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Crampons are crucial on firm snow and ice. Giles Trussell from Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre takes us through everything you need to know about using them


To start with, it’s always worth anticipating challenging terrain ahead and putting crampons on before you need them. However, they can be a trip hazard, particularly on bare or rocky ground, so consider your surroundings and make a judgement based on current conditions and what you see before you.

The Essentials

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  1. Ensure your crampons are on the correct feet, buckle on the outside and set correctly to your boot.
  2. Keep a clean, snag-free instep if possible.
  3. On most snow, a body weight walk is sufficient for point penetration. On hard icy surfaces, glazed or super hard névé it is often necessary to be more forceful with the foot plant or front point.
  4. Set your gait slightly wider than normal.
  5. On any consequential slope, if you have your crampons on you should also have an axe in your hand.

Balled up snow

Balling-up is when snow sticks underneath your crampons, making them less effective. Anti-balling plates are fitted to most crampons but it’s still important to watch out for balling. If it does occur, tap your foot against a rock or, if necessary, with the shaft of your axe.

Crampon techniques 

Different types of terrain require different approaches. Try to practice all of these in non-critical environments before heading out onto the tops.

Flat-footing in ascent

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For flat, firm snow or relatively shallow-angled slopes, or to walk up steeper slopes at an angle:

  • Be positive and assertive, take control of the surface, be the boss
  • As it says – flat feet, all downward points in contact with surface
  • Across slopes push knees and hips out to maintain point contact. This will relieve stresses on your ankles
  • Check point print to see if you are managing this
  • As the slope steepens, consider pointing feet more downhill to engage the point
  • Use an exaggerated swing of the foot/leg as you step over
  • Stamp if you need greater penetration
  • Remember, rhythm and steady progress is good: axe, stamp, stamp
  • Changing direction, put your two feet into a V-shape facing up-slope, or consider stamping around facing down slope

 

Front pointing in ascent 

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  • Swing from the knee, and let the boot weight do the work
  • Maintain a relaxed knee, with feet horizontal
  • Ensure a direct kick perpendicular to the slope, engaging all front points
  • Take small upward steps, with a wider stand for stability
  • Remember rhythm: axe, kick, kick

Front pointing in descent

  • Small steps down
  • Feet wider for increased stability
  • Remember rhythm: axe, kick, kick

Flat footing in descent 

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  • Lower hips to keep weight centred over crampons
  • Positive deliberate stamp
  • Create a steady rhythm to your movement

Top Tip: If the snowpack allows, it is also OK to heel-plunge in descent with crampons on. Remain tuned into the environment as you may need to change back to a fl at-foot technique if things firm up.

Traversing

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  • Front point facing in or flat foot facing out
  • Remember rhythm, engage the axe for stability

The hybrid or combo in ascent – front point and flat foot

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This is a great energy- and speed-efficient technique for boots or with crampons.

  • Axe in the same hand as the front point
  • The leading leg kicks in as in pigeon steps or front pointing
  • The trailing leg flat edges or flat-foots

Looking after your spikes

Crampons take a lot of weight over the course of a day, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for cracks around adjustment points and holes or bends. Check yours out at the start of the winter and regularly through the season.

After each day out, dry them off. And when the end of the winter comes, make sure to clean theme and lightly lubricate them. Store them without rubber protectors to avoid rusting. If the points on your crampons have blunted, you can sharpen them with a hand file. You may also occasionally have to tighten the screws and tidy up any frayed straps (loose threads can be melted off with a lighter).

Carry an emergency repair kit with you in case you need to repair your crampons on the go: a long strap and buckle, spare rivets, nuts, bolts and screws, thin wire, cable tipes, tape, a screwdriver, allan keys and light pliers.