Terms of the Trade: What are Crampons?

spikes on hiking boot in ice and snow

Designed to provide optimum traction on snow and especially ice, crampons are essential for ice climbing enthusiasts. Rather than be forced to cut steps into the side of a vertical ice wall, crampons give climbers the ability to cut into the ice and gain traction with their feet. Commonly made from hard steel or lighter-weight aluminum, crampons attach to the bottom of a climber's boots. They basically consist of several rows of spikes that cut into slippery terrain. Vertical ice climbing crampons feature additional front-pointing spikes to aid a climber in scaling a wall.

10-Point vs. 12-Point Crampons

10-point crampons feature 10 downward-pointing spikes. This is the original design of the climbing/mountaineering accessory. They are most useful for hiking up to moderately steep climbs. 12-point crampons, on the other hand, feature two additional spikes pointing outwards to grab into vertical ice, eliminating the need to cut foot holes while climbing.

Types and Attachment Methods

Crampons may be hinged or rigid depending on their function. Hinged crampons move with the natural motion of the foot while walking, while rigid crampons remain in a fixed position. For any type of ice or snow hiking or mixed terrain, hinged crampons are preferable. Rigid crampons are better suited for steep ice climbing, though, reducing leg fatigue while scaling a wall.

Anti-Balling Crampons

This style of crampon features a bottom plate coated with a type of plastic. It prevents ice from freezing to it and balling up on the sole of the boot, limiting the depth in which the spikes can be driven. Also called anti-bott crampons, the best alternative to this type of crampon is periodically knocking the sole of the boot with an ice pick to remove snow or ice.

Other Information

Crampons attach to boots either with a step-in locking system or with straps. Hybrid crampons combine these methods. Makers include Petzl, Grivel, Kahtoola and Black Diamond. Prices typically range anywhere from $150 to $200.

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