Guide for crampons

by Nikos Mitsakis
Whenever we're gearing up for a hike, one unbreakable rule is that if there's snow (and therefore ice) we definitely need crampons. We shouldn’t go anywhere without crampons. In addition to the danger of slipping somewhere and injuring yourself, it is practically impossible to climb an icy slope without crampons. So if you are into mountaineering either a little or a lot, it is very useful to know some basic information about this very important piece of mountaineering equipment.
Regardless of the type of climbing you do and your level of experience, if you've climbed a mountain with snow, you will surely already have a first acquaintance with crampons.
This first introduction can leave you a little confused as there are different types of crampons, with different bindings and different types of shoes that fit each type of crampon. But don't worry, we're here to explain each type, talk about their differences, their usefulness, and help you make the right purchase!
Some History
The first modern crampons were designed in 1908 by the mountaineer Oscar Eckenstein, of English origin, and were released to the market by the Italian company Grivel, which still has a big name in mountaineering equipment to this day. Crampons have enabled climbers to navigate higher and higher altitudes with safety and confidence. Of course you can say that they changed the landscape of mountaineering for good and thus the world's highest peaks were eventually conquered in the 20th century. Until then climbers used leather boots with nails in the sole of the shoe.

The first crampons were made of iron or steel and weighed 500-900g. each, surprisingly almost as much as they weigh today. They were tied to the shoe with leather or hemp straps that were passed through special loops.

Experienced climbers of the time advised the climbing public to buy crampons with at least 8 spikes, which is still the case today. But what are they exactly?


What are Crampons?

Crampons are essentially sturdy frames with metal spikes that wrap around the shoes to prevent the possibility of slipping as the spikes are nailed to the ice and the foot is stabilized.

Ice may be encountered at high altitudes year-round, or at lower altitudes during the winter months. However, we may also encounter ice in the city, and it may not be a frequent phenomenon here in Greece in most areas, but in many parts of the world people are forced to move around in snow and ice every day and it is not possible to live every moment with the risk of slipping. So crampons come to the rescue again! No, it's not the chunky climbing crampons with the huge spikes but the so-called microspikes, so let's take a look at each type separately to be prepared for any eventuality!


Crampon Categories

There are 3 categories of mountaineering crampons: C1, C2 και C3.

C1 – Flexible Crampons

Photo: C1flexible crampon

C1s are designed for winter hiking or glacier crossing and are not designed for mountaineering and technical climbing. They usually have 8-10 spikes and some may not have front raised spikes. The front and back of the crampon are joined by a blade which adjusts the length, i.e. the size of the crampon. The lacing is done with straps that go through the toe box, connect to the base of the heel and pull tight to create a secure tie.

Because the binding is with straps it can be worn on any mountaineering boot (B1, B2, B3). However, since the crampon is flexible, the boot may move a little inside even if it is tied firmly, for this reason it is not used for climbing but mainly for walking. It's also good to keep in mind that strapping is definitely more difficult when wearing gloves.


C2 Semi-fast / Hybrid Crampons

Photo: Semi-fast crampon

C2s are also known as hybrids, as they use a strap for the front binding but at the back they clip onto the boot with a special mechanism similar to ski boots. For this reason they only fit semi-rigid B2 and rigid B3 mountaineering boots which have a special notch in the heel to clip onto the crampon. They are semi-rigid and usually have 12 sharp spikes suitable for mountaineering and mixed climbing, but not ideal for technical ice climbing.


C3 Fast Crampons

Photo: Fast crampons

C3s are also known as fast crampons which are completely automated in their tying. They are worn exclusively by technical B3 boots which have special notches in the front and back to automatically clip onto the crampons, just like ski boots. They are completely rigid and completely stable which makes them suitable for big mountains with difficult mixed climbing and mainly for vertical ice climbing, but less convenient for walking. They may have 12 or even 14 spikes which will be very sharp and jagged.


Their material is usually either steel (plain or stainless steel) or aluminum. Steel is clearly more resistant to hardship while aluminum is lighter. If you are going to use them frequently, stainless steel will definitely last longer.

The basic parts of a crampon are:

1.Binding: Regarding the type of binding we have to choose between crampons with straps, hybrid or automatic.
2.The spikes: Crampons can have from 8 to 14 spikes. More technical crampons equals to more and sharper spikes. There are also crampons with a single front spike which allows for greater precision in vertical ice climbing or rock climbing (eg. dry tooling)

3.The blade: The blade connects the front to the back of the crampon and can adjust its size. In C1 and C2 crampons it is somewhat flexible allowing a comfortable walk while in C3 it is rigid and therefore more stable.

4.Antibot plates: The antibot (or anti-balling) plates protect the crampons from accumulating too much snow underneath them, making it dangerous as they wouldn’t be able to get nailed to the ice well. However, if we still see that enough snow has accumulated at the base of our crampons, we can hit it to the side with our ice axe or our trekking poles to make it go away.


Mountain Boot Compatibility

Image Credit: Getty

Mountaineering boots that are compatible with crampons fall into 3 categories:

  • B1 Flexible
  • B2 Semi-rigid
  • B3 Rigid
The table below explains which crampons are compatible with which boots. Consult the table before purchasing boots and crampons.




After examining all the different types of mountaineering crampons, let's have a look at microspikes.

Microspikes are not exactly crampons, but they also consist of spikes which are smaller and hook on snow and ice so that we don't risk slipping in our daily movements. For this reason they are not as big as the climbing ones. In fact, there are some that are very discreet and can be worn with any shoe, city, sports or boots (not recommended for heels, sorry ladies...!) e.g. Petzl Spiky Plus