Crampons are traction devices that strap to your hiking or climbing boots. They provide a grip on snow and ice, making it easier to traverse steep slopes or cross glaciers without skidding or falling. They were invented in the 19th century and have since evolved into specialized traction devices for specific activities, such as ice climbing.
Generally, a crampon is a semi-rigid traction device with a horizontal frame that supports the front of your foot and the soles of your boots. They can be made from steel alloy, light weight aluminium or a combination of these materials. Modern crampons are lightweight and often feature innovations, such as anti-balling plates or spikes with a rubber covering.
A crampon can be fitted over most types of hiking footwear, including shoes and even ski touring boots. Many models also feature bindings, which can be clipped or slid onto the toes of your boot, for added security.
When selecting a pair of Crampons 101: All You Need To Know, choose one that fits your boots well and that will fit securely over the top of your boots. Strap-on crampons, like the Kahtoola crampons listed below, usually fit better than clip-on systems because you can adjust the length and flex of the center bar so it fits the contours of your feet, ankles and heels.
If you’re shopping for a new pair of crampons, take your boots along to the store and try them on. Be sure the toe bail fits the toe of your boots and that the heel lever sits on a groove or welt in the bottom of the shoe.
Some brands, such as Grivel, offer fully modular crampons with a wide range of options for changing the points or bindings. These allow you to upgrade your crampons as your climbing skills develop or as your needs change. They’re also less expensive than buying a new set of crampons with every upgrade.
10-point crampons with front points angled downward provide increased stability and safety when walking or climbing on steep snowy or icy terrain. 12-point crampons with front points positioned at a 45° angle are more versatile than 10-point models and may be used for more technical climbing or mixed ice/rock routes.
Hybrid crampons are a good choice for alpine or ice climbers who want a combination of heel lever and toe strap. They work with boots with a stiff sole and heel groove or welt to hold the heel lever. However, hybrids are not as strong as front pointing crampons.
Microspike versions of crampons are often designed for a variety of surfaces, from gravel to ice concrete or frozen mud. The cleats on these traction devices are typically larger or longer than those on crampons that are designed for the same surface, so you’ll get a better grip on slippery surfaces.
They’re also much lighter than traditional traction devices, and are often worn over standard hiking or walking boots rather than specialized climbing shoes or alpine boots. They’re usually a little more difficult to put on and take off, but they do save you from sliding or skidding.