Walking through packed snow and ice with a little more confidence


:: Wendy :: invited several her friends to join her in some tea two weeks ago, and during the conversation, LaCroix recommended a product called Yaktrax. It’s a lightweight little mesh that straps to the bottom of your shoe and acts like miniature tire chains, but for your shoes. Two of my friends acted on this tip immediately and had their pairs ready in time for our next snowstorm. I, on the other hand, was slow to act and was caught unprepared.

It was a sight to behold. Not the storm but the effect of the storm on traffic. I had never before seen a traffic jam on Microsoft Way. (A friend of mine reported that it took somebody on his team forty-five minutes just to get from level 2 to level 1 of the parking garage!) One of my colleagues had an eye on the weather and left as soon as it started turning bad. We called his mobile phone two hours later to find out how the commute was. “Was? I’m still on the road!” It ultimately took three hours to travel what normally takes 30 minutes.

Based on what was obviously a regional traffic standstill, several of us decided simply to wait it out. We grabbed dinner in the cafeteria (which was, not surprisingly, much busier than the cafeterias normally are in the evening), and returned to our offices, where we ran across one of our corridor-mates coming into the building.

“Don’t go out there. It took me a half hour just to get to Building Q.”

Building Q was the building right next door.

I decided to walk home, and even at the late hour, traffic near Microsoft campus was still gridlocked. I found myself walking significantly faster than the cars were moving (or, more often, not moving). If only I had a walker, I could have shuffled down the sidewalk faster than the cars. That would really have showed them.

Anyway, back to the Yaktrax. My friends loaned me a pair since I was walking to and from the bus stop because the roads in my neighborhood were covered in ice, and unlike some people, I had the presence of mind not to drive under such conditions. (For those who care, the bus stop is on a major road that remained navigable.)

My review: Yaktrax worked great. Small, lightweight, somewhat of a struggle to put on (probably easier to do sitting down). It’s not like walking with crampons; there are no spikes. You can wear them onto the bus without any qualms, and you can even walk on carpet without causing damage. I don’t recommend walking on linoleum with them, however, because the coils don’t grip onto the slick surface. Despite the ad copy, I wouldn’t recommend running with them on ice. They enable you to walk on snow or on snow-covered ice at a normal pace, and they add enough grip to take what used to be “impossible to walk without slipping and falling on the ice” and turns it into “you can walk if you go carefully.”

You can get them on Amazon, of course, but I ordered mine from REI.

Comments (17)
  1. Tim Smith says:

    I wonder how different they grip compared to hiking shoes.  Up here in the Great White North (Edmonton, Alberta) a lot of people including me just wear hiking shoes all the time.  I really don’t have much problem on ice.

  2. lacroix says:

    Hahaha… Yes, they are much easier to put on sitting down.  I like them because they pack so small (I keep mine in a ziplock bag in my day pack) and they are cheap.  I did find that walking in really deep snow (3+ feet) caused one to pop off but it also could have been loose or not firmly attached to begin with.  After putting it back on, I had no other troubles with them.  They work well in mud too.

  3. Gunnlaugur says:

    And they say computer people have no fashion sense. ;)

    For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen anyone use ice-walking aids like these, in my thirty years in … well, Iceland. (Yeah, appeal to authority and all that.)

    You should not overlook the merits of ice. Walking on it tones the inner thighs nicely (because of the effort of orienting one’s step force near-vertically to minimize slippage). Slipping on it improves reflexes and balance. And falling on it raises one’s pain tolerance, when repeated over a long period. And culls the ranks of the elderly.

    I realize I should have skipped that last one. I’m feeling unusually mischievous today. Sorry.

  4. Bob says:

    Regarding the walker, what did you have in mind? Reenacting the credits from Office Space?

  5. Tyler Reddun says:

    Ya, the traffic was bad, though 520 into Redmond was no worse then normal if you were taking the Advindale exit.

    Though I have to say, the pedestrions caused as much trouble as the snow. It was very common to see them crossing EVERYWHERE and whenever they wanted. I was sitting at a light, I had the green and the room to actualy move when a dozen people wonder though the intersection, right in front of me, blocking my way.

