October 25, 2021

How to Choose Crampons: The Most Complete Guide You’ll Ever Read

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by Bernice

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There are high chances you’ve seen people with weird spikes on their boots, called crampons, especially if you’ve been in the mountains in winter. Even though crampons appear like bizarre old-fashioned devices, crampons are simply used to enhance the user’s grip on ice and snow or aid in climbing a technical ice climb. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how to choose crampons, but first, let’s find out what are crampons.

What are Crampons?

Crampons are metal devices equipped with “teeth” to offer sufficient user traction on snow and ice. Crampons are designed to mount onto the soles of specific boots. Ice climbers and mountaineers typically wear crampons, and they’re a vital part of winter gear, especially if you’re going beyond the snowline.

How to Choose the Right Crampons for You?

Like any other climbing gear, choosing crampons is no walk in the park. You have to consider your needs, preferences, and budget. Fortunately, we’ve done all the heavy lifting and reviewed what you need to consider when choosing crampons.

There is a growing specialization of crampons in terms of activities. Ultra-lightweight crampons designed for winter hiking are available. In addition to handling snow and glacier travel, traditional crampons also work well for technical hiking (with an ice ax) and mountaineering. Ice and rock crampons are becoming increasingly specialized for ice waterfalls.

Here is how to choose crampons based on activity.

  1. For technical mountaineering choose crampons with strap-on, step-in, or hybrid binding, made from steel. The construction must be semi-rigid, the frontpoint type fixed horizonatal with around 12 points.
  2. For snow walking choose crampons with strap-on binding, made from steel or aluminium. The construction must be flexible, the frontpoint type fixed horizonatal with 8 or 10 points.
  3. For waterfall ice and mixed climbing choose crampons with step-in or hybrid binding, made from steel. The construction must be semi-rigid, the frontpoint type modular vertical with 14 or more points.
  4. For general mountaineering choose crampons with strap-on, step-in, or hybrid binding, made from steel. The construction must be semi-rigid, the frontpoint type fixed horizonatal with around 10 points.

How to Choose Crampon Frames: Characteristics

How to select frame materials for crampons?

Most of the time, crampons are built utilizing two materials, aluminum and steel. Steel provides better corrosion resistance and durability than aluminum. Thus, they are perfect for alpine climbs, mixed climbs, and technical ice.

Nevertheless, this strength and durability mean they tend to be heavy. On the other hand, aluminum crampons are lightweight, making them ideal for snow climbing, ski mountaineering, and glacier travel. Learn how to sharpen crampons in five easy steps.

1. Aluminum crampons are perfect for ski mountaineering and approaches.

2. Stainless-steel crampons offer the best corrosion resistance.

3. Steel crampons are best suited for general mountaineering.

How to choose frame alignment for your crampons?

Nowadays, crampons don’t have to be as rigid as they used to be when people wore double plastic boots. Crampons with horizontally oriented frames are the norm. The horizontally oriented frames are flexible for walking, and your feet are closer to the ground to experience better stability.

How to choose the weight for your crampons?

The lightest crampons are made from aluminum. As a general rule, more lightweight crampons have less durability and strength. Aluminum is the perfect choice for non-technical climbing. Just don’t use aluminum crampons in a mixed climbing such as snow-and-rocks.

How are Anti-balling Plates used with Crampons?

Anti-balling plates are small plastic pieces that hinder snow from accumulating between the crampon and your footwear. For this reason, they come in handy if you’re going to walk on snow.

They attach to the bottom of the crampon to hinder ice and snow from accumulating and sticking as you climb or hike. And since you’ll probably see a bit of snow, anti-balling plates are typically equipped on most contemporary crampon versions.

What Type of Construction Do Crampons Have?

The vast majority of crampons’ construction these days is semi-rigid. Semi-rigid designs are known for providing good performance under the most diverse conditions. Despite giving a good deal of flex, it is stiff enough to handle moderate ice climbing. In the semi-rigid design, there are left and right crampons, determined by the orientation of the center bar.

When the adjustment is made to the bar between the toe and the heel, this changes the crampons’ construction from semi-rigid to flexible. This change makes it more comfortable for hiking and much less likely to fill up with snow.

