Safely Enjoying a Winter Wonderland – Senior Stabilizers

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It’s still Winter where I live. It’s cold. And I’m not crazy about the cold.

Still, it’s nice to get outside and enjoy a little local environment. I like to pursue some movement aside from indoor activity, or regular exercise routines (even aside from PizzazzEE© 25). And cold or not, like most, I can usually find a winter wonderland.

Walking around the neighborhood is nice, but roaming further afield gives me the impression of bluer skies and crisper air. Not to mention it feels like ‘getting away from the house.’

Any activity is greater fun when with somebody who is entertaining me. For instance, my husband often likes to sing when we’re out tramping about. His last ditty was:

over the river and through the woods
to grandmother’s house we go
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
while I sing songs I don’t know- oh.

This proves that the silliest of things can make an outing more amusing. We need not take ourselves (or our activities) too seriously.

Keep an Open Mind to the Open Spaces in Winter

Not everyone feels totally safe outdoors when the seasons change. Winter can bring harsh cold and patches of risky ice, even if just venturing out to get the newspaper (assuming your area still has a newspaper).

People who have not been lifelong tobogganers, skaters or skiers (downhill or cross-country) may think there’s nothing in winter that would suit them. I sympathize. As I said, I don’t like the cold. But generally, I disagree that there isn’t something that will engage each of us.

A couple years ago I wrote an article about snow-showing as seniors. It’s an inexpensive ‘sport’ and fairly easy to adapt to, despite having reached the 50-mark. And it can be executed (oooh, wrong choice of words?) with consideration to our individual skill and muscular or physical health level. (See: Summer Confessions of a 1st time Snowshoer… Subtitle: Should Older People Snowshoe?)

This current post is not about snowshoeing, but the article mentioned above has lots of tips, especially for those no longer 18 (although even they could use some of these tips). While I’d like those interested in snowshoeing to read that article, I would also refer you to the Snowshoe Magazine and this piece – Snowshoeing For Beginners: The First Timer’s Guide.

Yak Tracking – Less Work than Snowshoeing

Despite the commercial above, not everyone is suited to snowshoeing.

I’ll point out some problems below. But, reverting back to a suggestion in my previous post, I recently strapped on Yaktrax and took a winter walk on the Pacific Crest Trail.

If you want to be outside but don’t like the idea of snowshoeing, a pair of Yaktrax (or one of the generic brands of traction slip-ons) is a terrific solution. They allow you to walk where there is either less snow, packed snow, or occasional icy areas. This could simply be a path in the local park when conditions warrant it.

Yaktrax are great to avoid falls from slippery, black-ice, even in your own yard or walkway. You place them over your shoes or boots. When my fingers are cold, I find everything more difficult to manipulate, but donning these is not a chore.

Furthermore, they are inexpensive and easy to find. While these traction-trackers are available online, these days you can purchase them in many stores. I saw them in my local Ace Hardware for under $20.

Major Disadvantage of Yak Tracking

I might as well get the big issue out in front. Picking the right spot to plan your activity is critical. Although on the plus side, there are usually many of them.

You do not want to slip on your traction-aids and head to the ski mountains for a hike. Quite likely the snow will be too deep. Yak-tracking is not for deep snow. Further, simply stepping off the trail a bit can find you up to ankles or knees, or hips in the powdery white stuff.

One key to finding suitable conditions (meaning avoiding unmanageable, deep snow) is consider what others are doing in the area. A trail that’s known for hikers, winter running routes, or that’s clearly already packed down from snowshoers, is an excellent place for yak-tracking. Luckily, it’s easier to find those areas than ones offering perfect conditions for activities like cross-country skiing.

Bottom line, it’s impossible (or at least very difficult) to walk on a deep snowy path with just your trackers on. It would be like doing the same in your shoes or boots. They are not a complete substitute for snowshoes.

Advantages of Yak Tracking

With the big disadvantage bugaboo out of the way – namely deep snow, we can continue on to all the many advantages that Yak-tracking offers. While these advantages are not restricted to those in their second-50 era, they’re added benefits to those AgingWithPizzazz.

  1. Balance is incredibly easy to maintain because you do not have the exaggerated wide stance that snowshoes demand. Additionally, your feet won’t seem to have lengthen to 10x their normal size – another plus for balance.
  2. Traction aids make walking anywhere safer when ice and snow conditions arise. This can include your neighborhood, downtown or own driveway. They are barely noticeable if fashion matters to you.
  3. Traction slip-ons use less muscular effort (of the legs) than snowshoes, while generally allowing you to progress farther. Due to stance, the muscles work in a manner more akin to walking.
  4. When in the woods, or on a trail, it is far easier to step over (small) downed trees or other kinds of obstructions than when wearing snowshoes.
  5. There’s no added cost for special shoes (or boots) when yak-tracking, as opposed to cross-county skiing. While some snowshoers are particular about the boot/shoe they wear, I actually use the same boot (either my KAMIK or BOGS) for both snowshoeing and yak-tracking. One pair is more insulated. Nevertheless, I purchased both of them large enough to allow me to wear extra socks or big thermal socks and still have plenty of space to wiggle my toes. Incredibly warm socks may be the best tip for any activity in the winter. Don’t scrimp on them.
  6. Durable, high shoe-covers in addition to your footwear can allow you to traction walk in a bit deeper snow without getting pants wet (don’t go overboard). Covers allow use of regular shoes rather than boots.
  7. People with knee or hip problems, whether chronic or temporary, will generally find it easier to manage Yaktrax than snowshoes. As the snowshoes are wider and heavier (even the lighter types), they can sometimes irritate both the hips or knees.
  8. The workout you achieve is easily adjusted to your skill level, terrain and mood.

