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Introduction to Crampons

Crampons are necessary on all summit climbs and mountaineering expeditions because they are the key piece of equipment attaching your feet to the mountain. They’re essential gear on steep snowfields, glaciers and vertical ice.

What should you consider when selecting a Crampon?

We know what you are thinking, and no, they are not called “clamp-ons.” Crampon is a French word for a piece of gear first designed in 1908 in a 10-point style. More recently, two additional points – actually called “tines” – were added to the front of the device to make front-point climbing possible in steep terrain. These are the crampons most commonly used today.

For most Northwest Alpine Guides climbs and courses we recommend 12-point steel mountaineering crampons. Your crampons should also include anti-snow balling plates and a safety strap. Mountaineering crampons are different from crampons used for ice climbing on frozen waterfalls. Vertical ice climbing crampons typically have 14 points for added stability. On mountaineering crampons, the front points are broad and flat to provide best purchase in snow. On ice climbing crampons, the front points are narrow to better penetrate the ice.

Crampons can be attached to mountaineering boots with a variety of different strapping systems. The correct system for you will depend on the style of your boots and the terrain you plan to climb.

Primary strap styles:

  1. The toe “bail” consists of a steel wire on the front of the crampon, which fits into the boot’s toe welt. A hinged buckle on the rear of the crampon snaps tightly onto the boot’s heel welt. This system includes an ankle safety strap to prevent loss of the crampon if it detaches from the boot. This is the most secure crampon strap system, and is the system of choice for steep, firm terrain and vertical ice. It can be used only on boots with rigid toe and heel welts.
  2. The toe bail on the crampon consists of a plastic basket that fits snugly over the boot’s toe box. A hinged buckle at the rear snaps tightly onto the boot’s heel welt. This system includes a safety strap at the ankle. This system strikes a balance between security and adaptability; the plastic toe basket allows the crampon to be used on a wider variety of boots while the heel buckle delivers a tighter fit.
  3. A plastic basket bail in the front of the crampon fits snugly over the boot’s toe box, while another plastic basket bail in the rear fits snugly behind the boot’s heel. This system also includes a safety strap at the ankle. While completely sufficient for many glacier climbs, this is the least secure strap system. It can be used on the widest variety of boots.

Our favorite crampon brands and styles:

Petzl Vasak
Black Diamond Sabertooth
Grivel G12

Note: Petzl Irvis and Black Diamond Contact 10-point crampons are adequate for Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and Mount Shuksan standard routes.

Boot Welt Types

There are a few considerations when buying crampons specific to your boots. Does your boot have a toe welt or not? Boots with toe welts can be used in conjunction with any crampon style. However, boots that do not have a toe welt will require use of plastic basket crampons.

Do not hesitate to reach out to Northwest Alpine Guides with any questions on finding the right type of crampons or boots for you.