Thousands of injuries and even some deaths occur when people slip and fall on winter ice. A new study has looked at the effectiveness of winter boot soles and found that very few of them measure up.

“Unfortunately, we tested over 100 boots, and only nine of them passed,” says Barry Westhead, director of research engineering at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that some new technologies are already on the market, and two of them perform particularly well, Westhead says.

One is called Green Diamond Technology. “It involves taking a hot boot sole and sprinkling granules of silicon dioxide onto it, and then covering it with a thin layer of rubber and sanding off some of the rubber, so that the crystals are exposed,” Westhead explains. “So, you have a rubber sole with crystals protruding through it."

In essence, this means the sole of the boot has very small cleats that allow the boot to grip the ice.

The other technology is even more high-tech, Westhead says. The sole is made of a soft rubber compound with a combination of microgrooves. “Embedded in the rubber are glass fibers, and these glass fibers create, basically, little grippers. So when you rub your hand on the material, it feels a little rough, like fiberglass, and they do a great job of gripping on ice,” he says.

So, are the other 90 or so makers of boots looking at these techniques and saying, “Hey, maybe we should try this?”

“Yes, they are,” Westhead says. “And a lot of the retailers are very responsible and no doubt disappointed that their boots didn’t make it this year. But the technology is there, and it will be available next year. I’m sure that the entire footwear landscape for winter footwear will look quite a bit different next year. And that was our intent.”

Update: Readers are rightly wondering which boot brands themselves passed the test. When a PRI editor posed the question to the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute over Twitter on Saturday, the research group replied: "If you would like to find out which boots are the best check this webpage: ratemytreads.com.

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow.

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