Walking around in the snow and ice that’s hit much of the East Coast can be a treacherous undertaking. But forget fancy snow boots with grips. Just pull some socks over your shoes.
Yes, you heard right. And science proves it.
Wearing socks over your shoes is a great way to get more traction and avoid slipping on ice, according to a real, actual study in the New Zealand Medical Journal, titled “Preventing winter falls: a randomised controlled trial of a novel intervention.”
“Wearing socks over shoes appears to be an effective and inexpensive method to reduce the likelihood of slipping on icy footpaths,” reads the study from Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago.
How does one go about testing this method? In 2008, the researchers approached random pedestrians walking downhill on icy footpaths near a university. They asked them to put on socks (of different colors, for some reason). Not everyone was keen to get involved. One woman agreed to participate, then “inexplicably turned to walk back uphill and disappeared.” Most of those who turned down the offer said they were “running late for lectures.”
Those who did participate, two-thirds of whom said they had fallen on ice before, reported feeling much more confident walking on the ice with the socks on. “The only adverse events were short periods of indignity” for some of those trying it out, the study explains.
The researchers concluded that because the method is simple, safe, and cheap, they “feel inspired” to adopt the practice themselves.
Officials in New Zealand are all over this method. The Dunedin City Council, where the study was conducted, advises its residents to pull socks over shoes “to increase grip,” which partially inspired the researchers to test this out. Dunedinites would know a thing or two about walking on difficult roads: The city is home to Baldwin Street, which claims to be the steepest residential street in the world.
The researchers initially wanted to test the theory out on Baldwin Street but concluded that asking participants to walk down the icy road “seemed ethically and legally unwise.” The trio eventually took home a 2010 Ig Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to “research that makes people laugh and then think.”