How to Use Crampons

How to Use Crampons
Crampons are essentially metal spikes on a frame that may be completely rigid or semi-flexible. The most common crampon configuration has 12 spikes or points, 10 of them facing down, spaced around the foot, and two pointed forward. You either strap or buckle crampons on over your boots to provide traction and grip on ice or hard-packed snow. Do not confuse crampons with ice grippers or cleats; crampons are used in critical situations, like glacier walking, mountaineering and ice climbing, where losing traction may mean the end of your life.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Mountaineering boots Crampons
  • Mountaineering boots
  • Crampons
Step 1
Check to see if your crampons have a front bail, a rigid wire loop that fits into a notch in the front of specially made boots, and a rear bail that similarly seats on top of a notch in the back of the boots. If your crampons have these features, they will only fit boots with the appropriate notches--usually mountaineering boots and, in a few cases, some alpine ski boots.
Step 2
Use a screwdriver to twist the screw in the middle of the crampons in or out until they fit the soles of your boots; try them on against the boots, going for as exact a fit as possible until you've got them just right. Some crampons may have a bolt you can manually pull out to adjust them instead of a screw.
Step 3
Place the crampons on your boots, points facing out, front (horizontal) points facing forward. If your crampons have heel and toe bails you'll need to flip the toe bail over the notch in your boot toe first, then snap the heel bail into place.
Step 4
Secure the crampon straps around the ankle of your boot as tightly as possible. If you're using full strap-on crampons with no bails, you must also tighten straps across the toes of your boots.
Step 5
Practice walking on ice and snow, starting with mild slopes. You should place the sole of your foot flat so that as many of the crampon points contact the ice at once as possible. Avoid the temptation to try and edge or balance on one side of the crampon or the other; your goal is to keep as many points in contact with the ice as necessary.
Step 6
Get a feel for going up hills with your feet either pointing straight forward or toes angled out to the side like a duck. You'll quickly find out which way is more comfortable for you.
Step 7
Kick the front, horizontal points of the crampons in to the ice or snow once the slope is too steep to keep your entire boot sole in contact with the snow. This technique, known as front pointing, is usually used in ice climbing and sometimes in mountaineering. If the slope is steep enough to require this, you should have an ice axe or ice tool and know how to use it for self-arrest. You should also have the technical skills to understand whether you need to be roped up for safe travel, and how to do so.
Step 8
Descend slippery slopes in one of two ways: Facing in toward the slope, climbing down and back while continuously front-pointing, or facing forward with all of your downward-facing crampon points in contact with the surface. Take small steps to keep from pitching your center of balance too far forward.

Tips & Warnings

If you're using rigid crampons, you can strap them on over flexible-soled boots. Semi-flexible crampons, which have a hinge in their frame that allows very limited flexibility, should only be worn with rigid-soled boots like mountaineering boots; otherwise the flex and give of normal walking on the boot sole may apply too much pressure to the crampon hinge and break it.
Having crampons that fit your boots--and stay on your boots--is critically important. A crampon failure in the middle of an ice climb or mountain ascent might cause serious injury or even death.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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