Spikes and Boots - Help and advice about crampons and boots

If your ambitions in climbing or hillwalking stretch to winter routes or high mountains you are going to need a set of crampons, even if you only aspire to tackle some of the British hills in winter then choosing the right gear is important. Boots and crampons go together like a horse and carriage so we've decided to include some guidance on putting the right set of 'spikes' on the right pair of boots.

Mountaineer and guide, Brian Hall has developed a system to aid you in putting the right gear together. Using one set of grades for boots and another for crampons Brian's system lets you cross reference accurately. We are sure you will find the system useful when choosing your winter footwear and crampons.

The Boots

B 0 :- Not suitable for crampon use. Boots in this category are general walking boots with too much flex in the sole unit and with uppers that too soft for comfortable crampon use.

B1 :- Heavier build than boots in the B0 category, with enough stiffness in the sole for use in easy snow and ice conditions found in the hills. (not mountains!) The uppers should provide good ankle support and have enough thickness of leather to allow crampon straps to be securely tightened without compressing the foot.

B2 :- A stiffened sole, this normally means the sole is reinforced with a shank of steel, plastic or fibreglass. Thick leather upper, 2.8 mm to 3.5 mm leather allowing the boot to accept crampons for all day use. Usually designed with excellent ankle support. This type of boot can be used for both Alpine and Scottish winter climbing.

B3 :- Technical mountaineering boots, usually 'double boots'with a fully stiffened outer shell and an insulated inner. Boots in this category are invariably fitted with a full length shank. Boots of this type are capable of performing in high altitude mountaineering and are designed with extreme use in mind.

The Crampons

C1 :- Flexible crampon for walking, with or without front points.

C2 :- Articulated crampon with either straps front and back, step-in heel and front straps or newer style nylon 'bales' and straps.

C3 :- Articulated climbing or fully rigid technical climbing crampons.

Here's How It Works

A B0 boot will not accept any form of crampon, the sole unit is too flexible and the straps would compress the upper so much that it would restrict blood circulation, a sure way to encourage frostbite. Even an instep crampon may be impossible to use on boots of this type.

A B1 boot will accept a C1 crampon but not C2 or C3 crampons.

A B2 boot will be able to accept C1 and C2 type crampons.

A B3 boot will take the lot, from C1 to C3 although they will perform best with the C3 crampons.

In Practice

If you are unsure as to the suitability of your boots take them to your retailer or e-mail us and we will try to give the best advice we can. Brian's system of grading boots and crampons is being accepted by more and more boot manufacturers, hopefully it will become the standard for judging whether a set of spikes and your footwear are compatible.

Getting Some In
Trying out your first set of crampons normally meant you were going to put them on and climb some wintery outcrop. One alternative was to get your crampons and ice axes and climb the nearest big tree, very unkind to the tree! One other way is to find an indoor climbing wall with an indoor ice climbing facility. The only one I know in the UK is the Rope Race at Marple. I know they've got one, I came up with the idea! Made from a hard, closed cell foam their wall allows novices to practice front-pointing in safety. More facilities of this type would allow novice ice climbers to get used to the equipment and feel of climbing with axes and crampons. Although walls of this type do not reproduce the real conditions they do give the beginner a chance to use the equipment in safety.

If winter hill walking and climbing is for you then take note of some advice from the organisations who exist to help and train climbers. The British mountains in winter have been the training ground for many famous mountaineers and alpinistes. They have also witnessed some tragedies, winter hillwalking and climbing demand some refinement of your skills. The winter hills need to treated with respect and every aspect of your skills and abilities will need to be refined. Much of this can be done by yourself but booking on to an approved skills course will speed up your progress.

Take advantage of the many courses that are available. The M.L.T.B. can offer advice on their approved centres offering winter skills courses and both the A.M.I. and the B.A.E.M.L. have instructors who will tailor a course to suit your exact needs.

Crampon Types

First, find out if your footwear will accept crampons. Then look at what is available from the various manufacturers and start trying some onto your boots. Some designs will go straight on, others will need a bit of re-engineering, often provided via a few belts off a well aimed hammer!

Any crampon should be a push fit onto your boots, it should stay on without being strapped on and should resist a bit of shaking. If the crampon falls off, re-adjust it until it is a good fit. Always ensure that you know how to fasten the retaining straps correctly, there is nothing worse than losing a crampon half up a route. Even with step-in bindings always use the safety strap in case the crampon becomes loose.

Instep Crampon
Very useful, not only for staying upright on frozen paths but also for staying upright on steep grass, professional gardeners often use them when mowing steep slopes. Instep crampons should not be considered for anything other than low level paths in winter.
(4 point instep illustrated)
Flexible Crampons
Entry level crampons, designs offer you the choice of with or without front points. Front points will allow you to be more secure when ascending steep ground. 8 to 10 points give much more grip than instep crampons and these lightweight spikes will allow you to tackle winter hills with confidence.
(8 point flexi's illustrated)
Articulated Crampons
Heavier build than Flexi's and designed to fit onto 3 and 4 season boots, this range of crampons offers the buyer the biggest choice of styles and features. Some models now have a step-in binding at the heel and a choice of straps or nylon bindings at the toe, other designs stick to straps all round but with other refinements such as no-tools adjustments. You have the choice of very traditional styles right up to the latest innovation and every winter walker will eventually end up with crampons from this classification.
(Articulated Step-in's ilustrated)
Step-in crampons
Step in bindings are now to be found on a wide range of boots from the heavier 4 season boots up to high altitude shell boot. The boots must be very stiff, usually containing a steel, fibreglass or plastic 'shank' which gives support in all directions. The crampons have a binding similar to that used on skis, an adjustable clip engages at the heel and a metal toe bale grips at the front. Boot and crampon pairings will allow climbers to tackle steep ice for long periods. Highly technical crampons are available with a choice of front points from a single point to a mixture of vertical and horizontal front points.
(10 point technical crampon illustrated)

Pictures courtesy of TRAILWISE. UK distributors of Stubai and AustriAlpin mountaineering equipment