch or so before gripping the ice. This may take a little getting use to. The large number of studs and the way they are put in the shoe makes them easier on floors and wooden docks. I wear them into stores although I usually take them off when faced with walking on wood floors. I have a four year old pair that have seen many pavement miles, lots of wading on wet days, climbing over rip-rap, etc. They have stood up to this abuse well.
- Icebugs offer the best overall system for north country living. Having had them for a while, it is hard to imagine walking the dog without them. They also have a nice stud length for bike pedals when riding studded tire bikes on the ice.
- Track shoes are best for sailing. They are light for fast starts and you can put what ever size cleats you need in them. Larger boat sailors often use other systems as they don't run as much.
- For systems you put on your shoes, either Micro-spikes, Stabilizers or HT Fishing cleats have good grip on a range of surfaces. Stabilizers seem a little more prone to coming off your shoes while walking on rough surfaces. They are also a little tippy when walking on hard surfaces but this is easy to get use to. I have lost a couple of Stabilizers wading water with a mud bottom. An 'over the foot' tie down will make this less likely.
- With the HT cleats, you need to remember that they only have spikes under the front of the feet (like track spikes). This is easy to get use to and helpful if you are crossing a soft surface like someone's dock or standing on an iceboat plank.
- Speaking of docks, I know several dock owners who have objected to the marks left by many of these traction aids. Please take them off when walking on docks to keep their owners happy as they often control our access to ice. Icebugs are least likely to leave marks on wood surfaces but even those might leave small indentations.
- The Snow Trax did not perform well and came off my shoes easily.
- The Danforth carbide studded Traction-Aids also came off my shoes too easily on rough surfaces and they lost studs more quickly than other systems.
Weights of different types (grams/two):
Yak Tracks: 152 g
Under arch creeper: 153 g
HT : 244 g
Stabalizers: 356 g
Micro Spikes: 430 g
Bob - Updated 11-1-2013