Just because the snow starts falling and the ice piles up on your favorite mountains, it doesn't mean hiking season has to be over. In fact, with the right extreme-cold-weather gear, you can continue hiking on just about any trail right through the winter.
It’s crucial to make a checklist of all the cold-weather items you'll need before you start your winter mountaineering adventure. One of the main focal points should be the traction devices, or crampons, you choose. Depending on the exact conditions where you'll be using them and your experience level with mountaineering, you'll find a wide range of crampons suited for your adventure.
The Right Pair
All crampons serve the same basic purpose—to help you safely travel across snow and ice. By strapping on or stepping into these devices, you’ll have much better traction for traversing glaciers, snow slopes, and slippery, ice-laden trails.
However, over time, crampons have become specialized for certain activities. If you plan on taking more casual winter walks over level ice and snow, superlightweight crampons have been developed that are perfect for you. If rugged mountaineering and technical winter hikes are more your style, traditional crampons are available that can take whatever rough and cold conditions you put them through.
When shopping for crampons, you'll find some made of steel and others made of aluminum. A basic pair of mountaineering crampons will likely be made of steel, making them extremely durable and perfect for trekking across steep, slick, and technical trails. If the crampons are made of stainless steel, they'll be less likely to suffer from corrosion.\
While aluminum crampons are lighter weight, they're also less durable than steel, and will likely wear out sooner. But if you aren't looking to take on a very technical climb, where you're constantly hiking over rock mixed with snow, these are most likely your best choice.
Crampons can be fastened to your winter boots in one of three ways, and are categorized as step-ins, strap-ons, and hybrids.
Step-in crampons are best used for vertical ice climbs but can used for winter hiking/mountaineering, as long as you don’t mind the extra stiffness. The bindings attach to your boots the same way ski bindings work. They require a bale (indented shelf) located in the front and rear of the boot that the binding fits into.
The crampons themselves are very stiff, requiring an equally stiff plastic or leather boot with minimal flex. If you do couple step-in crampons with more flexible boots, you run the risk of “popping out” of the binding as you walk. Hint—if you’re going to hike in stiff plastic boots, make sure there’s plenty of snow on the ground to cushion your feet as you stride.
Strap-on bindings are the most popular and can be fastened to just about any kind of shoe or boot, regardless of the boot’s stiffness. These are great for moderate ice routes, although they may take slightly more time to strap on.
Hybrids are made with a heel clip (which requires a bale on the boot’s heel) and a toe strap. The crampon can be easily put on, even when wearing gloves.
You'll notice that most mountaineering crampons have 10 or 12 points. As a general rule, the steeper the hike, the more points your crampons should have. General mountaineering crampons will typically have less prominent front points than vertical ice climbing crampons to make it easier to walk.
A Good Fit
Be sure that whatever winter boot you wear will be compatible with the crampons you choose. Characteristics to keep in mind include the flexibility of your boot and the activities you'll be doing. Take your boots into the store to make sure you find the right fit.
A good pair of crampons should be an essential piece of your outdoor gear collection, and will help keep you on the trails all winter long.
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