Why you should care

Because these hacks could prevent you from slipping on ice … or falling to your death.

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Zion National Park in Utah.

 

Perhaps the scariest hike in America, Angels Landing in Zion National Park in southern Utah is 2.5 miles and 1,500 feet of rising, fear-inducing elevation, even for the most experienced hikers. The last half-mile is particularly notorious, with sharp drop-offs, narrow paths and steel chains that visitors cling to for dear life — after all, at least 15 people have reportedly died from these heights. Which is why it was some pretty shoddy planning for me to end up there in the dead of winter … with only my comfiest loafers for footwear.

I ended up turning back ahead of the final descent. But soon after I did the hike, another hiker slipped on the ice and nearly fell to his death. “He landed maybe two feet from the edge of a huge drop-off,” says Andy MacKellar, a 32-year-old from San Diego who saw the fall. It made me think though: Short of buying some $200 winter boots — a frivolous purchase for most only-occasional hikers — what could I have done to snow-proof my shoes at the last minute? 

If you really want to get thrifty, just use hair spray.

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Friend of the author, Neil Parmar, looks out over the view at Angels Landing in Zion National Park in Utah.

The best advice when it comes to ice hikes: “I would avoid it,” says Tod Schimelpfenig, an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School since 1973. But if you can’t ditch the hike, there are ways to snow-proof your shoes. “Over the years, there have been all sorts of little gadgets that have emerged,” Schimelpfenig says. “Whether they are better or not, they are definitely different.”

 

Here are a few ways to make your hike less slippery without breaking the bank. 

  • Spray-On Safety: Pack these spray-on adhesives with your bear spray, with brands from Aerosol to Rust-Oleum and Good Grips selling for less than $10 a bottle on Amazon. If you really want to get thrifty, just use hair spray: It will wear off quicker but should keep its grip a few hours easily enough. 
  • Special Ski Poles: These are best to deal with the snow, Schimelpfenig says, but they can also be useful for ice hikes by minimizing the risk if you do slip. Many come equipped with a spike that juts out. “If you fell, you could use that like you use an ice ax,” he says.
  • Sand or Salt Your Soles: First coat with an adhesive or hair spray, then press them into a container of sand or salt. If you’re having trouble getting the grit to stick, try some glue. A sweet solution is to use sugar … but your camping companions may hate you when your tent becomes ant city later that night.
  • Score Your Shoes: It might seem counterintuitive to slash up your soles, but cutting thin grooves into them with a knife or razor blade can be an effective way to reduce slippage. Of course, the drawback is obvious: You’re damaging your shoes. And proper planning eliminates the need for this. “Hopefully I would have thought about that when I was looking at the sole pattern when I was buying it,” Schimelpfenig says. Still, this can be a last-stop solution before an icy hike.
  • Slip-On Solutions: This Southern boy had no idea about ice grips and spikes, both of which can sell for $20 or less on Amazon. Most varieties involve velcro straps that tighten around your shoes, with a bed of spikes or metal balls that help increase traction. While MacKellar has used brands like the LL Bean Stablicers in the past, he said he sprung this time for a pair of Springk Traction cleats with longer spikes. ”They snap right on your boot, they felt snug and it didn’t feel as bad as I thought when I walked on the non-icy surface,” MacKellar says. 

There you have it: a few tricks to save you time, money … and maybe even your life. 

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