All About Crampons

Crampons are Essential Mountain and Ice Climbing Equipment

Crampons stick in polished ice on the Briksdal Glacier in Norway. Photograph copyright Jan Greune/Getty Images

Crampons, along with good boots and an ice axe, are essential equipment for snow and ice climbing and mountaineering. Crampons are simply pointed metal spikes attached to a sturdy metal frame which is then attached, usually with nylon straps, to the soles of your mountain boots.

Crampons Let You Dance Up Ice

Crampons allow you to dance across icy waterfalls and hard snow slopes with their sharp points digging into the frozen water and let you confidently step upward without fear of slip-sliding away. Crampons let you claw your way across otherwise inaccessible and dangerous mountain terrain in the winter landscape. You use crampons on ice slopes and hard-packed snow rather than soft snow where you can easily kick steps.

History of Crampons

Crampons were used thousands of years ago by early paleo-mountaineers in Europe, who needed traction to cross steep mountain slopes in pursuit of game.

Almost 3,000 years ago, Celtic miners used iron spikes on their feet while hunters in the Russian Caucasus made leather sandals with spiked plates for snow travel.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 A.D. by the Romans, depicts an early crampon-like device used for ice traction.

By the 1500s hunters and mountain travelers in Europe wore four-point forefoot crampons in the Alps.

Full-foot crampons originated in the late 19th century in Europe as climbers fanned out across the Alps, attempting to climb steeper mountains than previous gentleman climbers.

Development of Mountaineering Crampons

The mountaineering crampon is credited to English climber Oscar Eckenstein who created 10-point crampons to reduce the need for arduous step-cutting while climbing hard snow and ice.

Italian climber Henry Grivel offered the first commercially-made crampon for sale in 1910. The use of 10-point crampons expanded the realm of the possible and led to the development of today’s 12-point crampon in 1929 by Laurent Grivel, Henry’s son.

The use of superior 12-point crampons was apparent during the 1938 first ascent of the Eiger Nordwand when German climbers Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörg quickly overtook the slower, step-cutting Austrian team of Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek, who wore 10-point crampons (the four teamed up to make the complete first ascent). Harrer later wrote in the classic book The White Spider: “I looked back, down our endless ladder of steps [on the Second Icefield]. Up it, I saw the New Era coming at express speed; there were two men running — I mean running, not climbing — up.”  

Rigid crampons were invented by Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost in 1967.

In the 1980s the mono-point crampon, with a single front point, was invented to provide precision foot placement on steep ice climbing routes.

Another big crampon advancement was in 2001 when World Cup ice climbers bolted crampons directly onto their boots and also added monopoint spurs on the heel for added heel-hooking strength on mixed routes.

Different Kinds of Crampons

Lots of different kinds of crampons are available, including hinged, semi-rigid, and rigid crampons. The type of crampon that you buy and use as well as its attachment system depends on what kind of climbing that you do. You need to get crampons that are best for your intended climbing activity. For mountaineering, it’s best to use a hinged crampon, while for ice climbing, the rigid crampon is ideal.

Learn Before Buying Crampons

Before buying crampons, you need to familiarize yourself with the different crampons and their different parts and features. Since crampon fit is important, you also need to consider the type of boot that you use when mountaineering before buying crampons.