Crampons for walkers and climbers

Posted by Daniel Middleton on 04/12/2013
A general mountaineering crampon Photo: Grivel

Winter is coming! It's time for the hills and mountains to don their cloaks of snow and ice. Keeping a firm footing beneath you is essential at this time of year. Make sure you have the correct crampons for your activity, and that they are well maintained.

Pairing up the right crampon and boot combination is important. Marry a rigid crampon with a flexible boot and you stand a good chance of breaking a crampon frame through metal fatigue. Likewise, poorly fitting crampons or incompatible binding systems will inevitably result in a crampons coming off at the worse possible time.
 
Anti-balling plates are extremely important unless you are lucky enough to find a roadside icefall. They help prevent the build up of wet snow underneath the crampon, and are a lifesaver in thawing or wet snow conditions.
 
Walking crampons
A 10 point walking crampon Photo: Grivel
 
For winter travel on non-technical terrain, four season boots combined with a flexible 10 or 12 point walking crampon are ideal. A flexible bar linking the two parts of the crampon allows the boot and crampon to flex slightly with the walking action, which increases walking comfort when compared to a fully rigid set up. Binding systems consist of plastic cages and/or straps for easy attachment on most stiff or semi-stiffened boots.
 
General mountaineering
A 12 point general mountaineering crampon Photo: Black Diamond
 
Classic ridge traverses and easy-mid grade winter routes demand a stiffer boot and more aggressive crampon which still has some flex to accommodate walking. With slightly less walking comfort, the trade-off is that climbing performance and security is massively improved. Suitable boots usually have a deep heel recess to allow the use of a clip in rear binding combined with a plastic cage or strap at the front.
 
Technical climbing
A technical climbing crampon with a vertical mono front point Photo: Petzl
 
For steep ice falls and harder mixed climbs, fully stiffened boots paired with rigid crampons transform the level at which you can operate.  Vertical and mono front points enable precise foot placements and security both on hard ice and when performing rock moves. Binding systems tend to be the same as for general mountaineering, although many boots will accept  a front clip as well for maximum rigidity. At the extreme end of the spectrum are specialist boots where the crampon is simply bolted directly onto the boot.
 
Care and maintenance
 
Winter gear takes a real hammering, and if you want your crampons to be at their best you’ll need to look after them. After use rinse them clean in water, then wipe down and allow them to dry before storing. Hold the crampon securely in a vice, and use a flat metal hand file to gently sharpen any blunted points. For safety, carefully check the frame and points for fatigue cracks using a magnifying glass at the start of each season. Regularly check the condition of any straps, plastic cages and attachment rivets, as failure mid-route doesn’t bear thinking about.
 
Sharpening front points Photo: Petzl


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04/12/2013
Great article. Would add that time spent ensuring a correct and snug fit before you go on the hills is priceless. Know how to fit them at home and cut off some of the excess of the straps, if applicable. Ensure there is no play. (Plenty of good articles about this). Fitting and adjusting with freezing hands on the mountainside brings new challenges.
Anonymous User
09/12/2013
What is the experts' view on things like Minispikes? Are they suitable enough for hillwalkers who just need a grip on icy paths and don't intend to tackle steep slopes, etc?
Daniel Middleton(author comment)
12/12/2013
Good advice there from Robert.

On the subject of Minispikes - use with caution. Winter conditions can be difficult to predict further ahead, where you may really need the support a 4 season boot gives, along with some proper crampons. Minispikes are probably best suited for when they will only be needed on very short sections and when good details are known regarding route conditions - a good example is for approaching the start of certain Alpine rock climbs. They can also be useful for very experienced fellrunners.

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