General Info: Crampons

Hiking, classical or technical mountaineering/alpinism, ice climbing, mix – in all these sports you can not do without crampons. Without this device, it is challenging to safely and confidently navigate on ice, snow, firn (caked thick snow) and icy rocks.

Crampons in action on ice hill

Anyone, even who is far from mountaineering, knows what crampons are – a metal device with sharp teeth, which is attached to the sole of the boots and facilitates movement on ice and snow.

Today, manufacturers offer a wide selection of crampons models designed for a variety of conditions – from simple walks along the glacier to extreme mixed climbing. A different design, which can be softer or more aggressive, helps to fit crampons to all kinds of mountain routes.

To choose the right crampons, you need to figure out what fundamentally differ from each other models, sharpened for different types of mountain sports, and which of these types do you plan to do.

The general construction of crampons

Crampon Construction image
Photo: Grivel

Most modern crampons consist of the separate front (under the toe of the boot) and rear (under the heel) parts, fastened with a connecting linking bar. The front and rear parts are equipped with sharp teeth, which can have different shapes and varying degrees of strength. Crampons are also equipped with a special mount for boots.

Linking bars, as a rule, are made of steel and differ from each other in shape (straight or curved), length and number of holes. The bar helps fit the crampons to your size and type of shoes.

Today it is rarely possible to meet models with a solid rigid platform – they are a thing of the past (for example, large manufacturers Petzl and Black Diamond have no such variation in the model line now). The modern strap fastening of the front and rear parts of crampon is no less stable than the platform one and usually weighs less.

Anti-balling plate – a durable rubber or plastic substrate under the front and back of crampons, thanks to which snow does not stick between the teeth. Snow sticking is potentially dangerous: it reduces traction and can cause a breakdown. Antipodlip is especially effective when walking on wet snow, and there is no need for it when climbing on ice or mixed terrain. Each model of crampons has its own anti-slip model, as a rule, they do not come with crampons, but are purchased separately.

Types of front teeth in different crampons models

The fundamental difference between the teeth in different models of crampons is their location and shape, the presence of notches, the ability to adjust the position of the teeth and replace them. The number of teeth is not the most important factor, on average, their number varies between 10-14 pieces.

Crampons Teethes from the front

Crampons for mountaineering, trekking and ski mountaineering usually have wide, flat front teeth without the possibility of replacement and adjustment. This design helps to move confidently along the soft snow-ice terrain but is ineffective for climbing.

More aggressive crampons, suitable for mountaineering, ice climbing and mixed breeding, are provided with sharper and stronger front teeth with serrations. Some of these models provide for the possibility of replacing the front teeth and adjusting their position.

Individual models have only one front tooth. Such a “single-tooth” design is used in sports crampons designed for extreme mixed and ice climbing routes.

Types of attachment for different models of crampons

Depending on the attachment device, crampons can be worn on a wide variety of shoes – whether it’s climbing or skiing boots or regular sneakers (you just need to be aware that different shoes are also designed for different tasks).

All crampons models have two mounts: front and rear. In their form, they are divided into the so-called flexible mounts and mounts under the welt.

Flexible mounts allow you to attach crampons to any type of shoe and tighten with slings and buckles. This mount is universal, but not rigid and leaves some freedom for crampons.

As a rule, crampons with both front and rear mounts are flexible, designed for mountain hiking and simple climbing routes when they put on trekking boots or other shoes designed for walking on snow and climbing soft, cold ice. With difficult climbing due to the existing play, flexible mounting is unreliable.

Mounts under the welt are metal staples that firmly “stand” in the special grooves provided in some models of ski and climbing shoes. Actually, these recesses are called welts, and shoes with them are called welded.

The rear mounts for the welt are of the “frog” type – a latch with precise screw adjustment – or, like the front ones, can be a simple wire bracket with a latch.

A sling in crampons with brackets is also provided, but it is no longer part of the mount, but performs a safety function: it does not let the crampons “miss”.

Mounting types can be combined depending on the model. So, manufacturers offer both options where both mounts are flexible or welded, and options where one mount is flexible and the second mount. The choice of model will depend on what shoes you plan to wear crampons.

Modern manufacturers often produce the same model of crampons with different types of fastening, so you can choose the fastener just for your shoes. On the other hand, the situation is justified when not crampons fit shoes, but boots for crampons.

Soft and aggressive crampons

In general, depending on the design of the crampon can be divided into softer and more aggressive. The first ones are intended for mountain tourism, trekking, ski-climbing and simple climbing routes. The second – for technical mountaineering, ice climbing and mixed.

The table below shows the main differences between these two lineups.

Soft models“Aggressive” models
Main applicationMountain hikingMountain climbing and ice climbing
Front and rear designSoft, less durableTighter, more durable
Type of mountSoft (rarely combined)Staples or “frog” (less commonly combined)
Attachment PropertiesLeaves freedom, fits all bootsRigid, no backlash, more accurate fit, suitable for welded shoes
Front teethTwo front teethWide, flat, have a large surface areaProvide comfortable movement on soft snow-ice topographyNot suitable for hard winter ice climbingThe front teeth resemble the beaks of ice tools in shapeSerratedForged, more durable alloyCan be interchangeable
Front lateral teethVerticalAt an angle (45 degrees), sharper sharpening
Crampons, suitable for mountaineeringCrampons suitable for classic and technical climbing and ice climbingSport crampons for extreme ice climbing and mixed
The front part is of a simple quadrangular shape, soft front mount, rear frog mount, 10 teeth, front teeth are flat and wide, side front teeth are vertical.The front part with a jumper in the middle (more rigid construction), anti-slip, hard mount with a bracket in front and a “frog” at the back, 12 teeth, aggressive front teeth with sharpening.Rigid cast front part, rigid back and front mount under the welt (bracket), one aggressive front tooth with serrations.

Ultra-lightweight aluminium crampons 

In addition to classic steel crampons, crampons from an aluminium can be found on sale today. Such models are available with both soft and hard mounts. Due to their minimal weight, these crampons are ideal for skiing and freeriding, as well as for simple glacier trips. 

Options with a hard mount are suitable for a ski boot, with soft ones – for any other shoes.

For example, a pair of Petzl LEOPARD crampons weighs just 330 grams. This weight is achieved not only thanks to the material from which they are made but also thanks to the innovative CORD-TEC connection system. Instead of the standard strap, the front and back of the crampons are connected by a light ultra-strong Dyneema® cord.

Lightweight aluminium crampons can also be found in stock at CAMP. Crampons for mountaineering XLC 490 Universal weighing 490 grams and crampons for ski mountaineering XLC 390 Fast weighing 402 grams.

How to choose the right crampons

Before buying crampons, figure out what terrain you will use them on. Will it be a simple snow-ice route, technical ascent or ice-rock sections. It is also important to select and fit crampons for the shoes on which you will wear them.

The article contains general information on the applicability of crampons of different designs to different types of routes. However, this information is not exhaustive. The lineup of crampons today is extremely extensive. Therefore, the most correct action is to clearly understand which routes you need crampons, correctly “marry” crampons with boots and not disdain the help of a consultant in a specialized store.

If you pick crampons up for shoes, it’s best to take the shoes with you to the store. And after the acquisition, customize the crampons for specific shoes before climbing, so as not to get into an awkward situation on the route, and do not forget to sharpen your teeth before going to the mountains.

See you in the mountains!

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