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How to Choose Crampons

When shopping for a new pair of crampons you’ll notice several different designs and configurations.

Each style has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as an intended use. Whether you’re planning on climbing the DC route on Mt. Rainier or venturing into the wet and cold world of ice climbing, choosing the right crampon will keep your mind off the gear and on the objective ahead.

Attachment Type

There are three types of attachment systems for modern crampons: step-in, hybrid, and strap-on.

step-in

Step-In Crampons

Step-in crampons provide the most secure attachment between the crampon and the boot. This is achieved by using a wire toe bar (bail) and an adjustable, lockable heel tab that work in conjunction to hold the crampon in place. In order to use this type of crampon, ski boots or mountaineering boots with both heel and toe welts are required.

Since step-in crampons provide such a secure attachment, they are ideal for ice climbing, technical mountaineering and ski mountaineering, where a loose crampon can cause some serious trouble.

hybrid

Hybrid Crampons

Hybrid crampons use the same type of adjustable and lockable heel tab as step-in crampons, but forego the rigid toe bail in favor of a plastic loop that extends over the toe-box of the boot. This design provides a secure attachment to a wider range of mountaineering boots, as they only require a welt on the heel of the boot. Despite they plastic loop’s design, hybrid crampons still provide a very solid attachment when properly fitted to the boot.

strap-on

Strap-On Crampons

Strap-on crampons are the most basic and most versatile of the bunch, as they can be used with practically any hiking or mountaineering boot. They feature the same type of plastic loop as on hybrid crampons at the toe piece, but substitute the rear locking mechanism for another plastic loop that partially wraps around the heel of the boot.

Regardless of what attachment style you choose, each will have a piece of webbing that is threaded through the heel or both the heel and toe of the crampon (depending on the attachment type). On step-in crampons, the webbing is used to keep everything tight and in place. As you move to hybrid and strap-on crampons, this webbing loop plays a larger role in keeping the heel lock engaged. When using crampons, always make sure the strap is properly attached. It’s also a good idea to periodically check the crampon and strap while climbing to make sure everything remains tight.

Crampon / Boot Compatibility

Step-in Crampons Hybrid Crampons Strap-on Crampons
Ski boots, Mountaineering boots with heel and toe welts Ski boots, Mountaineering boots with heel or heel and toe welts Any high-top hiking or mountaineering boot, Ski boots

Crampon Recommended Use

Step-in Crampons Hybrid Crampons Strap-on Crampons
Ice / Mixed / Alpine Climbing,
Technical Mountaineering
Ice Climbing, Alpine Climbing,
General Mountaineering
General Mountaineering

Features to Look For

Anti-balling Plates

Anti-balling plates are essential to traveling on snow in crampons and come standard on almost all crampons. They attach to the bottom of the crampon and prevent snow and ice from caking up and sticking to your crampons while you climb.

Point Material

When shopping for crampons you’ll encounter spikes that are either made out of stainless steel, steel, or aluminum. Steel spikes are ideal for technical ice/mixed climbing as well as mountaineering routes that feature alpine ice or a few moves on rock. Aluminum spikes are lighter than those made of steel, but are not as durable, only making them ideal for soft snow climbing on moderate mountaineering routes. Kicking into hard ice or climbing rock with aluminum spikes can bend or break the soft points.

There are also several crampon models that feature steel front points and aluminum heel spikes. These are great for technical ice or mixed routes where durable steel front points are required, but the aluminum rear points very rarely contact rock or ice.

Number of points

You will most often see either 10 or 12-point crampons. In general, 10-point models will be ideal for basic mountaineering and snow/glacier travel, since you’ll most often be traveling on lower-angle terrain where the extra two points near the toe will add very little benefit. As you move more toward technical mountaineering, ice and mixed-climbing, 12-point crampons become the norm. The extra two points, located near the ball of the foot provide additional purchase on hard ice and rock especially while standing in steep rest positions.

Front Point Style

The front points of a crampon are really what distinguish technical ice climbing crampons from more general mountaineering models. The front points are classified as either horizontal or vertical. While they look very similar at first, you’ll notice that horizontal front points are generally flat extensions of the main crampon frame that are bent downward and angled into a point. On the other hand, vertical front points look more like ice axe spikes extending off the front of the crampon.

front-point

These different designs play a major role in how the crampon will perform on both snow and ice. Horizontal points are designed for snow and glacier travel, where you will likely encounter softer conditions. The wide footprint of the point will provide more purchase while front-pointing in soft snow. Vertical front points are designed for hard ice and mixed climbing. The vertical design allows the climber to kick the front-points into hard objects to gain purchase, while resisting the bending that could occur with horizontal points. Although vertical points are excellent in hard conditions, they tend to cut like a hot knife through butter when things get soft, making it very difficult for the climber to achieve a strong foothold when front-pointing up softer snow and alpine ice.

Number of Front Points

General mountaineering crampons will always have two horizontal front points. Once you move into more technical models, you’ll begin to see mono and dual-point, vertical point crampons. There are also several crampon models that have offset points, where one is longer than the other. These are usually only desirable to technical ice, mixed and alpine climbers who will benefit from a single point that provides a much more precise point of contact with very small features on rock or ice.

Linking Bars

Linking bars connect the toe and heel sections of the crampon. There are certain linking bars that are flexible to offer better performance for softer boots that have flex in them. Other linking bars are made of aluminum, steel or stainless steel and are used for adjusting the overall length of the crampon to mate properly with your specific boot.

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