Written by Robert Kyte

Crampons are attachable traction devices designed to keep you upright and secure on technical terrain covered by snow and ice, thus making them an absolute necessity for almost all advanced mountaineering pursuits and glacier travel. However, not all crampons are made equal, and there are different styles designed to tackle various types of terrain that are best suited for specific activities. We’ve put together a guide to help you learn about the different types of crampons and ultimately choose what works best for you.

There are three main types of crampons, distinguished by how they attach to your boot:

  1. 1. Step-in Crampons
  2. 2. Hybrid Crampons
  3. 3. Strap-on Crampons

Think of this list as an ordering of crampon types in terms of technicality, durability, extremity, and precision. Step-in crampons offer security in difficult terrain, but are heavy and limited in terms of what types of boots they can attach to, as they use welts (ledges in the boot rubber) and metal bars to attach. Hybrid crampons are lighter and use a strap-on system to attach to the boot, making them slightly more versatile in terms of applicable footwear, but are not as technical and only marginally lighter than step-ins. Strap-on crampons are considered non-technical, are much lighter than step-ins and hybrids, and strap over just about any boot, but offer only a little extra security and traction in icy conditions.

 

Step-in Crampons

Step-in crampons offer the most secure fit to your boot, using rubber welts and a metal frame designed with the shape of the boot in mind to ensure the crampon affixes snugly. Step-in crampons essentially function as part of your boot, rather than as an extension, to help you navigate through technical terrain with solid foot placements. The prevailing disadvantage of step-in crampons is the limited range of compatible footwear—generally, mountaineering boots made with step-in crampons in mind run upwards of $500 at a minimum. 

That said, safety is paramount in the mountains, and there is no better way to ensure traction in extreme conditions than a pair of step-ins. They are most useful for two things:

1) Ice Climbing

Ice climbing involves a technique called front-pointing, where you kick your toes into the ice to ascend. To do this, ice climbing crampons have spikes on the toe designed to do exactly that, called front-points. There are three different types of front points:

  • 1. Mono points: a single spike that increases precision at the expense of stability
  • 2. Dual points: two spikes of equal length and distance apart to increase stability
  • 3. Offset: one mono point and one shorter point somewhere off to the side, designed to offer both stability and precision

Deciding which types of points to use is dependent upon the style of the climb, be it long, run-out slabs of vertical ice, or highly technical mixed rock and ice faces where precision is essential. 

2) Mountaineering

Mountaineering crampons have flatter and duller front-points than ice climbing crampons, but have more spikes on the sides and the heel for added stability on less technical walks and scrambles. This is because mountaineering adventures generally encompass a wide range of ice and snow travel, be it climbing a frozen waterfall or traversing glaciers and crossing crevasses. Mountaineering crampons create traction for the whole foot, not just the front points. 

Cost: $200-$300

Pros: 

  • Tight fit creates stability 
  • Highly technical, designed to navigate extreme terrain

Cons: 

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Limited range in terms of applicable footwear

Uses: 

  • Mountaineering/Alpinism
  • Ice climbing
  • Mixed climbing
  • Dry tooling

 

Hybrid Crampons

Hybrid crampons offer slightly less stability than step-ins, but make up for it in added flexibility. Instead of using rubber welts and metal frames for the whole set-up, hybrids attach to the heel using a welt, and the front is attached using a strap-on system. 

Hybrid crampons shine in terms of speed and comfort, and thus are popular amongst mountaineers who wish to cover a lot of ground. Increased flexibility makes hybrids more amenable to long traverses on mild to moderately steep terrain. Furthermore, the strap system makes it easier to take them on and off without having to remove your gloves, which can be dangerous in environments with extreme cold and wind. 

Hybrid crampons also accommodate a slightly wider range of footwear, as the wearer only needs a heel welt to attach crampon to boot. Increased flexibility and an all-around mountaineering design, however, means that hybrids will not perform as well as their stiffer step-in counterparts on steeper, more technical terrain. 

Cost: Around $200

Pros: 

  • Increased flexibility
  • Balanced traction and comfort
  • Compatible with a wider variety of footwear
  • Easy to take on and off with gloves

Cons: 

  • Not as stable on steep, technical terrain
  • Only slightly lighter than step-in crampons

Uses: 

  • Glacier travel, ideal for covering long distances
  • Non-technical mountaineering

 

Strap-on Crampons

Strap-on crampons use only rubber or fabric straps to attach, and can be used to add traction to most any hiking boot. They are lightweight, versatile, and inexpensive, and can be taken on and off quickly and with ease. However, strap-ons are made with much smaller, duller spikes than step-in and hybrid crampons, and thus offer much less traction and stability. Still, they are perfect for the activities for which they are designed, and require little to no expertise in order to use them. Strap-on crampons are best for casual snow hiking, but can make all the difference in the world on mid- to upper-class scrambling at a fraction of the weight and cost of their more technical cousins. 

Cost: Usually between $40 and $90

Pros: 

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use / take on and off
  • Can be attached to almost any hiking footwear
  • Low maintenance
  • Provide enough traction to maximize stability on mild to intermediate terrain

Cons: 

  • Wear down over time
  • Non-technical, limited to walking and casual to moderate hiking

Uses: 

  • Walking/backpacking mostly on flat, thinly-covered terrain
  • Spring, summer, fall, and mild winter hiking

 

Steel or Aluminum?

The final distinction between types of crampons comes down to the material used to make them. Modern crampons are almost always made with either steel or aluminum, but the distinction is clear. Steel crampons will almost always outperform aluminum crampons in terms of performance and durability, and will not bend or break when walking over a mixture of ice, rock, and snow. Thus, most climbers will opt for steel crampons in nearly all scenarios, as functional crampons are an essential component of most any expedition involving ice and snow on mild to extreme terrain. 

However, aluminum crampons are gaining popularity on expeditions where shaving weight is essential down to the gram. Aluminum crampons are often half the weight of their steel counterparts, and can be useful on trips where a lot of altitude is gained over a short distance, such as ski mountaineering. Aluminum crampons perform best on terrain covered entirely by snow and/or soft ice, as contact with rock and hard ice will cause the aluminum to wear down quickly, bend, or break. 

 

What Style is Right for Me?

The style of crampon you choose should be entirely dependent upon the activity you plan to use them for. 

If you plan to use them almost exclusively for ice climbing on steep, vertical terrain, step-in crampons offer the most stability and durability, and can last for years with proper care and maintenance. There is scarcely a better feeling than a bomber foot placement when front-pointing high up on the ice, where the reliability of your footwear should be the least of your worries. Step-ins are designed to take you wherever you want to go, no matter how extreme the conditions. 

If you’re planning for more casual glacier travel over mild to intermediate terrain, or planning an ascent with a mixture in terms of steepness and difficulty, hybrid crampons are your best bet. Their flexibility means they are comfortable when covering long distances, but can also perform on steep, icy terrain up to a certain point. Plus, they’re easy to take on and off without risking your fingers in extreme cold. 

If you’re just looking for a bit of added traction, whether hiking in thin snow and ice or just shoveling your driveway, strap-on crampons will cover your most basic needs and keep you on your feet. They can be attached to almost any shoe, are lightweight and easy to care for, and won’t break the bank.

As always, proper planning and preparation is at a premium when it comes to a trip to the mountains. In most cases, it is best to be over prepared (and perhaps mildly inconvenienced at worst) than to be underprepared and risk the safety of yourself and others. Do your research, and don’t hesitate to ask for help when struggling to make a decision. At Alpenglow, we pride ourselves on being a resource for anyone looking to get outside, regardless of skill or experience. Feel free to contact us for more information.