The Petzl Lynx is our top pick for best all-around crampon. While performing well and also being lightweight, it’s adjustable to fit a variety of boot types and sizes, and has options for front point configurations and lengths. The Lynx is very user-friendly and is best suited to a variety climbing styles and terrain.
Next in is our step-up pick, Black Diamond’s Sabretooth. This crampon is a classic work-horse model that continues to perform well on a variety of terrain. It has a couple of binding options to fit different boot styles and sizes.
Our budget pick is the Camp Stalker Universal. A basic, but solid, 12-point crampon that gets the job done. The binding system works on any boot and adjustments are made easily, without tools.
|Number of Points
|Front Point Style
|Front Point Configuration
|Automatic + Hybrid
|Two removable, adjustable to mono or offset
|Automatic + Hybrid
|Automatic, Strap-On + Hybrid
|Automatic + Hybrid
|Two removable, adjustable to mono point
|Automatic + Hybrid
|Steel front, aluminium rear
|Automatic + Hybrid
A Little Background
Being in the mountains is an amazing experience. Being there in winter can be even more rewarding and inspiring, but it can also be more dangerous without the right gear.
In much the same way that climbing shoes are so important for your movement over rock, when you’re amongst snow and ice the best way to keep yourself safe is by secure footing. When the ground is frozen and slippery, your crampons become that crucial link holding your feet onto the slope.
|Crampons provide the crucial bond between your feet and the slope. They are your first point of safety and security on snow and ice.
Aside from simply surviving in the mountains, there is plenty of fun to be had with mountaineering objectives: trans-alpine hiking, general mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing and technical mountaineering. All of these pursuits require slightly different equipment, from packs to ropes, harnesses to boots and crampons. Even ski and snowboard mountaineering has its own little gear niche.
Here, we will go through a few key elements of what makes up a good crampon and then point you in the right direction of the best for your needs.
How We Picked
At their most basic level — spikes on the bottom of your feet — the concept of crampons is quite simple. However, when you start looking into different specialisations and sub-categories, they start to differ quite a bit.
To help us sort through to find the best models for the best uses, we narrowed our decision-making criteria down to the following seven features:
- Attachment System
- Number Of Points
- Front Point Style
- Configuration of Front Points
- Point Materials
- Linking System
- Anti-balling plates
This is the way the crampon attaches to your boot. There are three main types of attachment systems, which all have pros and cons.
Automatic or step-in crampons have a wire toe bail and a tension-adjustable heel clip which, together, can provide a very precise fit. Different crampon brands have slightly differently shaped toe bails, which tend to fit best with a different brand of boot each. Automatic crampons are compatible with ski boots and climbing boots which have toe and heel welts. They won’t stay on climbing or hiking boots that don’t have toe and heel welts. This means they are less versatile (limited to certain boots), however when combined with the right boots they can be the best, most secure type of attachment.
|Automatic crampons feature a clip at the heel and a wire toe bail at the front. When fitted to the right boots, this can be the most secure type of attachment.
Strap-on crampons are just what they sound like: straps on both the front and back. These are relatively simple and don’t require any particular type of boot (other than a stiff one — see the linking bar heading, further down). These crampons can be used on multiple pairs/types of boots, however they can be less of a precise fit than automatic crampons. Caveat: if you have particularly small feet, your boots may actually slide left-to-right in automatic toe bails, in which case a strap-on crampon might actually be more secure.
Hybrid crampons are a mix of automatics and strap-ons: they have a strap on the front and a clip on the back. Less technical, general mountaineering or trans-alpine hiking boots often have a heel welt but no toe welt, which makes hybrid crampons the best coice. Also, as in the above small boot (with toe and heel welts) scenario, a hybrid would provide the best security.
|Hybrid crampons have a clip at the heel and a strap at the front. These are great for small sized boots, boots that don’t have a toe bail, toe bails that are worn out, or when wearing overboots.
Number Of Points
Crampons usually have either 10 or 12 points. More points work best for steeper and more technical terrain, whereas you can get away with 10 points if you are mostly traveling on flat and low angle terrain.
On a 12 point crampon there are two front points, two secondary points (often featured with barbs) just behind them which protrude at an angle towards the toe, and two tertiary points halfway down the front part of the crampon, which often angle back towards the heel. Then there are one set of down points on the back of the front portion of the crampon and two more sets on the back portion.
On a 10 point crampon the secondary points are less barbed and point more downwards rather than forwards. There are no tertiary points, so the secondary points are slightly farther back. Then there are the same three sets of down points.
Some crampons are more complicated than this and have extra points, or prominent barbs, for specific purposes in steep, technical climbing.
Front Point Style
Front points are either horizontal or vertical.
Horizontal front points create a more of a platform and are easier to walk in on flat and low angle terrain, but offer less precision if you are trying to kick your toes into delicate ice or use specific rock features.
