expert advice / alpine mountaineering


1. What are crampons and what are they used for?

Crampons are pieces of equipment that we attach to our shoes to improve traction when the ground is completely or partially frozen over, or if there is heavy snow. Crampons have been around for years. They have been constantly improved over time due to continuous advances in technological research.

The rubber of (even the best) boots is not hard enough to penetrate a layer of ice, which makes even the easiest walk extremely dangerous. Just like the tyre chains for our car, metal components are added that apply intense pressure to small surfaces. This allows them to lock onto the layer of frozen earth, giving us a much more stable grip.

If you are mad about mountains but don't want to "put your passion on ice" while waiting for spring or summer to come around, we recommend considering purchasing these fantastic devices, so that you can enjoy the most amazing adventures in the mountains all year round.

2. How many types of crampons are there?

Crampons are usually made of steel or aluminium and can weigh up to just over a kilogram per pair. Structurally, they are made up of metal plates with downward-facing blades and a binding system that varies depending on the boots worn.

There are various types of crampons with different features, depending on their intended use. Specifically, 10-point crampons are designed for climbing on compact snow, while 12-point (or higher) crampons are designed for passing along glaciers or frozen walls, as well as for mixed routes (ice and rock).

In addition, for people who practice ice climbing, there are even more specialised crampons which have front serrated knife-shaped points, instead of flat points, which act like mini ice axes.

3.Choosing crampons based on your boots

We can’t underestimate how decisive boots are when choosing the right type of crampon for our needs. Boots can be designed with automatic, semi-automatic and universal strap-on binding systems. Here you can find our men's and women's mountaineering boot models.

3.1 Automatic binding

These are the most sophisticated and technical crampons. They feature a front metal arch, which secures to a specific attachment on the boot via a step-in mechanism on the heel, which keeps everything securely bound.

3.2 Semi-automatic

Semi-automatics, on the other hand, feature the same rear structure as automatics. On the front, however, there is a "cap" (generally made of rubber) through which a strap will feed to encircle the shoe and which can be tightened to secure the crampons to the boots.

These two types of binding system are dependent on having the right boots. As such, they cannot be attached to the wrong style of boot. Instead, we recommend universal crampons for boots that are not suitable for the first two types. These do not have any binding systems which secure directly to the structure of the boots, but rather have a series of straps and ties that "hug" the distinctive shape of the footwear. This means they can be attached to almost any type of high-top footwear.

However, this last crampon type cannot be used on extremely steep slopes as it would not be very stable. However, they are perfect for traveling on horizontal ice or for occasional slight slopes. For example, I wore universal crampons during my trip to Iceland, when I went to the Vatnajökull ice cap with a mountain guide.

3.3 Semi-automatic and automatic bindings

In my experience, both crampons with automatic and semi-automatic bindings work well with modern mountain boots - so it depends mainly on which binding you feel more comfortable with, on your boots and the activity you would like to carry out.

4. Which crampons to choose based on your activity

Crampons also differ in regard to specific activities for a certain specialisation (such as ice climbing, mountaineering or ski mountaineering) or all-round use. I've laid out an overview, below, on how to find the right crampons based on your planned activity, the terrain you expect to encounter and the footwear that the crampons will be attached to. Choosing crampons:

  • Based on your activity:
    • Mountaineering: ideally use crampons that allow ergonomic roll-off.
    • Ski touring: light weight and compatibility with your ski boots are crucial here, all-round geometric designs work well.

  • Based on the terrain:
    • On ice and rock, steel crampons are recommended because they are more robust and durable.
    • On snow, aluminium crampons work well as they are lighter.

  • Based on your boots: it depends on compatibility with your boots, as well as how rigid the soles are.
    • Automatic/step-in/pro: the right welt is required on the front and back of the boot. Increased precision. Perfect for ice climbing.
    • Semi-automatic/combi: the welt is only required on the heel. Perfect for mountaineering and a good mix of activities.
    • Universal/walking: no need for the welt, can be worn with any boot. A more flexible fit

As a general rule of thumb, the perfect pair of first crampons would be made from (durable) steel and have a geometric design that can work for a range of activities. Such as the new Salewa Alpinist.

5. What is the difference between crampons and microspikes?

Crampons are PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and must comply with the stringent EN 893 standard, which verifies the resistance of the points, the baskets and the linking bar. The points of the crampons are at least 2 cm long and are made for the harshest of uses.

Microspikes, on the other hand, are not regulated by any standard. The shorter points make them easier to walk on, yet they are recommended for use in less extreme conditions, such as speed trekking, hiking or trekking on snowy or icy terrains.

