What to consider when choosing crampons

For those venturing out into the mountains the correct equipment is crucial, this is especially true with winter conditions. It's both melodramatic and true to say it can be life saving.

The options available to hill goers are ever increasing with regards to footwear and related hardware to cope with snow and ice. Micro spikes are becoming an increasingly common sight on the hills as well as the more traditional rigid mountaineering boots and crampons. The choices are further complicated by flexible crampons that can be used with a variety of footwear. We think the options can be broken down into three categories. Here's a simple run through:

Rigid Walking Crampons

Pros

  • Can cope with whatever winter conditions you will find, including steep icy slopes
  • Longer spikes provide better grip because they penetrate deeper
  • Front Points – essential for ascending steep slopes

Cons

  • Need correct boot/crampon combination
  • Heavy option
  • Rigid boots can be uncomfortable over long days

Flexible Walking Crampons

Pros

  • Can cope with a range of winter conditions
  • Lighter than rigid crampons
  • Don’t need rigid boots, though a certain rigidity is still required – won’t fit on lightweight walking shoes for example
  • Front Points.

Cons

  • Still quite heavy
  • Not as effective as rigid crampons when the going gets steep

Microspikes

Pros

  • Can fit on any shoe
  • Light Effective on level ground and gentle slopes, suitable for hill walking rather than mountain walking

Cons

  • Only really effective on compacted snow and ice
  • Short Spikes don’t penetrate very far

The main disadvantage of Micro spikes compared with Crampons is the absence of front points which means when the going gets steep it is very difficult to gain any useful purchase as you have nothing to kick into the snow and ice with, a problem further compounded by the lighter weight footwear you would be using with micro spikes. With micro spikes you need your whole sole to be in contact with the ground for maximum effectiveness. If you’re not planning any steep ascents than this disadvantage of micro spikes is less of an issue.

Crampons have longer spikes which will give you more purchase when the snow and ice is quite thick but conversely when the ice is thin and patchy crampons can become a bit unwieldy. The shorter spikes of micro spikes means they struggle to find purchase through a layer of soft snow over ice/compacted snow.

Conditions where snow and ice are encountered in patches are where micro spikes give a marked advantage over crampons as the smaller spikes mean your gait doesn’t get affected as much with crampons when you move from snow/ice to unfrozen ground.

When choosing which crampon we think it’s best to be guided by what winter activities you want to do, the wrong crampons can potentially slow you down far more than extra weight or convenience. If you want to be Munroe bagging in the winter and or taking on classic scrambles such as Striding Edge under winter conditions than rigid crampon compatible boots and rigid crampons is the right choice.

The other thing to take into account is your own experience, skill set and acceptance of risk. Just because someone else is taking on a steep snow slope in micro spikes doesn’t make it safe for you (or them!).

Winter conditions in the UK are typically fleeting and highly variable often within the same day, no one crampon will be perfect for all the conditions you will find. As ever in the mountains adapting your route/plans to the conditions will increase your chances of having a safe and enjoyable day.

 

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