Crampons


What's the point of crampons? Well, there are eight or ten of them for each foot, to be precise, and they can make all the difference between your remaining upright on snow and ice when your boots would otherwise have shot out from beneath you.

In fact, it's really only in comparative recent years that crampons have come into their own in a big way. The order of the day for any winter mountaineering used to be hob-nailed boots, and half of the day wasted chopping neat steps in snow and ice with an ice axe. But whilst it's useful to be able to cut the odd step here and there, there's no denying that points on your soles make getting around a lot less time-consuming, and safer as well.

For a number of years, crampons, like ice axes, have been tarred with the "technical climbing" brush. But it seems that winter walkers are coming round, helped considerably by the introduction of crampons made specifically for walking rather than climbing, with eight or ten downward points, and made flexible to an extent to fit onto boots which aren't absolutely rigid.

Of course, at the moment, the fact that the more flexible boots are a limitation for fitting crampons is simply down to the fact that no-one has yet been able to devise a scheme for putting points onto your soles without having to strap them to the boots, or employ the step-in binding which only works with rigid or near-rigid boots. Who knows what advances in footwear design might bring?

Strap-on crampons should be adjusted so they fit snugly to the boot. You ought to be able to pick up the boot with crampon on the sole, without it falling off even without the straps done up. They generally come supplied with nylon webbing straps as standard, though some may find fiddling about with them rather trying once they've frozen stiff. Neoprene straps, on the other hand, are unable to take up water, so they won't freeze.

With step-in crampons, apart from adjusting the length, you also need to adjust the height of the heel clip, to take account of the thickness of the heel on your boot. The strap provided with these is really just a "keeper" strap - making sure the heel clip can't be pulled back, and if the crampon did somehow twist off, it would at least still have something to stop it clattering down the mountain. This kind needs a near-rigid boot with a pronounced welt, or sole unit designed to accept step-in bindings.

One positive development in recent years has been the means of adjusting the things to fit your boots without having to fiddle with nuts and bolts. Of course, in the normal way, you'd expect to have your own crampons already adjusted to fit your boots, all done from the warmth of home. But there can be the odd situations like the time I joined a group doing a winter traverse of Sharp Edge on Blencathra (English Lake District). Unprepared as usual, I borrowed a spare pair of crampons from another member of the party, hastily offered up one boot to one crampon, decided it fitted, and rushed off to the hills. It was only at crampon donning time, just below the ridge, that I discovered the other crampon was set to a shorter length, and no-one had a spanner. Sharp Edge with one crampon proved interesting, to say the least!

The latest types of bolt-less adjustment would have made my sortie on Blencathra a good deal easier. Fortunately we're also seeing more crampons which are easier to attach to boots. Long fiddly straps mean numb fingers, and with many of today's four-season boots using softer uppers, the idea of tight straps impeding circulation and increasing the risk of frostbite, becomes less appealing. But whilst many boots have enough of a welt to take a heel clip, they may be too flexible simply to rely on the toe bail of a step-in crampon. The mixed style with heel clip and toe strap is certainly a step in the right direction.