Traction Assist: The Winter in Review

Well, after a truly mighty winter here in the Northeast, spring accelerated dramatically over the course of last week. We had such a spectacular amount of snow that it’s still not all melted even after a full week of temps in the high 50s and above (yesterday it was reading 81° F on my car’s external temp readout when I was on my way home from Bangor!), but we’ve definitely turned the corner.

It happens, thanks to a convergence of a few unfortunate topographical circumstances, that my driveway spends most of the winter as a sheet of ice sloping deceptively gently down toward the street. What usually happens is that, after each major snowfall of the year, we have the plow guy come scrape it out (he can’t just plow forward because there’s a barn in the way), leaving about an inch of hard-packed snow in the driveway, and then, almost invariably, we have a day or two with temps juuust above freezing, so that that layer of snow partially melts and converts into glare ice. Gravity does a better job than a Zamboni. Salt laughs at an ice layer this thick (and never mind the square footage involved).

As such, I have a certain attachment to traction assistance devices. These are, admittedly, not electronic, but they do represent an application of technology for purposes of convenience (and safety), so I submit that they are, in their way, gizmos.

The previous winter (2006-2007), I used a pair of 32north STABILicers Lite, which are basically light-duty crampons that attach to one’s shoes with a stretchy rubber framework. They’re easy to install, require no modifications to the shoes, and do no damage to said shoes while in place, and they work pretty well on what you might call “casual” ice and snow. You wouldn’t want to try using them for, say, ice climbing, or on an Everest expedition, but they were fine for bringing my murderous driveway under control.

They do have drawbacks, though. The main problem is the other edge of how easy they are to apply – they’re only held on by the tension in their rubber framework. As such, if you happen to walk like I do, with your toes turned outward a bit, they twist around the shoe, so you tend to walk them off your feet in a relatively short distance. I managed to lose one in a snowdrift on an expedition across the back yard last winter and only found it after taking a rake to the yard in a fit of pique.

Fast-forward to last fall; I’d spent a chunk of the late summer/early fall in the hospital and most of my house was rearranged or remodeled while I was in there. As winter set in, I couldn’t find the STABILicers anywhere, and I wasn’t about to face life behind the Ireland Ice Shelf without them or something like them (especially since my summer’s adventure specifically involved balance and motor control problems, full recovery or not). A trip to the Dick’s Sporting Goods in the Bangor Mall didn’t turn any up, but it yielded something that turned out to be better: YakTrax Pro.

These things are terrific. The STABILicers aren’t bad (and I eventually found them, so I’ll certainly be keeping them around for backup purposes), but the YakTrax are more stable, more comfortable, and – thanks to the Velcro strap – they stay on even under the duress of my Groucho Marx walk. They’re slightly trickier to put on because of the strap, but not outrageously, and they also do no harm to shoes they’re put on. Over the course of the winter, I used mine on a pair of cross-trainers, a pair of Doc Martens hikers, and a pair of LaCrosse galoshes, with success across the board.

I think the added stability comes from the fact that the YakTrax have metal coils instead of spikes – they concentrate ground pressure, which is how all such traction aids work, but onto more and larger points. They don’t cause as much damage to other surfaces (e.g., wooden exterior stairs) as the spikey type, either.

They do have drawbacks, but they’re mainly the drawbacks common to all such devices. They shouldn’t be worn indoors, as they can damage floors, and anyway, you wouldn’t want to be wearing them on any hard, smooth floors, because that’s about as bad traction-wise as not wearing them on ice. As such, they have to be removed and put back on if (for example) you’re going to the store, which can be kind of a pain. Still, compared to slamming repeatedly to the ground while trying to get across the driveway, I’ll take that.

About Gryphon

In his career - well, not so much a career as a series of interesting but usually ill-advised vocational choices, if we're being honest - Benjamin D. Hutchins has been a tech support grunt, an Internet operations tech, a small-town print reporter, a public relations writer, and a semiprofessional muser upon the random. Now he's working on several books (none of which, just to buck tradition, is the Great American Novel), eyeing the relentless march of personal gadget technology with bemusement and often suspicion, and wondering what's with these kids today, with their clothes and their hair and that stuff they think is music.His first book, Off the Top of My Head: Personal Reflections of a Small-Town Newsman, can be had here or here.
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  • Tim

    I’m in the North East too, out in the middle of farm land. The town trucks don’t get to my road for quite some time. I like the YakTrax Pro, they would be great to put on my Sorel Snow Bear boots. Hopefully I won’t have to worry about this in a couple of years when I will be watching the kids shovel the driveway from the front window.

  • hdtivo

    I have a similar situation with the driveway; I prefer to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own each time, before the limits of my ability to procrastinate are tested.

  • heather

    We just endured our first ice storm of the season (last I hope?) and nearly fractured my arm coming down my driveway. Without a beat I sourced a traction device for myself to avoid future injury. I did not do much searching but went online and found‘s site and purchased my first pair of Stabilicers and I LOVE THEM!!! I have now purchased a few pairs as gifts for family (my brother is a UPS driver and deals with slips all the time) I have not personally tried Yaktrax so i cannot speak for their performance but I can tell you first hand that I am finding Stabilicers to be awesome and they seem very rugged and durable. I ordered the Stabilicer Sport for my sister-in-law – a distance runner who just moved to BC. That will be the true test- she is not used to icy conditions so i will see what her report says but they seem very rugged and durable so I am confident she will love them as much as I do – all around useful product!

  • Gryphon

    Over the last week or so, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a pair of the STABILicers overshoes. I’ve never tried the really heavy-duty circular-cleat 32 North products, just the “lite” version, and the overshoes look like they’d be just the thing for those trips to places where I can’t wear them at the destination end, but I need them to get to (and back to the house from) the car.

  • Gryphon

    Oh – and as an aside, I’ll be interested to find out how the STABILicer Sport model does; I’ve never seen those in real life either.

  • Heather

    I will let you know how she does with them – No doubt they will be wonderful. The design looks superb. Sounds like a good idea to get the overshoe version – again, I think they fit just the need for some light -med hiking AND those who might work outside (delivery people, construction workers, etc). I am sold on their products and willing to pay more if need be for a product that will last. but always open for new ideas!