What Types of Crampons are Available for Hiking, Mountaineering, Snow Walking, Ice and Mixed Climbing?

Crampons are categorized into four types depending on how you attach them to your boots. What’s more, this helps you better understand their intended purpose. Here are the four most popular attachment methods.

1) Step-in Crampons

These crampons offer the most reliable attachment and are a common choice for technical climbing. For this reason, you’ll mostly find them on ski and technical mountaineers’ and ice climbers’ feet.

They are equipped with a lockable heel tab. Plus, the toe-bail firmly secures the boot. For this placement, your shoes have to feature toe and heel welts for the toe-bail and tab to fasten into. Most step-in versions have a webbing, which hinders the crampon from slipping off in case the connection becomes loose.

2) Hybrid Crampons

Like step-in crampons, hybrid crampons feature a lockable heel tab, though, as opposed to a toe bail, they’re equipped with a versatile loop that stretches out above the toe box. 

These crampons are mostly compatible with alpine climbing boots, which give up a cohesive toe welt for better climbing capacity without crampons.

Due to this, the present webbing loop plays a more substantial role in these crampons. It comes in handy in keeping the heel lock and the front attached to your boots.

3) Strap-on Crampons

These are the most versatile crampons as you can use them with almost all footwear, including approach shoes, mountaineering, snowboard, and hiking boots. This makes them more suitable for the climber looking for an all-in-one pair of crampons.

Nevertheless, they’re most ideal for walking than climbing. Moreover, hybrid crampons feature a versatile toe bail, though they have a flexible piece that stretches throughout the heel instead of the lockable heel in hybrid crampons.

4) Screw-on Crampons

Screw-on crampons are the most specialized crampon style. Some climbers use low-profile shoes with precision for mixed climbing, ice climbing, and dry tooling. Since fruit boots resemble beefed-up climbing shoes, they have no heel or toe welts.

Crampons are bolted directly to the sole of this boot style for optimal climbing performance at minimum weight. Designed explicitly for technical mixed, ice, and dry tooling, fruit boots with screw-on crampons are not very warm and not suitable for hiking or walking.

What are the Types of Crampons Frontpoint Configurations?

The four types of crampons frontpoint configurations are mono point, dual point, modular points, and horizontal points.

1) Mono point

As the name suggests, mono-point crampons have one front point, making them perfect for hard ice, mixed climbing, and steep ice. This configuration offers accuracy since it can easily fit in more minor cracks and pockets.

They’re much suitable on thin ice when making tricky moves. Plus, in case the ice is hard, a mono-point will maneuver effortlessly. Again, mono-points are perfect for mixed climbing since they offer more accuracy on rocky routes and technical overhanging techniques.

If you mostly climb mixed terrain and thin ice, or you already own dual-point crampons for your usual routes and need new crampons for technical trails, this is the way to go.

2) Dual point

These crampons feature two front points and are suitable for most ice climbs. They are firm and secure for soft, lower angle, and long ice terrain.

They won’t shear off when on softer ice as compared to mono-points, and they’ll offer stability and comfort to your feet on extended routes. Dual points are perfect for ice climbing, long trails, and low-angle terrain since they provide sufficient steadiness and security.

3) Modular points

With modifiable modular points, you don’t have to choose between dual and mono front points. They allow you to apply dual points for low-angle and long ice terrain. Besides, you can use a mono-point for mixed climbing, hard ice, and technical routes.

A mono-point can, at times, be adjusted for maximum accuracy. Again, some modular crampon versions allow you to switch out for horizontal points when mountaineering or snow-walking.

In addition, modular front points promote your crampons` life span, as the points can be swapped once they break or wear out.

For this reason, if you need a single crampon set for various climbing expeditions, or require long-lasting gear, a set with modular points should be your go-to option.

4) Horizontal points

Typical mountaineering crampons feature two horizontal front points that allow you to walk on slightly steep slopes and snow. Like the lower points on a crampon, these front points are positioned on the frame and are relatively short than the ice-climbing specific front points.

These points are perfect for alpine climbing, which calls for a bit of non-technical ice climbing, snow, and rock climbing. Besides, horizontal front points are excellent for glacier or winter hiking since they are easy to walk with.

