Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Traction

I was recently asked what I did about winter traction for my moccasins.  The short answer is absolutely nothing. The long answer is that the unhindered foot has several features to enhance traction without the use of a firm lugged sole.  There are of course limits, stiff soles and crampons were invented for a good reason, and are quite useful in managing slick slopes.  My friend that lives on the side of a mountain uses Yaktrax over sandals over warm wool socks, but I live in the city, in a flat part of the country, where my own badly shoveled front steps is the worst hazard I'll have to face.

My shod footprint
First of all, the foot is designed for decent traction in mud, wet grass, and wet rocks.  Despite not having any traction features on the sole of my shoe, it is flexible enough to telegraph some of the traction features of my own foot.  You can see in the footprint above the five little "cleats" in the front, and the larger one in the back.  That picture was taken with my shoes on, I'm not crazy enough to barefoot in the snow, although you might think it from my footprints.

A man climbs a tree barefoot with no harness or traction devices

Secondly, the more uneven the terrain, the more useful the flexible features of the foot.  Where a stiff soled shoe skates over the top of a bump or hole, the flexible foot wraps around that feature and uses the full surface of the foot for traction.  The flexible soled moccasin allows the foot to wrap around surface contours almost as well as if it was bare.

A sliding foot

The third feature of the moccasin is the flexible ankle.  Once you start sliding in a stiff boot, the angle of your leg quickly becomes steep enough to lift part of the boot off the ground, leaving you with only one edge of your shoe in contact with the ground, and most of the traction features of the shoe in the air, making it quite likely that the little slip will turn into a bigger one and possibly a fall.  This problem has also caused me a couple turned ankles in "sensible shoes" when that angle became severe enough to cause gravity to pull me down on the side of the foot instead of re-centering after the misstep.  When you start sliding in a shoe that allows natural function of the ankle, the foot can remain flat on the ground and all the traction features remain in effect, increasing your chances of stopping the slide, or buying you time to shift your weight to the other foot.


When I'm feeling like I have a little less traction than normal, I do something counter-intuitive.  I oil the leather.  Now when you hit a patch of oil on the ground, it's liquid and slippery, but that baked on sticky oil on your dirty dishes, that stuff is what I'm after.  About an hour or two after applying leather oil, the oil is all absorbed or wiped off, and the surface of the leather is slightly tacky.  This helps a great deal on surfaces like wet linoleum.  Note that the skin of my bare foot is producing a similar light coat of oil keeping my flexible traction surface in good condition and giving me a little bit of tackiness on smooth surfaces.

So in short, moccasins do absolutely nothing for my winter traction, but telegraph the natural traction features of the foot while keeping my toes warm.