When it comes to gearing up for ice climbing, mountaineering, or more technical winter hiking, choosing the right pair of crampons should come first and foremost. While there are many winter traction devices out there that can handle everyday snow and ice traversal, it takes the more technical features that are unique to crampons to safely cross glaciers, send ice climbs, and hike mountains at higher altitudes. Read on for a breakdown of the different types of crampons out there, their features, and what specific activities they're best for.
For boots without welts, like regular hiking boots, insulated winter boots, snowboarding boots, approach shoes, or mountaineering boots with overboots, a strap-on style crampon is necessary. This style of crampon utilizes nylon webbing straps and flexible plastic cages on the toe and heel.
Strap style crampons are perfect for providing traction on non-technical terrain or unconventional winter footwear choices like approach shoes or snowboarding boots. This style of binding allows for a secure fit, but on technical terrain there may be some slippage and movement between the crampon and shoe, so a semi-auto or automatic crampon is more appropriate.
Semi-Auto crampons are a hybrid between strap-on crampons and automatic crampons. They feature a strap style toe that doesn't require a welt, combined with a lever and cable heel piece that attaches securely to a heel welt.
Hybrid crampons work with certain styles of alpine climbing and technical hiking boots that forego a toe welt. Alpine climbing boots often forego a toe welt in order to attain maximum sensitivity during routes with a mix of ice and rock climbing with or without crampons. Hiking boots will also sometimes feature a heel welt for better crampon compatibility, but a standard toe for versatility and performance when not wearing crampons. A hybrid crampon is also great for general mountaineering or winter hiking.
Automatic or step-in style crampons are the most secure and technical style of crampon bindings. Featuring a lever and cable heel piece that can be adjusted for a tight fit, combined with a toe bail that fits over the welts on a mountaineering boot or ski boot, step-in crampons are ideal for vertical ice climbing, mixed climbing, ski mountaineering and technical mountaineering.
There is little movement between the rigid sole and contact points of a mountaineering or ski boot and the crampon itself in a step-in system. Some step-in crampons will still use an ankle strap, but it isn't a necessary feature. For technical, vertical ice climbing or any other situation where you are using a crampon with a rigid lugged mountaineering or ski boot, a step-in crampon is essential.
The most specialized crampon style is the screw-on style. For highly technical mixed climbing, ice climbing and dry tooling, some climbers use low profile shoes with a precision fit, unofficially termed "fruit boots." Since fruit boots resemble a beefed-up climbing shoe rather than a mountaineering boot, it has no heel or toe welts.
This style of boot requires special, minimalist crampons that bolt directly to the sole for precise climbing performance at the lowest weight possible. Fruit boots with screw-on crampons are highly specialized and only intended for technical mixed, ice and drytooling, therefore they are not very warm and not intended for any kind of hiking or walking.
Crampon Frontpoint Configurations
Dual-point crampons, which have two frontpoints, are the best choice for a majority of ice climbs. They provide a solid, secure platform for long ice routes, lower angle ice, and softer conditions.
Dual-points will not shear off of softer ice as easily as mono-points will, and provide stability and relief on your legs on long routes. For general ice climbing, low angle ice routes or long routes a dual-point crampon is a great choice that will provide security and stability.
Mono-point crampons with a single frontpoint are ideal for technical, steep ice, for mixed climbing, or for hard ice. A mono-point provides precision and can fit into smaller pockets or cracks. On thin ice, a mono-point is better for making delicate moves. Additionally, if the ice is very hard, a single frontpoint will penetrate easier without shearing out.
Mono-points are also ideal for mixed climbing, as they are more precise on rock sections and for technical overhanging moves. If you mainly climb hard, thin ice, and mixed routes, or if you already have a set of dual-point crampons for normal use and want a second set for technical situations, a mono-point will provide the performance that you need.
Some modern crampons don't make you choose between a dual- or mono-point crampon with modular and adjustable frontpoints. With modular points, you can use dual-points for lower angle ice and longer routes, or a mono-point for technical routes, hard ice and mixed climbing. Additionally, the mono-point can sometimes be offset for maximum precision and according to preference. Some crampon models even allow you to swap in horizontal frontpoints for snow walking and mountaineering.
Additionally, modular points improve the longevity of your crampons, since the points can be replaced if they wear out or break. Crampons without modular points have to be sharpened if they wear out and must be replaced entirely if they break, but they are typically lighter than modular crampons. If you are a well-rounded climber who wants a single crampon for different kinds of ice, mixed and alpine climbing, or if you simply want to improve the life of your gear, a crampon with modular points is an option to consider.
Standard mountaineering crampons have two horizontal points on the front that facilitate walking through snow and on moderate to steep slopes. These points, like the bottom points on the crampon, are built into the frame and are relatively short when compared to frontpoints for ice climbing.
Horizontal frontpoints are exceptional for alpine climbing that requires some minor rock climbing, snowfield climbing and very moderate, non-technical ice ascension. Additionally, crampons with horizontal frontpoints are a great option for winter hiking or glacier travel as they make walking easier. If you are mainly looking for crampons for general mountaineering or winter hiking a pair of crampons with horizontal frontpoints are a perfect option.