How to pick winter treads…for your feet

A November 15th webinar by Dr. Tilak Dutta of the University Health Network reviewed winter footwear characteristics, and how treads are tested. He even identified specific footwear with better slip resistance…more on that later.

The method for testing footwear’s slip resistance is fascinating. They use a room with an ice floor. The entire room tilts! Volunteer subjects put on a pair of shoes to be tested, get strapped to a harness (to protect them from falls), and walk across the room. The researchers then tilt the entire room, so the floor is inclined. They can increase the slope by 1 degree at a time, and they can control the temperature of the ice and room, and whether the ice is dry or wet. The measure how steep the floor can be before the subject slips as s/he walks across the floor. This way, they can compare one type of tread pattern or material with another.

Tilak also reviewed a large study, funded by the Ministry of Labour, that looked at what type of footwear workers choose, and how those shoes perform in the lab. One group of subjects were outdoor workers for the City of Toronto – their footwear was provided by the employer, and intended to protect the foot from slips and falls, cold, and crushing hazards. Another group were personal support workers (PSWs), who visit private residences throughout the day. Their footwear was selected and purchased by the employees themselves. Slips and falls are common amongst both of these worker groups. The results were surprising, in that some of the footwear chosen by the PSWs performed better than the outdoor safety footwear that was provided to the City workers.

The researchers found that, not surprisingly, some of the new tread materials that are being developed specifically for slip resistance, performed well. “Green diamond” and “Arctic grip” products have embedded glass or metal in the tread, which helps to grip a slippery surface, at least when they are fresh and new. What was surprising to me was that the Softmoc Chelsea suede boot performed very well also! The University Health Network has put a website together to share what they know about the footwear they’ve tested.

Before you purchase your next pair of winter boots, I would encourage you to visit the website You’ll find some useful advice there!

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