Chris Townsend reviews the best crampons on the market and takes us through what to look for when buying a pair
When there is snow and ice on the hills crampons are essential for safety. They also make walking easier and open up the mountains in winter. Without them there are limits to where you can safely go, crampons enable you to stay on your feet on any icy terrain, even if it’s ﬂat. Rubber soles just don’t grip on ice or hard snow.
The choice in crampons is large. Many are designed for serious technical climbing though and are unsuitable for hillwalking. Those intended for walkers are usually simpler in design, lighter in weight and less expensive than those designed for graded winter climbs. Crampons suitable for hillwalking may be described as being for glacier travel, general mountaineering or ski mountaineering.
The key with crampons is that they should ﬁt your footwear securely. For walkers, ﬂexible crampons that can be fittted to ﬂexible or semi-stiff boots are best. With such crampons and boots you can climb any slope on which you can put your feet down ﬂ at (this may require traversing on steeper slopes). Once the angle is such that you can only ascend on the front points of the crampons you need stiff boots to go any distance. Bendy boots are too tiring and unstable to do this for long. Techniques need to be learnt and practiced. You also need to know when to put them on – ie. as soon as you reach terrain where they might be needed and not halfway up an icy slope.
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Crampons usually have 10 or 12 points. Front points that angle outwards are for steep slopes and technical climbing. These can be useful on some hill walks. Crampons without front points are for gentler terrain. The length of points is not a major consideration but shorter ones are more stable when walking on rocks or bare ground, something often done in the British hills when the snow and ice is patchy.
To ﬁt walking footwear crampons need to have a ﬂexible bar linking the front and rear sections. Rigid crampons are for use with rigid boots and shouldn’t be used with ﬂexible footwear. They are designed for climbing not walking.
Steel is the standard material for crampons as it is hard-wearing and the points hold an edge well and are easily sharpened. Aluminium is used to make very light crampons. It’s fine for occasional use but blunts easily, isn’t as durable and may not grip on hard ice.
Attaching crampons with cold ﬁngers can be difﬁcult but often has to be done so attachment systems need to be simple and quick to adjust. Flexible plastic cradles at toe and heel linked by a single strap are perhaps the easiest system for walking boots. This is sometimes called a universal or strap-on binding. Clip bindings at the heel and/or the toe are very easy and fast to use but are only suitable for boots with welts.
5. Anti-Ball Plates
Soft snow can build up in big clumps on crampons, which makes walking uncomfortable and dangerous as stability is reduced. Rubber or plastic plates ﬁtted between the spikes reduce this.
Crampons must ﬁt footwear securely. This needs to be checked as not all crampons are compatible with all footwear. All the crampons tested have an adjustable ﬂex bar with a sprung clip that makes altering the length easy.