6. When should you use microspikes?

It is best to not use crampons on occasional traces of ice, as you risk ruining them for nothing! If you want to hike when there is not a lot of snow, maybe at dawn or when it is very cold, but without crossing snowfields or glaciers, then there are microspikes (or microcrampons), which are proper chains for your shoes.

They have the advantage of costing a lot less than crampons and the fact that they are incredibly light. They are suitable for crossing sheets of ice and short stretches of snow that you may encounter on trails, and are universal (you can even attach them to your trail running shoes).

7. Suggestions and advice on how to wear and use your crampons

Generally speaking, we recommend consulting the manual that came with your crampons to get more specific information on how to use them correctly. You can find the instructions for Salewa crampons below.

7.1 Adjusting the size

Adjust the crampons with the adjustment device (G). Make sure it clicks into place correctly. For small shoes, remove the connection bridge (F), turn it 180 degrees on its longitudinal axis and attach it again. Use it to prevent it from protruding beyond the heel frame (B). If available, use the adjustment wheel on the rocker arm (E) to make fine adjustments.

7.2 Binding the crampons to your boots and how to secure them

Only use the right or left crampon for the corresponding foot. Then, place your foot inside the adjusted crampon and fasten the respective locking system so that the rocker arm (E) snaps securely into place or that the baskets are positioned without any fiddling around. Insert the strap (H) correctly. Its length can be adjusted using the buckle, removing the need to shorten in. Tighten and fasten it.

Always check the positioning of the straps before each use. Also be sure to check the fit by standing on the crampons and turning your foot, leaning into it on the front and back and putting your weight down on the crampons several times.

7.3 Before and after use

Badly positioned or carelessly attached crampons may come loose when you are using your boots. For that reason, always check all the parts and their fit before and during use. Snow can freeze quickly beneath the crampons when you walk on it, making you slip. Take care to avoid the risk of this happening by paying attention and checking them regularly.

8. Crampon materials

When it comes to the material of these devices, I usually prefer steel. Despite the fact that steel is heavier than aluminium, steel crampons are undoubtedly more robust and can be used with stability, even on mixed terrains. They also won't get ruined if they "touch" a few rocks. Nowadays there are a few kinds of steel crampons on the market that are extremely light.

9. Crampon maintenance

9.1 Storage and transport

Crampons should never be stored close to sources of heat, or at extreme temperatures or subject to mechanical stress (by being folded, compressed or placed under tension). They should never come into contact with corrosive chemicals, such as battery acid, solvents or chemical salts.

It is crucial to make sure that your crampons are kept safe while they are stored and transported, and that they are protected from damage. To this end, you should us suitable protective bags or containers when traveling with them.

9.2 Cleaning

If necessary - for example, if they come into contact with dirt or salt water - wash your crampons in warm water and rinse with clean water (max. 30 degrees). Leave them to dry at room temperature. Make sure that your crampons do not come into contact with chemicals.

10. Support

Crampons cannot be modified or repaired. Feel to see if the points of your crampons are still sharp. If they are blunt, they must be carefully resharpened. Use a file to do this and not a sharpening machine. When the pieces are worn, only replace them with new original parts.

11. Important things to know when using crampons

11.1 Problems when using crampons

While initially these devices may make you feel secure and stable, you must keep a few precautions in mind when walking on them. A frequent and dangerous effect that can occur while you are using the crampons concerns the inadvertent accumulation of snow between the crampon points (on the bottom of the feet). This problem, which mainly occurs on soft or powdery snow, can obstruct climbers' progression and create problems with balance and traction, with all the risks this entails.

There are now new types of crampons with a rubbery structure on the bottom of the foot, which, due to its elasticity, removes a good portion of the balled up snow.

Another problem, on the other hand, is the risk of ruining your trousers or, or in the worst case, even hurting yourself with the crampons. As I mentioned before, they are sharp points that act as an extension of our feet. If, for example, we happen to rub our heel against our leg, we run the real risk of cutting the fabric of our trousers or ruining our boots. That is why it is crucial that we use winter mountaineering trousers and gaiters with a cut-resistant coating on the bottom. We should also try to walk ensuring that our legs are not too close together and paying attention on sections where we have to progress with out feet together.

12. Which crampons are best for me?

Which crampons are best for me? Good question! It depends solely on our level of experience and what we plan to do in the future. The important thing is not to do anything too risky compared to our actual skills and to trust alpine guides and other people who can train us and give us invaluable advice.

That said, if - for example - you are interested in occasional ice climbs or simply want to feel safe and secure on hikes at high altitudes and you already have climbing boots, we recommend considering light semi-automatic crampons (so that they are not even difficult to transport).

If, on the other hand, you love trail running and it is your sport and you can't stand going on less up-hill runs during the winter, then you are right to consider purchasing microspikes.