    I saw this the whole trip home. People thinking because it was a traffic jam that they can cross when and wherever they wanted. I think a good 1/5th of the slowdown was because of them.

  6. Matt Green says:

    Did you review the normal version of these, or the Pros? Why wouldn’t anyone just opt to get the Pro version, unless they both offer the same amount of grip. It is difficult to tell from the site what the differences are.

    [It was the Tracker version. From the pictures, it looks like the Pro has a strap that goes over the shoe and is heavier duty. -Raymond]
  7. JenK says:

    Oy. I was in Kirkland. 20 minutes to get out of my parking lot. I settled into a Starbucks to wait for traffic to die down. I also did this the night of the big windstorm. If I can’t go home for 2-3 hours, at least I should have coffee, chocolate and internet to console me. And having the DOT traffic page up makes me very popular with the non-laptop-toting patrons…

  8. I’ve seen USPS workers use similar devices when delivering mail here (in Colorado). They sound pretty spiffy…I may have to get some.

  9. JuanLang says:

    I used to use these to go running in Anchorage.  Worked for me.  Most of my running was on snow-covered trails, and running shoes usually gave me enough grip – but running across streets was hazardous.  Not so with Yaktrax.  I usually didn’t bother with them, and just skated across streets, but on really snowy days when the trails were too deep to be any fun, they made the streets more safe.

    Running on icy surfaces is nice for your form, too – you learn not to overstride.

  10. Mike says:

    I had picked up some el-cheapo traction devices at Target prior to the first time it snowed.  5 bucks.

    The worked fine, the first and only time I was able to wear them.  They had fallen apart the second time I had tried to put them on.  I’d probably try them once again if I could find them.

    Mike

  11. N. Velope says:

      One of the great spectator sports in Canada is watching a sequence of people exit a bus onto an icy sidewalk, then doing the arm-waving-balancing act.  Its also fun watching a cat/dog walk across snow with a thin ice crust, occasionally falling through the crust up to their armpits :)

  12. mugg says:

    Another great new footwear thing at REI are Chacos.

    Man, my teva’s got to stink, and now my chacos don’t smell at all. At least that’s what I think.

  13. ::Wendy:: says:

    For some reson REI don’t stock ‘small’ or provide an option to order ‘small’,  maybe they think only BIG people risk walking in the snow and ice,  maybe I should stay at home… …no wait…  Amazon is less size-ist…

  14. mirobin says:

    Tyler, you should have been glad those dozen people weren’t in cars sitting in front of you.  The fact that it took you 30 seconds longer to pull through the intersection before coming to a stop did not impact the length of your trip home at all — you still pulled forward and you still stopped at the same location you were bitching about not being able to pull into.

  15. Mark says:

    Wendy: The REI store in Remdond had small YakTrax – I presume you’re talking about the online REI store?

  16. Cooney says:

    Tyler, you should have been glad those dozen people weren’t in cars sitting in front of you.

    Why? It’s perfectly reasonable to get pissed at that sort of behavior.

  17. Could have used those in college.  I went to school way up in northern NY, which is pretty famous for cold and crappy weather.  The one rule is this: class is NEVER CANCELLED for weather.  Ever.  In four years, the only time anything was ever cancelled was for a bomb threat.

    One evening we got a huge snowstorm, an ice storm, and then it immediately got just above freezing and rained.  All right after each other.

    That day I got up and walked from my off-campus apartment, downhill, over slippery water-covered ice sitting on top of 2 feet of unstable snow.  It took me about 45 minutes, but I made to it class on time for my 8am class.  I didn’t even fall.

    And…

    The door to the building was locked.  Oh yeah, I wonder why I didn’t see anyone else walking out there?  I was concentrating so hard on walking I didn’t notice the quad was deserted.

    I turned to walk home… and immediately wheelhoused onto my ass.  Fell about 15 more times on the way home.

    I think school opened a few hours later.  I just stayed in bed for the rest of the day.

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