Poles Still a Must

Snowshoe pole basket Whether it’s snowshoeing or yak-tracking, I’m convinced that poles are still a must. For me, I think the necessity is that poles help with balance. My husband thinks they are a necessity for a different purpose. You can use them to push snow off a tree limb before darting under it, and so avoid a clump of snow slipping down your back. Whatever reason, they are important.

If you are using normal trekking poles, it’s best to spend the couple extra bucks and change to large snow baskets which perform better in deep snow. Yes, you might not be walking in deep snow with your Yaktrax, but your poles can be in deep snow on either side of you. Simply substitute your standard trekking basket for the larger one during the time you are enjoying your winter outing.

Poles are vital for the senior club when snowshoeing, as they can act as a brake going downhill, help you turnaround (instead of backing up) and come in handy if you sink in powder or trip over your new-found giant feet and fall. While those situations will be rarer when yak-tracking, remember the boy-scout motto.

Coincidently, while preparing this report, I heard from an employee at “onX Maps,” which has an app for offline maps to keep those venturing in the backcountry safe whether hunting, hiking or driving (it’s been in the NYTimes as well). They had read my article about senior snowshoeing in which (in passing) I wrote about avalanche safety and linked to an REI article. They requested I share their original research from a survey they did about avalanche education and safety with my readers. While we might assume that only a sliver-of-a-fraction of my readers might ever be in that situation, you can’t know for sure. So, I decided to share their link if you are interested.

Two Small Tips

Turn around sooner. While perhaps obvious, this is important to remember. For any winter activity that proceeds in a straight line, versus skating in circles on a pond, we need to keep at least half our strength for the return. I try to remember to turn around sooner than when I feel ‘ready.’

I have to go an equal way back (and perhaps more uphill at times) and don’t want to arrive exhausted. This is especially so if I have the wind at my back on the outbound half of the walk (seems great). But then if I’m facing into wind on the return, it’s an extra tax on energy. I know, I know, ‘no wind’ would be preferred.

Knock off snow. Yaktrax or traction treaders of any kind can gather snow on the bottom. It depletes their effectiveness. (This is true for snowshoes as well.) The advantage of slip-on traction aids is that you can easily slip them off if you need. Occasionally through the walk, take a look to see if you’ve accumulated snow. If so, clear it.

Microspikes – Another Option

While I wear Yaktrax, my husband finishes his attire with Microspikes. Both of them are slip-on selections (over your footwear, whether boots or shoes). Each is a traction aid for safety, and both are lightweight. The lightweight element is a motivation for me; easy on, easy off and hardly noticeable. His and mine are comparable for traction-tracking and have more in common than dissimilar.

There are some differences of course, or they wouldn’t be options to choose from. Actually, there are also different spike types. The simpler Microspikes are comprised of thermoplastic rubber with stainless steel spikes that bite into ice. (Yaktrax are rubber and steel). I’ve heard these simpler spikes called ‘walking stabilizers’ and they’re more similar to Yaktrax than Microspikes below.

Some Microspikes (like Kahtoola Microspikes Traction) are more like a crampon and have welded stainless steel chains providing traction over the snow. Those work in icy conditions, packed snow and supposedly rocky terrain. They’re similar to ice-climbing crampons. Crampton-type Microspikes are not meant for walking on the road or tarmac, so should be taken off when doing so.

Chart for Comparison

Comparing the products below, I placed the simpler Microspikes (walking stabilizer) in the same category as the Yaktrax.

Yaktrax (and walking stabilizer) Microspikes – crampon style
  • Inexpensive
  • More costly than Yaktrax, less costly than ice-climbing crampon
  • Suitable for trail running, hiking, walking
  • Suitable for hiking, walking, longer trekking. Not suitable for running or bare-road walking
  • Suitable for thin or packed snow, slush, ice, also bare road walking (for short periods)
  • Suitable for packed snow, ice, rock
  • Claims are that they can break more easily (probably less so for the microspike-type walking stabilizer)
  • Claims are that they are very durable.
Yaktrax Micro-spiked Walking Stabilizers MicroSpikes

I can’t really speak to the durability of these products. We have never had them break.


Wonder (that’s a hint in itself) if you can complete this thought?

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening,
a beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight,
(your turn ______________________________)

If you’re stumped, see the video below.

Video ….

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