Getting a Grip

By , February 26, 2011

The yard has become so icy I’m beginning to fear for our safety. We can still get around with considerable care, but I find myself, in particularly perilous moments, trying to cling to my footing with curled toes.

Thank goodness for grippers!

Grippers, or ice cleats, traction devices that slip over shoes, are a big deal in Haines. In the winter months, I keep a pair in the car, and one at home. If the bay isn’t too icy, I’ll leave my “home” pair at the trailhead, and put on the car pair when we arrive in town. Often, we’ll have no ice in the bay area, only to arrive in town to find the roads and sidewalks are one big, poorly maintained ice rink.

ice cleats

My grippers of choice (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

We’ve tried a lot of different gripper styles, and seen many others. I have developed a few criteria that grippers must meet before I’m willing to purchase them. They must be easy to use (quick to put on, quick to take off), they must stay on when walking, and they must be easily portable when they’re not being used.

Most important is the gripping method. The traction provider must dig into the ice well, but no be so sharp that it destroys flooring.

Obviously, grippers shouldn’t be used on floors, but there inevitably come moments when we have to. I’m very good about taking them off when entering buildings in town, not so good at removing them in the cabin. When I come in from the wood pile with a heavy load of firewood, the sharp edges of which are pressing hard into the tendons of my wrist, I don’t have time or balance to stop and remove my grippers—I’m in too much of a hurry to put down the wood.

The best grippers that meet all these criteria are STABILicers Lite Ice Cleats. The “Lite” design is much less heavy duty than the regular STABILicers, which are very good, but not as packable, and much harder on floors. The Lites grip well, and, when they can’t, they don’t hold the sole of one’s shoe too high above the ice. I’ve used some grippers that feature spikes so long that if they failed to grip the ice, it felt like I was on ice skates! The STABILicer Lite cleats have saved us from painful falls or worse around the house, on the trail, and in town.

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