[Photo] Ernest Shiwanov
An orthopedic disaster struck my family this past year. My niece, Ari, an elite runner, was visiting New England when she headed out in slick-as-snot conditions. She slipped on a patch of black ice and went down hard. Diagnosis: a broken tibia. Treatment: surgery and months in a cast. Cost to repair? Excessive. Running downtime: Many months.
Ari’s injury could have been avoided by exercising indoors, but treadmills suck. At the same time, what kind of running footwear could possibly perform in such icy winter conditions, like those currently gripping the East Coast? Early last winter, I tried the Swedish-made Icebug DT BUGrip studded running shoes when the Tahoe Sierra received a righteous dump followed by a vicious cold, dry spell that left the wilderness trails around my house so verglassed it would have been imprudent to run on them without a rope–or health insurance.
Actually, there are all manner of stilettoed accessories to increase surefootedness on slippery surfaces, but they add both weight and height to a running shoe, and can change its fit and dynamics. I’ve used nearly all. While they all more or less stick to slippy stuff, I’ve experienced bouncing springs, heavy feet, shifting, snapped wires, snapped rands, or inevitably, one of the two goes missing. It can take some faffing around to get them right, and when you hit dry conditions mid-run, you have to stop, detach them…and then where do you put them?
The alternative is to use a studded running shoe. You could make your own by screwing quarter-inch sheet metal screws to your soles, or you could buy them ready-made. I was curious about Icebug, the only company to make carbide-studded running shoes. I arranged to demo a pair of their DTS BUGrip model last year. After running them through a variety of conditions–boilerplate, packed snow on trails, iced asphalt, wet asphalt and on dry trail–I’m convinced that nothing’s sturdier in glassy conditions, or in the transition zones in between.
As for the traction: it comes by way of the 19 micro carbide studs cemented to the lugs on heel and forefoot; they’re small and sharp, and their tenacious buggy grip on the aforementioned surfaces conferred peace of mind. The outsole has, as you would guess, large, sticky, and aggressive lugs on which the studs are attached. Basically, I was able to forget about the terrain underfoot and run with a normal gait, as I would on dry trails or roads, happily unencumbered by an accessory dragging on my feet. No footwear that I’ve ever used has performed as well and felt so light on the typical skiffs of ice and packed snow found on roads and trails.
Traction aside, the chassis is sleek and light. I measure an 8.5 on a Brannock Device, and that’s precisely the right size for the Icebug–a rarity, in my experience. The DTS BUGrip is a standard (non-minimalist) running shoe with about a 12 mm drop, but out of the box they weighed 11.5 ounces on my electronic shipping scale, which is still pretty light for a stability shoe. The DTS has a snug heel cup and a moderately wide toe box, and I have a skosh of room in the front with a pair of midweight merino running socks. The upper is made of water-resistant ripstop nylon, and the midsole appears to be a mid-density EVA, with Icebug’s ESS stablizer system, which looks to be a thermoplastic urethane stiffener that joins heel with the metatarsal zone, with a medial post for overpronators. Microsuede rounds out the rand, collar and side panels. There’s an integrated reflective pull-tab that runs the length of the heel, a generously padded collar with Achilles notch, and a standard lacing system. The shoe comes in an OutDry version, which makes a lot of sense when running in air temperatures above freezing (OutDry is a waterproof-breathable membrane that surrounds the entire upper).
[Photo] Ernest Shiwanov
While I found little to fault with the shoe, availability and price are the chief issues, along with one caveat from the manufacturer. First, the caveat: Icebug says that it’s possible for studs to detach prematurely, but “the function of the technology is maintained even if losing 3-4 studs on one outsole” (no studs have separated from the soles of my shoes). Also, Icebugs are not easily found in the States, and as with any performance footwear, it’s best to get the precisely right fit, which is time consuming when shopping online. As far as price goes, the DTS BUGrip retails for about $180, and the OutDry version sells for about $200 USD as of winter 2014/2015.
Overall, the DTS BUGrip provides a comfortable, somewhat cushy, and nimble ride, with positive traction for nearly all conditions. As always, prudence would dictate not pushing the gear past logical limits.
Pros: Grippy, light, convenient, great fit, performance oriented.
Cons: Availability and price; possibility of stud separation after many miles of wear.