We’ve all been there – you’re walking along the sidewalk, minding your own business, when suddenly your feet slip out from under you and you land hard on your backside. Why is ice so hard to walk on though? Well, it’s all to do with friction. It is friction between the sole of your shoe or foot and the ground that stops your feet from sliding out from you every time you take a step. Ice greatly reduces this friction, so when you lean forward to place your leading foot in front of you, your back foot slides behind you, and then once your front foot touches the ground, it carries on in that forward motion. There are ways to do it though, so here are seven science-approved tips for walking across ice.
Slow and steady wins the race
When we find ourselves on an unforeseen patch of ice, instinct tells us not to try and sprint across it. Instead, you should move slowly and carefully, so that you’re exerting minimal forward and backward force at any one time as possible. You should try and keep the force your body and feet apply to the ground as vertical as possible because it is the forward and backward force that requires friction.
Take short steps
As well as moving slowly, you should also avoid taking long strides. By taking shorter steps, the forward and backward forces against the ground are reduced. This means your feet are less likely to slip against the force that’s being applied, so you’ll have better control when walking over the ice.
Melting ice is your enemy
It’s actually easier to walk on ice when the outside temperature is below freezing. As soon as the crucial 0°C is exceeded, the ice will start melting. This thin layer of water on top of the ice makes it much more slippery, as suddenly you’re trying to walk on a surface that can move beneath your feet. Melting ice has even less grip than solid ice, so avoid walking over melting ice if you can.
Avoid stairs and slopes
When friction is lacking between your feet and the ground, gravity is not your friend. Unfortunately, no matter how small and careful a step you take, gravity will always pull you down a slope when it can. Without the friction stopping this from happening, you will slide down any hill you come across, so avoid these at all costs.
Watch out for changes in the surface
Just because the area you’re walking across has been easy up to now, it doesn’t mean that it always will be. There could be hidden patches of ice or puddles that have frozen over. Look out for changes in the color of the ground, or glistening patches when you’re walking. Equally, if you’re walking over solid, dry ice, then keep an eye out for any patches that look like they might be melting. You will naturally adjust your gait if you do encounter these suddenly, but it’s best if you can prepare yourself in advance.
Footwear is key
The grip the soles of your shoes provides you with will make a huge difference to how likely it is you’ll slip on ice. A rubber sole is far more effective when walking on ice than an inflexible leather sole, as it provides a much greater surface area for friction with all the minute grooves in it.
Walk like a penguin
If all else fails, then take a leaf out of the ice-walking experts’ book – the penguin. Splay your feet out slightly to the side and shuffle your feet forwards, keeping your body as straight as possible. This will spread your weight evenly and help minimize any forces that will cause you to slip.
So there we have it, if you follow these science-approved tips and tricks for walking on ice, you’ll be a pro in no time. And if nothing else works, just channel your inner penguin!