Rob Burbank's Outdoors with the AMC: Icy trails call for traction underfoot

By ROB BURBANK February 02. 2018 7:02PM
Winter hikers have several choices when it comes to traction devices that attach to boots. (GETTY IMAGES/FLAVIO VALLENARI)

Recent weather patternshave led to slick conditions in some spots, but luckily for hikers (and dog-walkers and snow-shovelers), the marketplace offers several varieties of traction devices you can attach to your boots to help you safely navigate ice and snow.

If you're not heading into steep terrain where snow and ice abound and crampons are necessary, you may want to consider alternatives. For less demanding terrain, several options exist among lighter traction aids that improve grip. Check manufacturers' specifications to be sure the devices you choose are appropriate for the terrain in which you will be traveling.

What follows is an overview of some of the traction devices out there. This is not a comprehensive list, but, rather, a sampler. Endorsements are neither intended nor implied.

Today's traction devices may incorporate a footbed that fits under your boot and attaches with straps, or a flexible rubber or synthetic harness that stretches and grabs onto your boot. Attached beneath the foot are the components that help keep you upright. The technology here varies.

Some manufacturers employ a steel spike-and-chain system, others use metal cleats, needle-like spikes, or coiled steel wire to improve grip in slippery conditions.

These alternatives are typically lighter and easier to pack than traditional crampons.

Check out your favorite outdoor outfitter to compare options.

Be sure the size of the device you choose is a good fit with your footwear. Felt-lined pac boots typically have a larger profile than hiking boots, for instance, and some traction devices are designed to fit with running shoes.

Snowshoes are another option for winter locomotion. Most models now include built-in traction devices that can help in the navigation of hard-packed or icy snow.

Hiking poles or ski poles can also contribute to stability on the trail.

Rob Burbank is Director of External Relations for the Appalachian Mountain Club ( in Pinkham Notch. His column, "Outdoors with the AMC," appears monthly in the Sunday News.

Outdoors with the AMCWinter Fun

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