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How to Use Crampons

If you’re not familiar with crampons, here are a few videos which will help you to understand how to attach them to your boots and the basic techniques required to use them on ice. If you think that using crampons for winter hiking or climbing might be  exciting to try, make sure you receive the proper training required to use this gear and don’t go solo.

There are two basic kinds of crampons: rigid and semi-rigid ones. Rigid crampons are used for vertical ice climbing and work best with a very rigid climbing or mountaineering boot. Semi-rigid crampons are best for hiking on snow fields and glaciers because they allow your foot to flex when you walk. Semi-rigid crampons can also be used to climb vertical ice with a very rigid boot, so for all-around mountaineering needs, semi-rigid crampons are a good bet.

Crampons are made using steel or aluminum. Steel crampons are very durable and should be used on technical terrain with steep pitches and icy conditions. Aluminum crampons are very lightweight but should only be used if your route does not require traversing rock.

There are three different types of attachment systems that can be used to bind crampons to your boots. Strap-on bindings, like those on the CAMP Universal or Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons don’t require specialized mountaineering boots with crampon welts. This system usually has 2 rubber or neoprene straps per crampon. One holds the forefoot and one wraps around the ankle. Step-in crampons, like the Black Diamond Cyborg Pro require specialized mountaineering boots with a boot heel welt. A wire toe bail fits over the boot welt and a heel cable with a tension lever snaps into place on the heel welt. An ankle strap is also typically part of the system. Without the proper boots, though, you risk losing a crampon in mid-climb. Hybrid crampons attach with plastic clips and levers similar to step-in bindings. The toes, however, attach with neoprene or rubber straps. Because they don’t require significant notches at the toes, these bindings can be used with lighter-weight mountaineering boots without heavy welts.

Whichever type of crampon you pick, make sure that they fit with the boots you will be using. Front points should project between 3/4 of an inch to an inch beyond the boot toe. Tool-free models are preferable because you don’t have to worry about losing a tool when you’re out in the backcountry.

Written 2008. Updated 2015.

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3 comments

  1. When it's time to break out the crampons, I know that winter is here and I'm going to have fun in the hills.

    One thing I would heartily recommend though is an anitbott device (a rubber convex plate that fits under the heel and toe plate) to stop the snow from balling under the crampon – you can see the yellow antibott clearly in the first video. Otherwise you will spend all your time banging snow off the bottom of your boot, which is both time consuming and dangerous.

    I think the Black Diamond Cyborgs have antibott plates. Personally I use Grivel Air Techs (and sometimes the older G10s), which even have a rubber antibott on the bar that connects the heel and toe plates for total protection! Would definitely recommend.

  2. Yep – that's on my radar. I've signed up for a 3 day mountaineering course in mid-January with the International Mountain Climbing School out of North Conway, NH. They're providing the gear, but I expect to make a few major purchases before then. That mountaineering book you recommended is excellent. I'm reading it right now. Thanks Chris.

  3. I thought you might like that book :-)

    No matter how many times I read it, I always find something new in there. I hope it gives you a good start for your January course, and I look forward to reading about your experiences on it.

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