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A quick idiots guide to Crampons.


Posted October 25, 2012 by

The winter and Alpine mountaineer faces an almost overwhelming choice when shopping for new crampons.  Do you get something technical and modular with adjustable points, asymmetric layout and heel spurs, or something more middle-of-the-road, a bog standard 12-pointer?

Don’t panic.  The important thing is that you can do (almost) anything in any crampon.  People have walked up Everest in rigid C3 Crampons designed for extreme ice, while others have climbed the some of the hardest water ice routes in modified C1 10-point walking crampons.   All crampon types have pros and cons and the trick is getting a crampon whose pros most closely match your needs.


TYPICAL TERRITORY: Walking, trekking and ski touring, plus non-technical classic Alpine ground (nothing pitched).

PROS: Very light and compact, saving energy over long distances, crucial if you’re at higher altitudes, or may never need them in the first place.  Most have a simple strap system that will fit on to any boot, shoe or even climbing slipper.  Doesn’t ball up in most conditions…. And they are cheap.

CONS: Most effective on level ground becoming less effective and unstable the steeper the ground gets (i.e. less point contact with the ground).  Tend to wear out quickly if exposed to hard ground, and aren’t suitable for larger boot sizes and heavier users.  Any emergency and unplanned climbing will prove very difficult due to point design and penetration and only the most experienced climbers will take the risk as they will eventually break.


TYPICAL TERRITORY: The genuine all-round performer, able to handle everything from grade VI ice, VIII mixed, Alpine North Faces, high altitude ‘walking’ and anything else that requires spiky shoes.

PROS: If you’ve got these on your feet you should be able to get up most things.  They are tough enough to stand up to seasons of abuse and, although not the lightest crampons, they aren’t the heaviest and so won’t weigh too heavily on your feet when the air is thin.  They won’t ball up in most conditions and are easy to walk in and will fit on B2 and B3 boots easily and B1 boots for short periods (such as crossing glaciers).

CONS: Horizontal points aren’t as effective on pure ice as vertical points, meaning they can feel less secure on steep icefalls.


TYPICAL TERRITORY: The traditional rigid technical crampon, designed to support you on steep ground and provide vibration free kicks into the hardest ice.

PROS: Very solid, stable and strong.  Perfect for sustained steep terrain where a solid platform is crucial.

CONS: Built-up rail design puts you further away from the ground and so dulling your ‘feel’ and guarantees balling up, sometimes even with anti balling plates.  The stiffness of the crampon makes walking slightly more difficult (compared to C1 and C2).


If you just walk in winter then you need a C1 crampon – these will work on B1, B2 or B3 boots.  The more adventurous may wish to purchase a C2 and the pure ice climber ought to get a set of C3’s.  What would we do?  Get a good quality C2 crampon and a B2 boot and you can tackle anything you like… the only limiting factor is your bravery.


John describes himself as an enthusiastic amateur at any sport which does not involve a ball. Based in Cheshire, he is only a couple of hours away from some of the most challenging mountaineering routes in England and Wales, as well as having hundreds of miles of quiet lanes on his doorstep which he regularly covers on his beloved road bike. Confident on Grade 4 scrambling and VDiff rock routes, he has led a number of expeditions throughout the UK and Europe, and is eyeing the Himalayas as his next major objective. He lives with his long suffering wife Suzy and his Jack Russell terrier Ned.


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