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A spiky business

Image for article A spiky business


Many years ago in a reality far far away, it snowed each winter and people had to travel around. Sometimes they had to cross hilly areas and needed not to slip on the snow and ice they encountered. 

They used fur or felt, even temporary metal attachments for the soles of their footwear, as the Vikings did  ( shown below in a museum document.) Various versions of spiky things we put onto footwear have been found across the ages and from a variety of areas, such as the Roman empire and Scandinavia. 





How did we end up with the modern crampon then? The answer is climbers. To climb steeper slopes and ice without the painful effort of cutting steps, front points were added onto steel 10 point crampons (again developed in the main by climbers not wanting to slip off their cut steps).More recognizable versions first came about in the late 19C in Europe and although front point crampons become available in the late 1920`s ,this led to a steep rise (pun intended) in the design and development of crampons and bindings to attach them to the boots. it took a little while longer for them to catch on in the UK.

When they did become more wide spread in their usage here , there was an element of confusion as the options from manufacturers became greater. There became a few issues with crampons being used with the wrong footwear and coming off and breaking. For many it became too confusing and by the 1980`s climbers and retailers in the UK were needing a system to explain what crampon type went with what boot stiffness.

In the nineties mountain guide Brian Hall working alongside Scarpa came out with a system of matching crampon type with boot stiffness.

The main issue for many was the strap bindings used for years and up to the 1990`s were not always that great at staying on the footwear and with the development of clip on/step in bindings were coming available with people trying to put them on boots and pushing them beyond their functionality.

In stepped Mountain Guide Brian Hall. He worked with Scarpa and Grivel in the UK to come up with a compatibility system that matched boot stiffness (B) rated 0-3 with appropriate crampons (C) rated 1-3. The idea being if your boot was soft and flexible then the straps may work loose or the tightness needed to keep them on would constrict the feet and make them cold. Some crampons also needed certain sole designs to attach to. This system is still used by many in the UK but the development of both boots and crampons has meant that it is not as clear cut as before. The first thing to understand was the UK market put boots and crampons into the B/C system not the manufactures. In the Alps it was and still is often the case they use the attitude- If it works then use it. 

This does throw some people into a tailspin of an angst when selling to the public or talking about the correct use. It is difficult when recommending a piece of equipment that is fundamentally going to need to protect them in the mountains to not suggest something of over kill design - "just in case". 

What has happened over the last few years has been a certain simplification in binding design, leading to 3 main options.

Clip heel and toe bail bar at the front- designed for users appropriate attachment points on their boots and probably tackling harder grade climbing routes,generally with a rigid connecting bar. Less movement on the boot than other bindings.


Clip heel with cradle toe at the front- good for climbing and mountaineering use where less lateral movement is wanted over a full cradle, also a little quicker attachment to appropriately designed boots.


Cradle front and back bindings are designed for general mountaineering and walking usage, they may be connected by different connecting bar stiffness's, depending on end use and are generally the most sold and used system.

Hill walking, glacier crossing and high altitude mountaineering on stiffer boots.



With this combination of flexible bar and secure cradle which spreads the tension pressure over a greater area, this crampon type has been adopted as the standard for many years now. With the development of a more flexible bar as well, it has become used on a whole raft of different boot stiffness. This is where we often get a lot of sucking of teeth and procrastination by retail staff when selling to walkers with non B1 classified boots. 

There 2 key points to consider, first will it stay on the boot safely without coming off and or stressing the crampon to a state of failure? The modern cradle if strapped on properly is very hard to force off, even on soft boots and there are hardly any reported failures of bars in recent years when you read the BMC Technical Committee`s data.

Second, is the boot and cramponon suitable for the end use? A soft boot and flexible crampon are not great on steep terrain where they may need to be a lot of standing on front points. What is steep terrain though?

26 October 2016 by John Owens

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