Even in the best winter boots money can buy, it’s only a matter of time before you hit a slick patch of ice and fall. Because unless you’re hiking in crampons, you’re relying on plain old rubber treads. And as your bruised tailbone knows, rubber is more or less useless on ice.
Now, a team of Canadian researchers has developed a boot with a stickier rubber bottom that can grip slick ice. The secret? Researchers embedded a rubber-plastic polymer boot sole with thousands of glass fibers. The surface feels like sandpaper on your hand; at the microscopic level, it features countless tiny spikes. As you walk, those spikes dig through the invisible layers of water that actually make ice slippery, penetrate the ice’s hard surface, and provide traction, even when you’re hiking up an icy grade. (The researchers can attest to this fact because they tested the boots in a special simulator that tilts an entire ice-floored room.)
The catch: Researchers believe that hard non-ice surfaces such as concrete will wear down the microtreads over time. It’s not clear how quickly that happens from the published paper, and the treads don’t appear to be ground down by ice-exclusive walking at all. But the risks are clear: If there’s any pedestrian activity more dangerous than walking on ice, it’s walking too confidently on ice, assuming you’re wearing some sort of magic boot when the magic has worn off. The team plans to continue refining the technology before bringing the boots to market.