Crampons with horizontal front points are as well ideal for winter hiking or mountaineering, so this is a perfect choice if you mostly take part in these two expeditions.

Non-modular vs. Modularm Points

Front-points are usually either fixed (non-modular) or adjustable (modular). When it comes to the modular front points, you can swap the teeth and rearrange them to support a specific climbing or walking style. Also, if you mainly mix climb and have to change your points in the long run, you should go for modular crampons.

On the other hand, non-modular front-points wear quickly due to sharpening. They usually have a lighter construction than their counterparts. Nonetheless, since they feature no mobile parts, you no longer need to worry about bolts becoming loose.

Boots-Crampon Compatibility

Crampon and boot compatibility is critical for safety and functionality. The type of boots you have automatically narrow down your crampon options. For instance, a light strap-on set is compatible with light hiking boots but not climbing or mountaineering boots. This is because the crampon attached to a boot with a flexible sole will not be as firm when on a boot with a stiff sole.

Here are the steps to take to determine the compatibility between the hiking boots you have and the crampons you want to choose.

  • Find out what type of boot you have.
  • What activities do you plan to do?
  • Make sure your boots and crampons match in flexibility.
  • Don’t forget your boots when you go shopping for crampons.
  • Strap-on crampons are the way to go if you are in doubt.

What to Consider Before Choosing Crampons?

Before choosing crampons, consider the following requirement.s

  • Find out the boots you own, and check if the sole is stiff, semi-rigid, or extremely flexible.
  • Next, find out if it has either or both the heel or toe welts. In case you have incredibly flexible boots that don’t have toe welts, you might require purchasing a new pair if you want to attach them to crampons for technical climbing.
  • Another thing to consider is the activities you’ll partake in. For ice climbing and mountaineering, check your boot’s heel and toe. Here you’ll have various crampon selections. 
  • If you plan on walking, you should go for less technical strap-on crampons.
  • All the same, if you’re considering purchasing step-in crampons, you have to have rigid-soled boots equipped with robust grooves or welts at the heel and toe.
  • Also, it would help if you matched your crampons’ and boots’ flexibility. For instance, if you have extremely flexible footwear, you should go for crampons featuring a flexible middle bar that links the back and front. Besides, you can wear footwear with strap-on attachments on aluminum crampons for simple glacier walking or mountaineering to match flexibility.
  • Make sure you carry your footwear when buying a crampon to guarantee compatibility. Plus, ensure the middle bar properly fits your footwear’s length, shape, and flex. Frequently, climbers marginally modify some parts, such as the toe bail, to achieve a good fit. In case you have any uncertainties, carry your strap-on mechanism.

How to Choose the right Size Crampons for You?

Now that you know how to choose crampons let’s see how to size them properly. Mainly, crampons comprise the heel segments and the front, linked by a middle bar. These middle bars usually feature several holes that allow for the modification of the crampons.

Consequently, the duo is compatible with various foot sizes and can be modified to fit your particular footwear. Nonetheless, if your feet are big, you need to buy an extended middle bar.

Note: In case you have mountaineering boots, carry them with you to the shop where you intend to purchase crampons for proper fitting. Some brands fit better than others; therefore, it’s better to find the right match before purchasing.

What Crampon Accessories Can I Buy?

There are some additional crampon accessories you can buy such as gaiters, crampon cases, point covers, anti-balling plates, alternative center bars for most crampons.

How to Choose Crampons According to the Climbing Terrain?

There are four types of terrain, each of which requires a different type of crampons. We will take a look at the following climbing terrains and the suitable crampons.

1) Ice climbing

Generally, the crampons designed for ice climbing are made of steel and have vertically aligned frontpoints. We recommend ice climbing crampons that have replaceable front points. For ice climbing crampon attachment systems, there are two options: automatic and semi-automatic attachment of crampons to your ice boots.

2) Trails compacted with snow and ice

For trails compacted with snow and ice, you can use a simple traction device such as mountaineering crampons. When it comes to the attachment system, the built-in attachments that come with traction devices are all appropriate for flexible boots.

3) Glacier travel with ice and rock

For glacier travel, a classic mountaineering crampon is a smart choice. These crampons are made from steel, and have ten to twelve points, including two front points. In this case, the front points are horizontal. The preferred attachment system is 10-point crampons, which have a semi-automatic attachment system.

