Winter north of the border is no joke. I live in Toronto, Canada which is both the greatest city in the world during the summertime and a treacherous death trap once winter rolls around every November. Every year, I dread being dragged down the icy sidewalks by my large and exuberant dog, anticipating rolled ankles and knee pain. With many city workers calling in sick the past couple of years, the streets haven’t exactly been consistently salted, and windy days giving you an extra push can bring even more instability into the mix.
A couple of winters back, a nasty fall on a patch of black ice gave me a painful wrist fracture that could have been avoided had I known the proper tactics. Now, I’m much more prepared when a snowstorm is headed our way, and I’m here to share some valuable nuggets of wisdom from the Great White North to keep you safe, even when outside looks like a skating rink. Even if you don’t live in arctic-like conditions like me, the hacks will help you stay as prepared as possible the next time snow is on your local forecast.
How to Not Slip On The Ice: Nail Your Walk
To start with, learn how to walk on the ice with the right technique, regardless of whether you’re wearing slip-resistant footwear. Try to walk in fluffy snow when possible, as compacted snow can turn into ice more quickly. Instead of increasing speed and picking up your feet, try to pace yourself by pushing your feet along the ice rather than picking them up, which will allow you to maintain balance. A penguin walk can also help. While this style of walking doesn’t exactly have swagger, it will prevent a trip to the emergency room, so we think it’s worth it. Walking like a penguin means walking flatfooted with feet spread and a center of gravity that’s kept forward. Use your hands at your sides to provide more balance.
Certified movement and mobility coach Leila Panjvani, who also happens to be a cold weather dweller, shares her thoughts on the best way to walk in icy conditions.
“I’d recommend finding boots that have a bit more room for your toes to spread open, and room for your metatarsals (the boney bits your toes sprout from) to spread and contract little. Even if the movement is tiny, making sure your foot isn’t squeezed in too tightly makes a huge difference with how your foot is able to absorb shock.
Your feet send subconscious signals to your brain to help it understand what your environment is like. So if you don’t want to slip, make sure your footwear is flat and comfortable first. This way, your brain can interpret your surroundings even if you’re distracted by other thoughts. Walk slower than you want to, to avoid Unnecessary momentum and have your arms free.
Lastly, always keep a small bend in the knees for safety. When legs are hyperextended, the body has no extra space to balance itself out and we tend to fall. If you imagine yourself almost snowboarding, you’ll turn on more muscles and will also reduce the risk of putting pressure on less reactive joints.”
Even if you’ve nailed your technique, there are some products that can make a huge difference and up your confidence when that snow freezes over. From men’s snow boots to Canada Goose jackets that can break your fall, these are our top picks.
Buy some slip-resistant shoes made to handle ice
Surprisingly, not all boots marketed for hiking can actually help prevent slipping on ice. While my Timberlands are great for dry hikes and trail adventures, they’re a slippery nightmare when that dreaded ice comes around. The most reliable brands include Sperry and Merrell which are designed to be more comfortable on slippery surfaces. Along with great sole traction, you can also look for boots or shoes that have ankle supports. This is another way to increase stability and prevent ankle strains if a fall does occur.
Invest in a liquid de-icer
This might not be relevant for apartment dwellers, but if the same patch of ice is wreaking havoc over and over, use a liquid de-icer, which directly penetrates ice frozen on top of a surface preventing slips from happening. Applying it to your driveway or front yard area before a storm can help prep the pavement if ice freezes over it.
Invest in a solid traction system or walking assistant
Even the best hiking boots are no match for hidden ice patches – I was wearing my sturdy, usually reliable Ecco boots when my fracture happened, and devices like trekking poles, shoe spikes and walking sticks would have made a huge difference. If flailing arms make you nervous, a third point of stability can be helpful, and many people even use trekking poles on urban excursions. These sticks or poles can also act as a warning system, allowing you to probe potentially slippery areas before actually making contact with them.
Try barefoot shoes
Although there are tons of anti-slip devices to improve traction as well as high-top shoes that keep ankles safe, if you’re able to afford it, Vivo Barefoot Shoes are the way to go. The brand has an entire line of boots and winter-appropriate shoes that keep you warm but with one game-changing difference – they’re actually designed to fit all the nuances of the human foot and allow you to walk the way you would when barefoot. This can help strengthen feet and toes along with reducing the risk of ankle or knee injuries which are all too common in cold and icy weather.
Get a jacket that is long and padded, but can unzip from the bottom
Mobility is key if you don’t want to embarrass (and bruise) yourself on the ice this winter. Long, puffy down jackets are great because they keep you warm in bitter temperatures and can also provide a cushioned surface to fall on with their padding so that you don’t have to worry about hurting your backside. Canada goose-down jackets are ideal for this scenario – I have the Mystique, which checks all those boxes and also keeps me toasty in sub-zero temps – the Westmount is a good alternative for men, as is this cool reversible parka from Nobis.
Use gloves for better mobility
How exactly can gloves help you in terms of learning how to not slip on ice like a pro? People that don’t invest in warm gloves tend to keep their hands in their pockets, which isn’t great for balance. Having your arms free and out at your sides will provide a lot more balance, so keeping those fingers toasty by other measures (there are even heated gloves for maximum coziness) can help reduce the likelihood of falls. Plus, if a slip does occur, it’s better to have your hands readily available to support you rather than stuffed in your pockets.