Last month I acquired a new pair of winter boots featuring Vibram’s new Arctic Grip technology, which is designed to provide extra traction and grip on slick, wet ice. Here’s my verdict.
Vibram introduced its Arctic Grip technology in 2016 with much hype, many a rave review, and an exclusive one-year deal with footwear companies that are part of Wolverine Worldwide, which includes Merrell, Saucony, and CAT, among others. The coverage and reviews were compelling enough that I featured it—and multiple videos showing it in action—in a post back when they initially launched it.
In December of this year I purchased a pair of the Merrell Overlook 6 ICE+ Winter Boot, one of the company’s several offerings that includes Arctic Grip in the sole. I then had ample opportunities to test its capabilities as the Northeast sank into a deep Arctic freeze with plenty of ice for tromping and testing.
The verdict? Arctic Grip tech definitely works. But in the case of this boot at least, it is often rendered ineffectual given where it’s placed on the sole. As you can see from the image, Arctic Grip is included in only a portion of the boot, primarily directly underfoot down the midline. (Arctic Grip has the yellow flecks in it.) The problem is that very few people walk in a way that keeps pressure entirely down the center of the sole.
Instead, when most people walk, the weight rolls from the outside of the foot near the heel toward the inside of the foot in the forefoot. This phenomenon, known as pronation, also means that when you push off with your foot for the next stride, you are stepping off from the inner portion of your forefoot, not the middle. Some people also supinate, or roll from the outer part of their heel to the outside of the forefoot, though this is less common. And some people do have a “neutral” stride, which keeps pressure mostly down the centerline of the foot.
As somebody who pronates heavily (check out the wear pattern on a recent pair of shoes), this proved problematic with the Overlook 6 ICE+ boots. As you can see, there is little to no Arctic Grip rubber placed near the edges of the sole, especially in the forefoot. This means that I experienced little to no benefit from the Arctic Grip when walking normally. Instead I was pushing off on the more typical boot rubber placed along the edge of the inner forefoot, which slipped as much as any other winter boot.
This is too bad, because the technology definitely works. The grip is noticeably better when the Arctic Grip portions of the sole are in direct contact with the ice, which I can accomplish by carefully and consciously placing my feet in such a way that they applied pressure directly down the mid-line of the boot. But for normal, around-town use and walking? For me, these boots are only a marginal improvement at best from other winter boots I’ve owned. My stride just doesn’t match the placement of the no-slip grip.
It’s not entirely clear to me why Arctic Grip isn’t included in these common areas of pressure and grip underfoot. It’s possible that it’s because the Arctic Grip material is softer and less durable than typical boot rubber, which would shorten its lifespan considerably in high-wear areas.
If you’re considering a pair of boots with Arctic Grip, take a close look at where it’s placed—and whether that matches up with your own stride. A quick look at a well-worn pair of shoes will indicate where you apply pressure and wear underfoot.
Otherwise, the Merrell Overlook 6 ICE boots run true to Merrell’s general fit and reasonable price points. They’re wide in the forefoot and heel, tend to run long (size 14s easily fit my usual size 15 feet), and are a mid- to high-volume fit. They run $150.