Crampons are superb technical climbing tools for climbing on ice, steep snow, glacial travel, mixed climbing on rock and ice, and general mountaineering. Crampons, literally a frame of sharp spikes secured to your boots, allow you to safely and easily climb across icy and snowy terrain that would otherwise be dangerous and inaccessible. Before you buy and use crampons, familiarize yourself with the two types of crampons, the three crampon attachment systems, the crampon’s points, and anti-balling plates.
Two Types of Crampons
There are two basic types of crampons: hinged crampons and rigid crampons. A hybrid crampon that is both hinged and rigid is also available.
Hinged or flexible crampons have a flexible hinge between the front eight points on the forefoot and the four points on the heel. The crampons bend and flex at the foot’s instep, allowing for a natural walking motion. Hinged crampons are best for mountaineering, including climbing snow, crossing glaciers, and climbing mixed ice and rock terrain, since the crampon flexes on the boot as a climber hikes and climbs. Hinged crampons need to be paired with a flexible boot, rather than ice-climbing boots which are very rigid. You can use hinged crampons on technical ice but only with a rigid climbing boot that has little flex. Most climbers use hinged crampons.
Rigid crampons, unlike hinged crampons, don’t flex or bend but instead form a strong stable platform for a climber’s boot and foot. Rigid crampons are used for technical ice climbing, particularly on steep ice terrain, since they allow the climber to position the front points correctly, to keep his heels low, and to reduce foot and leg fatigue while climbing. Rigid crampons are uncomfortable and strenuous for walking so they’re not ideal for general mountaineering. It’s best to use a rigid technical boot with rigid crampons. Avoid using a rigid crampon with a flexible boot because it’s difficult to keep the crampon tightly attached to the boot and they are uncomfortable to wear.
Steel or Aluminum Crampons?
Crampons are made from steel or aluminum. It’s easy to decide what kind of crampon to buy and use—always use steel. They’re strong, durable, rugged, and take all the abuse that you’ll find in the mountains. Aluminum crampons are lightweight but have a short lifespan, are easily damaged, and are made strictly for snow or glacier travel.