4) Low-angle snowfields

For low-angle snowfields with minimal transitions onto rocks, it is most appropriate to use aluminum crampons as they are much more lightweight. The crampons, however, tend to dull very quickly and can sometimes even bend if there is significant rock terrain. If you are in doubt, use a pair of hybrid crampons with a steel front plate and an aluminum heel plate.

How do you pick a good crampon?

Consider less technical crampons with a strap-on binding if you’re walking rather than climbing. When choosing step-in crampons, make sure you wear boots with stiff soles and thick welts or grooves at the toe and heel. Be sure the crampon matches the flexibility of the footwear.

Do you need specific boots for crampons?

Yes, you need specific boots for crampons, or more correctly you need specific crampons for different boots. Most crampons require a specific type of mountaineering or hiking boots. There are no specifically designed crampons for hiking boots. The reason is that crampons require a boot that has a stiff sole to stay in place.

What is the difference between automatic and semi-automatic crampons?

The automatic crampon has the same style heel lever as the semi-automatic crampon, with the main difference being that the toe locks into place using a metal toe bail. This type of crampon can only be used with some boots. Therefore, they will only work with mountaineering and ice climbing boots that are very stiff.

Are crampons worth it?

Yes, crampons are worth it as they are a lifesaver when you need them. When the snow is hard and the tracks are rough, ski crampons come in very handy.

For whom are crampons made?

Crampons are for ski mountaineers, alpinists, and all ice climbers or mixed route climbers. There are numerous designs, though the one you’ll require will mostly rely on your activity; thus, it’s essential to know the features that make a specific product better than another for a given task.

For instance, strap-on crampons are more versatile than hybrid and step-in crampons since they are compatible with almost all footwear designs.

What are crampons made of?

Most crampons on the market are made of either aluminum or steel. The primary difference between these two materials is weight; steel crampons are heavier than aluminum crampons.

Hence, if you want to ski mountaineer or alpine climbs, you should go for aluminum crampons because they help reduce the weight you’re carrying, and there are close to no chances of coming across a highly rocky route.

For technical ice climbing and mixed climbing, you require steel crampons. While they are heavier, they are much more durable than aluminum crampons. This makes them better suited for walking through steep and technical terrain. Particularly, steel crampons endure corrosion and rust very impressively.

How do I wear crampons?

It’s relatively straightforward to use crampons, though the biggest risk is having spiky things joined to your legs. To wear them, take them and position them spikes down. Then, place and attach your footwear. By this point, you should be able to tell the right from the left crampon.

Once you’re done attaching the boots, you’re good to go! Plus, your guide should assist you in adjusting them in case they don’t fit your footwear correctly. If you don’t have anyone who can show you how to put your crampons on, read our guide on how to use crampons.

How to Properly Take Care of Your Crampons

Crampons are designed to last a long time, provided they are properly used and taken care of. By adhering to several easy-to-follow habits, you can keep them in good shape for a long time. And here is our guide on crampons care.

1. Do not use them on a rock

Even though it sounds unreasonable to remove your crampons when on a mixed route, it helps keep them durable for your next adventure. Utilizing them continuously on a rock will make the point dull fast, thus leading to them bending within a short time.

2. Store them in a crampon bag

In addition to buying a crampon bag, you should consider investing in a crampon crown when on your adventure to shield the rest of your gear. This is because the points tend to snag rope or fabric.

3. Store them in a cool, dry place

Double-check to make sure they’re completely dry when storing them to prevent rusting. Also, you can apply a light oil coating for additional protection.

Final Thoughts on How to Choose Crampons

Well, there it is, a comprehensive guide on how to choose crampons. This write-up has conveniently narrowed down everything you need to consider when purchasing crampons, and now all you have to do is go to the nearest outdoor gear shop and try out several crampons sets. Also, make sure you take care of your crampons correctly so that they last a long time.

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About the author 

Bernice

Bernice often jokes that she is better at climbing than walking. With avid parents of climbing, her first encounter with the high vertical rock walls was at the age of one. Her favorite style of climbing is bouldering.

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