How to choose the right snow boots for Canadian winters

At Toronto Rehab’s KITE Research Institute, Rate My Treads is tested in the WinterLab. (Photo: KITE Research Institute)

In Canada, winter weather is a part of our reality from October to April. Unfortunately, temperatures below freezing pose a significant health hazard. Accumulated snow and ice can lead to slippery walking conditions, making trips, slips and falls far more likely. Each year, falls on ice lead to more than 9,000 hospitalizations in Canada due to injuries such as sprains, fractures and head trauma.

Wearing the proper footwear in the winter can significantly reduce the risk of slipping and falling on ice. At the KITE Research Institute at UHN, scientists are evaluating the safety of common winter footwear to help consumers make informed choices through a unique initiative called Rate My Treads.

KITE is home to a state-of-the-art facility called WinterLab – the perfect setting to test winter footwear. Within this space, scientists can replicate Canadian winter conditions, including sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice-covered surfaces and winds over 70 kilometres per hour in a controlled environment. WinterLab is also on a motion platform and can be tilted to simulate hills.

Rate My Treads uses a method called the Maximum Achievable Angle Test – the only testing method of its kind in the world. Participants are hooked up to a harness in WinterLab and begin the test by walking across a flat, icy surface. The floor is then gradually sloped until the participant slips while walking. The angle of the floor right before they slip is called the Maximum Achievable Angle (MAA).

To replicate all weather conditions, from wet slippery sidewalks to icy parking lots, the winter footwear is tested on cold ice and wet ice (ice with a thin layer of water on top) while participants walk up and downhill. The lowest MAA for these four conditions is used to rate the footwear. An MAA of more than 7-10 degrees is one snowflake, 11-14 degrees is two snowflakes and more than 15 degrees is three snowflakes.

Approximately 67 per cent of all footwear tested through Rate My Treads does not reach the minimum MAA of 7 degrees and fails the test. If your winter boots are on this list, you might want to consider upgrading to a new pair that passed the test. While these winter boots will reduce your risk of falling and slipping, proper precautions should still be taken when walking on icy and slippery surfaces.

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