Along with an ice axe, crampons are an essential piece of winter walking kit if you're hill walking and looking to go above the snow line. With the recent Siberian weather hitting the UK, some mountains are in their finest alpine fettle; social media feeds are filled with pictures of mountaineers showing off routes in prime condition, so it's tempting to simply buy a pair of crampons and head straight for the nearest hill.
But owning a pair and actually knowing how to use them properly and safely are two different things. We thought we'd cover the basics...
Are Your Boots Crampon Compatible?
Crampons strap to mountaineering boots that are stiff enough to support them, and have certain features to keep them attached. They are not designed to work with standard walking boots, which are too flexible. All crampons carry a 'C rating' that matches the 'B' rating of a mountaineering boot.
The rating of a boot must match or be higher than the rating of the crampon. i.e. a B1 or B2 boot can be used with a C1 crampon, but not the other way round. You should never try to use a higher rated crampon than your boot as it may lead to failure with catastrophic results, so make sure both your boots and crampons are compatible before using them. Check out our Crampon Buying Guide for further help on choosing crampons and boots.
When to Use Crampons
Crampons require specific conditions underfoot to be effective, and knowing when to use them comes with experience.
"Use crampons when you might slip on snow or ice. If your tread won't grip then you need crampons", says Ellis Brigham Mountaineering Expert Pete. "You should always aim to put crampons on before you need them, but this is easier said than done, so if you ever feel uncertain then stop and get them on as soon as possible".
"The best kind of snow is hard névé (established,hard-packed snow, also known as 'firn' snow) and solid ice where the points bite in and you don’t have the danger of balling (soft sticky snow building up between the points). Balling can be very dangerous, and if it's happening, take the crampons off. Rock is the worst surface for crampons as your weight is on small points at the edges of your boots. If you aren't confident, it's easy to turn an ankle."
How to Walk in Crampons
"The main thing is to take it steady, until you’ve got used to sharp points on the bottom of your boots", advises Pete. "Try and keep your feet slightly wider apart otherwise your trousers are going to have a lot of holes in them! Once you're comfortable with crampons, they open up a huge range of areas you can get to with more confidence and safety in winter."
Remember you should always stay within your limits, accompanied by an experienced winter climber.
Find our full range of crampons here.