Kicked, battered and stamped on, crampons are possibly the one piece of winter kit which receives the most abuse. And whether it’s a grade 1 snow gully, a mixed climbing desperate or a long alpine route, you need to know that your crampons won’t let you down.
A secure and precise fit is essential – get it right and the crampon will feel like it’s part of your foot, leaving you free to dance confidently through the trickiest of cruxes.
There are so many potential boot shapes that the facility for micro adjustment is extremely important - fortunately modern crampons have excellent adjustability.
But (you might ask), how do the three categories of crampon (walking, mountaineering and climbing) differ in design?
There are Walking Crampons
, such as the popular Kahtoola Microspikes
which are a bit like tyre chains for your feet, but most conventional crampons follow a basic articulated design, namely a heel crown and a larger front crown connected by a flexible cross bar.
The main differences between walking/mountaineering style crampons and more technical climbing designs comes in the layout and style of the spikes. Classic Mountaineering Crampons
, such as the Grivel G12
, usually have integral duo points (i.e. the points are part of the crampon frame).
On walking/mountaineering crossover crampons, such as the Grivel G10
, the front points are less pronounced. They come in a variety of binding options; some even have full strap on systems which will suit less stiff/more comfortable boots.
, such as the Black Diamond Stinger
, have aggressive mono (or if you want: duo) front points. These are shaped like a mini ice axe pick (except with a splayed cobra top for extra stability and strength) and can be replaced – which is useful because they will take a real hammering! They also rely upon quick release step in binding systems which require stiff boots with a decent lip on the welt.
Top end, technical climbing crampons, such as the Grivel G20
, are stripped down, super light, precision tools designed for the steepest and most radical mixed routes and dry tooling test pieces.
Mono points (set in a slightly offset position closer to your big toe) have become the norm for harder climbs. And it’s easy to see why, as they do give extremely precise placements. On rock you’ll be able to stand on the tiniest of edges, and on ice they allow accurate pin pointing of axe pick holes – this being especially helpful on shattered, ‘dinner plating’ ice.
‘Balling up’, whereby a ball of compacted snow builds up under the base of the crampon is a major issue for all crampon designs. At best it is annoying (you have to keep tapping the edge of your crampons with your axe to free the snow ball), but at worst it can be dangerous (you leave the snowball to grow too large and you end up slipping!).
In the 'good old days' climbers solved the balling up issue by wrapping a web of gaffa tape around the crampon crowns - unfortunately this didn’t tend to last very long. These days most crampons come fitted with anti-balling plates which greatly reduce the inherent ‘stickiness’ of the base and help it shed snow.
Most crampons are made from steel but Black Diamond has produced a range of stainless steel crampons. These are fitted with anti-balling plates too but the stainless steel also sheds snow much more efficiently.
There are three main styles of binding:
Full Step ins – these feature a front bail bar which fits into the welt at the front of the boot and a snap fit heel clip which fits into the heel welt. Often there is an additional security tape which will keep you attached to the crampon should the bail bar pop off. Obviously you’ll need a substantial welt on your boots for this to work. They tend to be found on climbing and mountaineering crampons.
Semi Step ins – these combine a snap fit heel clip with a plastic basket for the front of the boot. They are a good option if your boots are lacking a decent welt at the front.
Strap ons – these feature straps, often combined with plastic ‘baskets’ to retain the boot. They fit almost any boot and tend to be found on walking crampons.
Anatomy of a Crampon
To see examples of the different designs available (and assuming you missed the links above) check out our Anatomy of a Crampon diagrams: Walking Crampons
, Mountaineering Crampons
and Climbing Crampons