The Best Boots for Walking on Slippery Ice, According to Science
Walking in a winter wonderland can be beautiful, but it can also be downright treacherous if you don’t have the right footwear. So a team of Canadian scientists wants to help you stay safe this upcoming season: They tested the slip resistance of nearly 100 winter boots and published their rankings and top picks—six men’s and two women’s styles—in a consumer-friendly online database.
We’re talking serious testing, too. Researchers at iDAPT and WinterLab, research facilities at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network, teamed up to develop the first-of-its-kind Maximum Acheivable Angle (MAA) testing method to test footwear’s grippiness (or slippiness) using real people in simulated winter conditions. (The underground WinterLab can recreate sub-zero temperatures, snow- and ice-covered movable surfaces, and winds up to 18 miles per hour.)
Tests were done on both bare ice and melting ice, while participants walked uphill and downhill wearing different boots. The largest angle reached before the participant slipped, during any of these conditions, was recorded as the MAA score for each pair of boots.
The researchers tested 98 pairs of boots, in the categories of safety and casual footwear, available in Canada. But only 8 percent of these—three pairs of safety boots and five pairs of casual boots—met the minimum criteria to be considered top picks.
These eight pairs all received a ranking of one "snowflake” out of a possible three, meaning that their MAAs were between 7 and 10 degrees. (Ontario's accessibility guidelines specify that curb ramps have a slope of 7 degrees at most.) None of the boots tested received more than one snowflake.
Women’s shoes were particularly underrepresented on the top picks lists. In the casual category, only the Sperry Powder Valley Vibram Arctic Grip Boot ($126) received a snowflake, with a score of 9. In the safety category, only the Marks Dakota CTCP Transitional Boot (only available in Canada) made the cut, with a score of 8.
Two specific technologies stood out among all the boots that were tested: Green Diamond and Vibram’s Arctic Grip. Shoes outfitted with these proprietary outsoles have special materials designed to provide better traction on wet ice, the researchers say, which may reduce the risk of slips and falls.
The researchers were surprised that so few boots passed the minimum requirements, but are excited to share their findings—and encourage consumers to request other shoes they’d like to see put to the test. For the first time, they say, shoppers now have slip-resistant ratings for shoes, similar to the ratings available for winter tires.
"This is another example of how research at Toronto Rehab provides practical help to prevent accidents and disability,” said Research Director Geoff Fernie, Ph.D., in a press release. “I expect that many serious and life-changing injuries will be prevented this winter by people choosing to buy better non-slip footwear."
Fernie also expects these tests to have even more impact in the future, as the lab is currently testing shoe prototypes that can hold their grip on slopes greater than 10—or even 15—degrees. His team hopes to work with manufacturers to get these technologies into production and onto store shelves within two years.