December 30, 2019
I have been reading your blog for years and I’m delighted to see that you have updated it more often lately.
I’m planning to start ice climbing on this winter. Other gear I already have, but I’m still looking for crampons, what to buy. My climbing will focus single pitch ice climbing and maybe mixed. Later, when I get it going, I would like to do some alpine climbing. What would be best for my use? My friend recommended Petzl Lynx, but is there a better option?
Thanks for the question.
At first glance, there looks like a big difference in performance between the simple twelve-point mountaineering crampon, and the technical models; but really there isn’t. Yes, one type looks boring and clunky, like training crampons, while the other looks cutting edge: go-faster orange, laser-cut and modular; but really, for most end users, the functional difference is minimal. They are just sharp metal fangs that lock onto your boots. A good climber could climb M8 in a pair of walking crampons, while a walker could walk up Helvellyn in a pair of BD Stingers.
For climbers operating between grade AI 1 to 6 (I to VI), or on mountain routes from Facile (F) to Extremement Difficile (ED), a flat framed, standard, 12 point mountain crampon, with horizontal front points, is all you need; the reason? All these routes you’re going to climb were put up in this style of crampon, sometimes with no crampons at all! As long as the crampons are not worn to a nub, they fit the boot well, and have anti-balling plates fitted; they’ll work fine.
This standard twelve-point crampon, such as the Grivel G12 or BD Sabretooth, is functional, compact when carried, light, fits all boot types, and is good for both technical and non-technical climbing. Generally, it will not be the crampon that’s the limiting factor, but the experience and skill of the user. They will do all you ask of them, but what boots you fit them to is more important, as it’s better to put poor crampons on good boots, than vice-versa.
If you’re starting ice climbing, then some people like having two front points, feeling they gain more security; but it’s worth understanding that the much-neglected secondary points do much of the heavy lifting, a dropped heal engaging these points giving both traction and stability (ice and mixed climbing is generally a game of feet, not the arms – unless you can’t use your feet).
Technical crampons come in a few different types, some only for roadside ice and mixed (sport crampons really), something like the Grivel Rambo 4 being a good example of this style. But others do the same duty as a mountain crampon, being not too heavy, flat, but feature modular vertical points, able to be set as both duel and mono crampons.
One of the first published pieces I wrote, back in the 90s, was on the subject of mono points, back when they were super-obscure (I’d only seen Stevie Haston using them). I thought the idea of a single point was just more practical for everything, as it wasn’t single at all, but one of three points (so a tripod), meaning it was more stable and effective than two points. Some people questioned if a single point had enough traction and ‘stick’, if that was true, why not have a crampon with three or four points?
Personally, I found having only one point great for ice and great for mixed climbing, as you only have one thing to focus on, while with two you could end up with one blocking the other. When ice climbing, you often end up using the pick slots to step in (with a light kick to set the secondary points), and in really thin ice you really have to have a laser focus on the thick blobs, sometimes using both the ice and features underneath, really mixed climbing. Even on general ice, which is rarely flat, you really need to know where your point is, as often with duel points you’re sort of blindly kicking, and often just one point is engaged (or neither, if a ribbon or lump of ice gets stuck between the points, blocking them). The length of a mono point also tends to be longer than duel points, and the design - being more pick like - is more ‘sticky’. This is really important when learning to ice climb, as you cannot climb safely unless you have 100% confidence in your feet (having confidence in your feet gives you the confidence to really place your picks well and trust your arms).
I guess a bigger question you need to ask when looking at crampons is to decide if you’re getting them just to climb in, or for general mountaineering, as the binding is really more important than the crampon itself. Yes, a Dart might be a great crampon, but it won’t go on a pair of approach shoes for some sketchy climbing, or on your Sportiva Trangos (remember the classic story of Alex Honnold having the wrong crampons for the Fitz Roy Traverse). This means a standard 12 point crampon with either a full strap (Flexlock or New-Classic) or a hybrid front strap (New-matic), might actually be a better all-round crampon, one that will see you from grade I to V, and all the faces and mountains as well. Once you get to the point at which you feel you need some pure climbing crampons, you’ll totally understand what you want and why.
For me, the do it all crampon for about fifteen years (I don’t want lots of crampons), has been the Petzl Dart, and in the last year or so I’ve used mine on Mount Kenya, mixed climbing in New Zealand, and on Denali, and before that used them both on north faces, big walls and Scottish and cascade climbing. Yes, they are a little on the heavy side for rock climbing (where you might have to do some mixed climbing, like Mount Kenya), and they don’t fit on walking boots for winter hillwalking (basic super light walking crampons are probably better for both), but they are very tough, have robust points, and wear really well (much better than BD crampons I’ve used).
The current Dart has gone back to the old Charlet Moser days of the Grade 8 crampon, in that you have a very simple design, that’s light and compact (I like the Dart over the heavier Lynx), and has modular front points, meaning you can set them as duel points, or monos (you have two spares), or asymmetric points (one long, one short), as well as adjust your front point to the sweet spot (close to your big toe). The ability to change out the front points is vital if you’re doing a lot of mixed climbing, as this means you don’t have to replace the whole crampon.
You can also reduce the weight of the Dart by replacing the steel rear section and steel extension bar with Kit-cord tech, giving you an alloy back and Dyneema cord extension. If you want to make the Dart more compatible with non-technical boots, you can also replace the front and rear bails with the Fil flex and Back Flex. All these features and add ons, which are cross-compatible with other Petzl crampons, such as the superlight Leopard FL, makes this perhaps the best system on the market at the moment.
So there you go, a question that’s probably answered with even more questions, but rest assured, as long as the crampons fit your boots and your boots fit your feet, whatever they are, they’ll be grand!