If you want to go winter hiking but don’t own a pair of specialized mountaineering boots and you want more traction than microspikes, you should consider getting a pair of strap-on crampons. I own Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons that fit onto heavy hiking boots that have a rigid last.
How rigid? You should not wear crampons on insulated pack boots, trail shoes and soft hiking boots if you can flex the sole more than 5-10% by pushing up on the toe. If this happens, the crampon can pop off your boot, which can be dangerous, or you can snap the hinge (the orange part above.) The only way to add traction to these soft shoes is by using microspikes.
However if you have a pair of heavier backpacking boots, like the Asolo 520’s (shown here), strap-on crampons work great, especially in the spring when heavier mountaineering boots are just too hot to wear but there is still plenty of thick ice on the trail.
If you own mountaineering boots, you can buy special step-in crampons like the Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro, but those crampons won’t work on a regular boot without toe kick and heel “ledges.” I happen to own both strap-on and step-in crampons, but if you can only afford one pair, start with strap-ons. They work with both boot types and are more flexible (unless you want to go ice climbing.)
Let’s look at how the Contact Strap binding works. It has a rubber loop that surrounds the toe of your boot and a plastic heel cup. You secure your boot to it by threading the attached strap through the back plastic loops, the front toe loop, and through a metal cinch on the strap. After that, take the extra strap length and knot it down so you don’t trip on it. The crampons stay on very well after that provided that the orange spreader bar in the middle of the crampon is properly adjusted to your boot length.
You’ll notice that bottom of these crampons have plastic plates called an anti-balling system (ABS) which prevent snow from sticking to the bottom of the crampon and ruining your traction. Some crampon manufacturers make you purchase these plates separately, but they’re built into the Contact Strap.
As you can see, the spikes, all 10, are rather assertive and provide excellent traction on ice. I wear mine mostly for mixed climbing on bare rock and ice, mainly in the spring. Doing this a lot can eventually dull the spikes, but you can re-sharpen them using a mill bastard file.
These crampons are made from stainless steel which prevents rusting and although they weigh 29 oz/pair, you don’t really feel it when you’re wearing them. In fact, when I wear them I feel invincible. They’re one of my favorite things about winter hiking.
While crampons are a fantastic way to extend your hiking season into the winter, I’d suggest that you get proper instruction on how to use them, including different styles of ascending steep slopes and how to fall. Improper use can be very dangerous and lead to serious injury. The best way to get trained is to take a mountaineering class with a hiking club or a mountain guiding service that offers instruction.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
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