Best Hiking Crampons
When you plan to trek across icy mountains and steep glaciers, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got all the essentials: plenty of food and water, a headlamp, pocket knife, and high-quality crampons.
If you’ve never hiked through the snow, you might not even know what crampons are, or why they’re important for your journey. Or, maybe you’ve done your fair share of winter hiking, but you’re in need of a new pair of crampons. But, just as you’d need to look up the best camping tents or best sleeping pads, it never hurts to get another opinion.
Before you tackle a wintry forest or Mount Everest, I’ll break down why crampons matter, how to pick out the right pair, and which ones are the best crampons for hiking.
Why Crampons are Essential
When you hike through mountain trails in the summertime, you usually don’t need more than a pair of high-quality boots. However, add in a bit of snow and ice, and you can no longer get a grip in those same hiking boots. This is where a set of crampons can come in handy. Just as an athlete wears cleats to gain traction on the field, the pointy, metal teeth of crampons help you gain traction in the snow. These pointed ends dig into the ice and snow.
Not all wintry terrain requires a pair of crampons. If you’re only hiking in a couple of inches of snow, and the snow is already packed down from hikers before you, crampons might be unnecessary. However, if your boots begin to sink into the snow or you keep slipping on the ice, crampons can help you get a toehold.
Crampon Features to Consider
If you already know that crampons are going to be a must-have for your next wintry expedition, then your next obstacle is figuring out what to look for. When you shop online, most crampons list tons of different features and specifications, but it can be difficult to tell which ones matter—and that’s where I come in:
Type of Frame
You’ll notice that most crampons use either one of two materials: steel or aluminum. Both have their benefits, but aluminum crampons tend to be better for snow or ski mountaineering. Since they’re lightweight, aluminum is less likely to slow you down or tire you out as easily as a burly pair of steel crampons would.
However, if you plan to cover rocky terrain, you’ll want to trade those aluminum crampons in for steel ones. Steel crampons, whether it be stainless or Chromoly steel, often hold up much better, and are an ideal choice for technical mountaineering.
If you do plan to use a pair of steel crampons, you’ll have to pick between Chromoly steel and stainless steel. Chromoly steel should still hold its own, but stainless-steel crampons are significantly more rust-resistant non corrosive—but they do usually come with a higher price tag.
Besides using different materials, you’ll also notice that crampons vary by construction too. Traditional crampons use rigid designs, but most of them have a semi-rigid construction now. Semi-rigid frames work on a variety of different terrains, but if you’re also looking to use your crampons on gentle hikes, you’ll probably want to find a pair that allows you to adjust to flexible mode.
As the name suggests, a crampon in flexible mode should feel less rigid on your boots, and make navigating your hike a little easier. Not all crampons include a feature to switch to flexible mode—so, it’s really only a consideration if you plan to use that mode a lot.
Number of Points
When shopping for crampons, most of these traction devices use 10 or 12 points, but sometimes up to 14. For ski mountaineering or even heading up glaciers, mountaineering crampons with 10 points should suffice.
However, for mixed climbing that begins to get a bit more technical, you’ll probably want to bump your crampons up to 12 points. Crampons with more points may also have sharp frontpoints that you can replace if they wear down or adjust as needed. Keep in mind that points can also vary as horizontal, vertical, or monopoints:
- Vertical frontpoints work better for steep climbs and don’t get stuck in crevasses or cracks as you climb. They’re also easy to replace or adjust on your boot if you need to.
- Horizontal frontpoints are versatile and can work for most types of climbing, but specifically alpine climbing.
- Monopoints are pretty specific, and you’ll only need them if you plan to do a technical waterfall or mixed climb.
Your crampon points are also either going to be adjustable, or modular, or fixed, also called non-modular. Some people prefer to use modular points that they can replace as time goes on but easily adjust depending on the type of terrain. However, modular points can also be heavier, and you’ll have to keep an eye on any screws that come loose.
You can’t adjust non-modular points, but you can sharpen them. Like a pencil, they’ll only get shorter as they continue to wear down and need re-sharpened.
How They Attach to Your Boots
Most people want to know whether their crampons will attach to their boots, or if they’ll need a special pair just to strap on the crampons. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and the answer depends on how the crampons attach to your boots. Semi-strap crampons, for instance, should fit on a lot of boots, as long as you’ve got a stiff sole and a heel groove.
Things get a little more complicated if your crampon requires a wire bail, or step-in binding. Your boots will need a very rigid sole, as well as a ⅜-inch welt on the toe and heel. There’s usually an ankle strap involved too, but not always. This might seem time-consuming to some, but your crampon is unlikely to go anywhere once you’ve got it on.
The most versatile system is the strap-on system, which you can attach to almost any pair of boots you own. As long as the center bar matches up, you can strap your crampons on without too much trouble.
Crampons vs. Micro-Spikes: What’s the Difference?
Some people may use the term “micro-spikes” interchangeably with crampons, but these traction cleats are very different. For first-time users, it can be difficult to discern when you only need micro-spikes, and when you should make the switch to crampons.
Generally, micro-spikes work well for wintry terrain, unless you start venturing up slopes with high angles. Or, if the mountain is coated in inches of ice, the micro-spikes might not be long or sharp enough to penetrate.
It’s at this point that most people make the switch to crampons. Not only are they sharper, but they’re also longer too. Most of the time, you’ll find that crampons, aluminum or steel, tend to be heavier than the average pair of micro-spikes. The extra weight isn’t always a plus, but it might be what you need on a heavy-duty hike.
My Favorite Crampons
Now that we’ve gone over how to find some of the best crampons for mountaineering, I’ll highlight some of my favorite picks: