Crampons are an essential tool for navigating steep snow slopes, icy terrain, glaciers and more. In a nutshell, they’re a must-have piece of equipment for all types of mountaineering objectives.
If you’re new to the world of crampons, you might be surprised at how many different options there are and how specialized mountaineering crampons can be. In this guide, I’ll show the 8 best crampons for mountaineering and help you decide which pair is right for you.
What Are Mountaineering Crampons?
Crampons are a type of traction device that fasten onto your mountaineering boots. They feature sharp metal spikes that dig into compacted snow and ice, giving you grip on terrain that no amount of rubber could ever stick to.
Crampons aren’t just for mountaineering. They’re also frequently used for hiking and backpacking in winter conditions, and they’re essential for technical ice climbing as well.
Crampons that are specifically designed for mountaineering typically have 8-12 points, with 4 front spikes that point forward rather than down. These spikes are important because they allow you to kick your feet into steep snow and ice slopes to climb up or down them.
While crampons are an essential tool for mountaineering, they’re not the only traction devices available for icy conditions. If you’re sticking to trails or low angle slopes, it’s worth considering whether you need crampons or microspikes.
My Review Process
I’ve tried out many different mountaineering crampons over years of exploring Washington’s North Cascades. I own half a dozen pairs of crampons for mid-winter and spring climbing, technical ice climbing, and late-season adventures, as well as a few cheaper pairs I don’t mind beating up on rocks.
Based on my experience, I know what crampons work in different conditions and how far you can push models designed for all-around mountaineering. For the reviews below, I’ll highlight essential details like weight and performance on steep ice, plus less critical but still important details like how easy a pair of crampons is to get on and off.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the 7 best crampons for mountaineering.
The Grivel G-12 New-Matic crampons are the crampons I bring on around two-thirds of my mountaineering trips. They’re incredibly reliable and extremely versatile.
What I love most about the G-12 crampons is how burly they are. These steel crampons have 12 spikes, which offers traction on even the most demanding terrain. The front spikes aren’t designed around ice climbing, but I’ve stuck them in both alpine ice and water ice and they perform pretty well. I also feel pretty good about clambering around on rocks in these crampons since they’ve proven so durable.
Really, the only reason I don’t take these crampons all the time is that they’re heavy. At more than 2 pounds, you’ll notice the extra weight of the G-12s in your pack.
If you’re looking for something a little easier on the wallet than the Grivel G-12s, the Black Diamond Contact is a great value pick. These 10-point crampons offer great stability on snow and ice, and I love the serrated secondary points. They do a great job biting into soft alpine ice when you get your kicking technique right.
The biggest drawback to the Contact crampons is that they’re made from stainless steel rather than anodized or chromoly steel. Stainless steel is great because it’s lighter—these crampons weigh 1.75 pounds—and naturally resists snow buildup. However, I’m much more wary of breaking the front points kicking into water ice than I am with anodized steel crampons.
The Grivel G-10 is the little brother of my top pick, the G-12. The front points and secondary points are a little less aggressive, and there are only 10 points instead of 12.
These changes make the G-10 crampons better suited for beginner mountaineers who are primarily heading into glaciated terrain and snow-filled couloirs. They offer great stability and are made from the same ultra-durable chromoly steel material as the G-12 crampons. They don’t handle mixed alpine ascents like the G-12s do, but that’s hardly an issue for novice mountaineers.
The G-10 crampons are available with both strap-on and automatic bindings.
The Petzl Lynx are one of the most popular sets of crampons for serious alpine objectives and mixed climbing. They feature 14 points, including an extra pair of secondary points that faces backwards to help with downclimbing ice.
The front points are serrated, reinforced steel. Clearly, they were built with water ice in mind. Even better, you can replace the factory points with a monopoint if you prefer that configuration for mixed climbing.
Simply put, the Lynx outperform every other mountaineering crampon I’ve tried when it comes to steep, frozen terrain.
Another great thing about these crampons is that they’re versatile enough to use on gentler terrain, too. You can change out the front binding to adapt to boots without a toe welt. The heel lock is height-adjustable to match any mountaineering boot’s heel welt.
The Black Diamond Serac crampons are an all-around performer that handle all terrain well. In my mind, they’re very similar to the Grivel G-12 crampons, except that they’re made from stainless steel instead of chromoly.
That’s an important advantage when it comes to weight, which is why I think these are slightly more versatile than the G-12s. However, stainless steel isn’t quite as durable if you find yourself scrambling around on rocks.
So for me, the choice between the Serac and G-12 crampons really comes down to how much you expect to beat up your crampons.
One other thing that’s noteworthy about the Serac crampons is that they’re available in three different versions. There’s a strap-on version, a step-in version for boots without toe welts, and a step-in version for boots with toe welts. Note that you’ll need a specialized toe bail if you want to wear the step-in version with ski boots.
The Petzl Leopard crampons are the only aluminum crampons on this list. That’s because aluminum simply isn’t strong enough for most big mountain objectives.
But when you need crampons for a short pitch and want to keep weight to a minimum, these crampons deliver. They’re the lightest crampons on the market, weighing in at less than 1 pound per pair—which is downright absurd for mountaineering crampons!
Of course, cutting that much weight has consequences. These crampons feel insecure on alpine ice and the binding system is convoluted and not as secure as standard strap-on bindings. These crampons should be exclusively used for light and fast missions.
The Petzl VASAK Flexlock is one of my favorite strap-on crampons. They’re perfect for adventures that call for burly crampons, but for which you don’t want mountaineering boots. That might sound like an unusual situation, but personally, I’m willing to do a lot to get out of approaching climbs for miles in mountaineering boots.
The VASAK have a 12-point design and are made from anodized steel for maximum durability. They’re a little heavier than the Grivel G-12 crampons, but their performance in most terrain is similar. They come with anti-balling plates and you can swap out the front or rear sections to convert them into technical climbing crampons.
It’s worth noting the VASAK are also available with a Leverlock step-in binding. You can actually mix and match VASAK crampon pieces, making for a pretty versatile system for all your boots.
How To Choose Crampons For Mountaineering
Wondering which mountaineering crampons are right for you? I’ll cover the key things you need to know when picking the best pair of crampons.
Steel vs. Stainless Steel vs. Aluminum
The first thing to think about when choosing crampons is what material you want. Steel—anodized or chromoly—is the most durable material used in crampons, but also the heaviest. It can also rust, so you do need to make sure you dry off your crampons thoroughly at the end of every trip.
Stainless steel is pretty similar to steel for most practical purposes. It’s a little lighter and a little less durable, but you probably won’t notice the difference unless you’re on hard water ice or rock.
Aluminum crampons are ultralight crampons. These are significantly less durable than steel or stainless steel crampons, and they should be reserved for light and fast missions with little ice. If you try kicking into hardened water ice with aluminum crampons, you could easily break off the front points.
Most mountaineering crampons have either 10 or 12 points. Technical ice climbing crampons, like the Petzl Lynx, may have 14.
In general, 12-point crampons give you more security on ice than 10-point crampons. The difference isn’t huge, though, so don’t worry too much about the number of points.
What’s more important is how the front and secondary points are designed. Burly front points give you more security when kicking into steep snow and ice slopes. For technical ice climbing, look for fully horizontal front points and long secondary points that will bite into the wall in front of you.
You can use crampons designed for ice climbing for glacier walking and low angle slopes. However, you might find that the horizontal front points don’t feel as secure as angled front points on moderate snow slopes or soft alpine ice.
Your binding choice comes down to what boots you plan to use your crampons with. Strap-on bindings, also known as universal bindings, are designed to fit any type of boot. That includes regular hiking boots, mountaineering boots, and more technical boots.
Step-in crampons, also known as automatic crampons, are designed for mountaineering boots with heel welts. Step-in crampons are more secure, and more technical crampons are only available in step-in versions.
For most moderate mountaineering objectives, either binding system will work just fine.
Crampons are one of the essential tools of mountaineering, and it’s important that you have the right pair for the terrain you want to move through. I recommend the Grivel G-12 crampons as the all-around best crampons for any mountaineering routes in the Lower 48.
You can use ice climbing crampons for mountaineering, and you may need them if your route involves steep ice or mixed climbing. For less technical mountaineering objectives, ice climbing crampons will be heavier, but they’ll still work well.
You can hike in crampons, but walking over dirt and rocks in crampons can wear down the points. If you’re hiking more than a minute or so without snow, it’s a good idea to remove your crampons.
You can use crampons while climbing rock, but be careful doing so. Rocks can damage your crampon points and even break a front point. Typically, you should only wear your crampons on rock while mixed climbing. For extended stretches of rock climbing, remove your crampons.
Most crampons are one-size-fits-all. There’s an adjustable bar that lets you modify the length between the front and rear sections. Keep in mind, though, that step-in crampons can only be used for mountaineering boots with a heel welt. You may also need to replace the toe bail to fit your boots.
Automatic crampons, or step-in crampons, have a heel lever that locks into place on the heel welt of your mountaineering boots. Automatic crampons are typically more secure than strap-on crampons if your boot has a heel welt.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.