Anyone who has climbed over ice, snow or at high altitude will tell you that one of the most important things you can do is keep your balance.
For this reason, mountaineering enthusiasts have gradually developed more and more gear to help humans in their quest to reach the world’s highest peaks.
Packing all the essential gear is critical to the success of any mountaineering expedition. Coming unprepared is one of the main differences between the adventure of a lifetime and going home early.
Since your feet are what will get you to the summit, selecting the right mountaineering boots is paramount. Once this is done, you can focus on finding the right type of crampons to go with them.
Crampons are traction devices that attach to mountaineering boots, improving mobility on snow and ice. They are usually made of aluminum or stainless steel and come with 10 to 12 spikes on the front and bottom.
Depending on their design, crampons can be used for alpine climbing, vertical ice climbing or glacier hiking.
As with any technical piece of gear, you will be best served by selecting the right crampons for the activity you are pursuing. When in doubt, consult with a professional to find the best crampons for your specific boots and type of expedition.
Below are some details about the different types of crampons.
Before deciding what kind of crampons are best suited for your mountaineering needs, it is helpful to know a little bit more about how they work and what exactly they comprise.
There are roughly six different components that fall into two main parts. These parts are the base of the crampons and the binding system.
Base Components of a Crampon
The base of the crampons comprises the teeth or spikes, anti-balling plates and flexbar.
The teeth (also known as spikes) are the part of the crampon that is responsible for traction. Depending on the type of climbing, these are either adjustable or non-adjustable and can either be smooth or serrated.
A bit farther down, we’ll get into the specifics of crampon teeth.
The teeth of the crampons are attached to two anti-balling plates at the toe and heel of the crampon. These plates prevent snow from sticking to the crampons, which would make them useless for climbing.
The two anti-balling plates are connected to one another with a flex bar, which is also known as the centre or linking bar.
Flex bars are usually semi-rigid, which provides the best performance on the widest variety of terrains. It is flexible enough to use while walking on snow and ice, but rigid enough for most ice climbing purposes.
For some types of ice climbing, it is best to sick with hinged or rigid crampons. However, these must be removed during the approach as they are only useful on the ice.
All About Crampon Teeth (Spikes)
There are two main types of crampon teeth and three distinct layouts of these teeth on the crampons.
Modular & Non-Modular Crampons
Crampon teeth are either modular or non-modular, which means they can be removed or they are permanently attached.
The teeth of modular crampons may be removed, which means you can replace them when they are worn or damaged, or change the layout depending on the need. Modular crampons are best for people who will be doing a lot of mixed climbing.
Non-modular crampons are fixed in one position. As a result, they must be sharpened when they get dull and will become gradually shorter over time. Non-modular crampons are a bit more sturdy than modular crampons and are less likely to break.
There is no set formula for how many teeth a crampon should have or in what position they should be. This will change depending on the type of climb. However, most crampons come with 10 to 12 teeth each and are laid out in three general ways.
Mono-point crampons have a single spike at the front, which makes them more precise. As a result, they are ideal for delicate moves on highly technical routes.
The mono-point fits into smaller pockets or cracks in the ice and is more precise on the rocky sections of mixed climbs and for technical overhanging moves. As a result, these crampons are perfect for steep ice climbs, mixed climbs and climbing over hard ice.
Dual-point crampons have two front points and are the style of choice for the vast majority of ice climbers. The two front teeth provide a more secure platform for climbing up long ice routes, especially at lower angles and in softer conditions.
Horizontal Point Crampons
Horizontal point crampons are the go-to for most mountaineering expeditions. They have two horizontal teeth on the front of the crampon, which are generally shorter than the other types of crampons. This makes walking through snow and up moderately steep slopes easier.
Horizontal point crampons are perfectly suited for alpine climbs that include some minor rock climbing, hiking over snowfields and moderate ice climbs. They are also well suited to glacier travel and winter hiking.
Crampon Binding System
The crampon binding system is what holds the boot to the base. It may further be broken down into three separate parts: the heel clip (also known as a heel lever), toe cage and binding straps.
The heel clip simply wraps around the heel to keep it held securely onto the rear anti-balling plate of the crampon. Meanwhile, the toe cage serves the same purpose at the front of the crampon.
The binding straps are then used to attach the crampon to the mountaineering boots. There are four main types of binding systems: the bolt-on, hybrid, step-in and strap-on.
The bolt-on is the least popular and is highly specialised. These are minimalist crampons used with so-called fruit boots, a type of climbing shoe. As the name suggests, the two anti-balling plates of this crampon are bolted to the heel and toe of the boot.
These crampons are best reserved for highly technical mixed climbing, ice climbing and dry tooling. They cannot be used for walking over snow or glaciers.
Strap-on crampons are required for boots without welts, which bind the boot to the sole. Almost all high-altitude (triple) mountaineering boots come with welts, but some single and double mountaineering boots do not.
Strap-on crampons are perfect for mountaineers heading on alpine climbs. They provide excellent traction on non-technical terrain and are compatible with approach shoes and snowboarding boots.
They may also be used on more technical terrain, but there may be more slippage and movement between the crampon and shoe in these situations. As a result, hybrid and step-in crampons are more appropriate.
Step-in crampons have the most technical binding style and are also the most secure. They are ideal for vertical ice climbs, mixed climbs, ski mountaineering and highly technical mountaineering.
They feature a lever and cable heel piece that can be adjusted to specifically fit the boot. They also have a toe bail that fits over the front welt of the boot. This system means there is very little movement between the anti-balling plates and the sole of the boot.
As the name suggests, hybrid crampons are somewhere in between strap-on and step-in crampons. They combine a toe strap that fits boots without welts with a lever and a cable heel system that attach to heel welts.
As a result, hybrid crampons are perfect for expeditions for alpine climbing, general mountaineering and winter hiking.
As with any piece of mountaineering gear, you will get more mileage out of your crampons if you care for them properly. When maintained appropriately, a good pair of crampons can even last a lifetime.
After each mountaineering expedition, wipe away all of the dirt and grit from the crampons and make sure they are completely dry before putting them away.
As you wipe them down, inspect the crampons to make sure that none of the components (flex bar, bindings, teeth, etc.) are not too worn. Sharpen or replace dull teeth when appropriate.
When not in use, make sure they are stored somewhere dry.
Picking the right crampons is essential to any successful mountaineering expedition. Take your time and consult with the experts at any reputable outdoor sports store to make sure that you are picking the right crampons for your expedition and mountaineering boots.
However, once you’ve got the right crampons for your boots, you are one step closer to your next incredible mountaineering experience!