Vertical front points act like knife blades slicing through ice, so are easier to kick into water ice or hard alpine ice. They have a smaller surface area and can be used with more precision in specific ice and rock features, but can be more cumbersome to use on flat and low angle terrain.
|Vertical front points have a smaller profile and are great at slicing through brittle, hard ice, like a knife.
Configuration Of Front Points
Front points can be:
- Two, evenly spaced points
- Two, offset points, sometimes with one larger than the other
- Mono-point, usually off-centre
- Changeable between duo and mono-point configuration
Evenly spaced points are good for horizontal, less technical front points and for vertical points designed for pure water ice climbing. Mono and offset points are designed with technical water ice and mixed climbing in mind; ultimate precision is needed to use a single small rock hold or area of ice, and a second point would get in the way.
The most common materials you’ll see in crampon points are steel, stainless steel and aluminium.
Steel is great for strength and durability, and is necessary when you’re kicking your crampons into hard ice and/or encountering rock. The downside is that it’s a lot heavier than aluminium.
Aluminium is a great weight-saver and is best on crampons used mainly in frozen snow conditions e.g. neve snow, or spring ski-mountaineering on isothermal snow. Using aluminium points on hard ice and rock can bend or break them.
Some crampons feature a combination of the two materials, with steel front points and aluminium at the back. This is ideal for steep, technical terrain where your rear down points hardly contact hard materials, because you get the benefit of steel durability and the weight savings of aluminium.
|These lightweight, fully aluminium crampons with a dyneema linking system are great for frozen snow / neve conditions when paired with a fully rigid boot. When not in use, they take up hardly any room in the pack.
This is the part that joins the front and back section of a crampon, and is adjustable to fit the length of your boot. There are three main types of linking system.
- Provide rigid structure to the crampon
- Are good for technical climbing
- Usually come in a standard and a long length
- Are thinner and softer
- Flex with the sole of your boot for a more natural stride
- Usually come in a standard and a long length
- Is made of a strong material, often dyneema
- Is very lightweight and makes for compact packing
- Doesn’t provide any rigidity/structure
In the right conditions, snow can “ball up” on the bottom of your boots and crampons. This is when snow sticks to itself (as in making a snowball) and creates a lump that’s stuck to the bottom of your foot. If the ball becomes big enough it will prevent your crampon points from contacting the ground — a huge danger to your security.
Anti-balling plates vary between brands and models, but usually consist of soft plastic, bulging slightly downward, on both the front and rear pieces of the crampon. Some brands also provide an optional anti-balling sleeve for the linking bar.
Some crampons come with anti-balling plates installed, and others need to be bought separately.
|These orange anti-balling plates stop the snow from sticking to the underside of the crampon and causing build-up.
Our top pick for all-around crampons went to the Petzl Lynx. With two vertical front points, the Lynx is built for the slightly more technical end of the climbing spectrum and caters for easy alpine or water ice just as well as it adapts to steep mixed terrain.
There are 14 steel points on the Lynx — the extra set being right next to the secondary points, and angled back. This provides great security on steep terrain.
The movable / removable front points allow you to configure them as long duals, long monos, asymmetric duals or short duals. However, in its most basic form the Lynx still walks fine on flat glaciers and moderate snow gullies. The front point configuration can be changed with just one screw, and if you wear out the front points you can replace them with a new set.
The Lynx comes with both a ‘Flexlock’ (strap-on toe) and ‘Wirelock’ (wire toe bail) binding system. As long as your boot has a heel welt, this crampon should fit. It comes with a medium linking bar, but you can buy a long bar separately if your boot is bigger than a size 40.
It comes with ‘Antisnow’ anti-balling plates on both front and back components.
This durable, versatile model is a favourite amongst many winter climbers of varying disciplines.
Flaws But Not Deal-Breakers
The Lynx does not come in a completely strap-on option — that is, it is only compatible with boots that have a heel welt. However, it is designed to be an extremely secure fit and this is one way to achieve that.
If your boots don’t have a heel welt, it is likely that you are doing more moderate climbs / hikes, and something like our step-up pick, the Black Diamond Serac (strap) would be ideal for you.
Our step-up pick went to the Black Diamond Sabretooth. This 12-point, steel crampon is aggressive enough to handle moderately technical climbs, but comfortable and simple enough to also work well on flat terrain.
The Sabretooth features horizontal front points and barbed second, third and fourth points for extra security. It comes with anti-balling plates on both the front and back.
Designed to work with a mountaineering boot, the Sabretooth comes in both automatic (step-in) and hybrid (strap-on front) versions. These crampons work well on ski boots too — just remember to get a wide toe bail so they fit right.
Our budget pick is the Camp Stalker Universal. It’s a great, basic crampon that fits any boot and will work for most general mountaineering applications.
The Stalker Universal has 12 minimalist steel points, and the front points are horizontal. It is best for walking on flat and low angle ground, as well as easy ice and steep snow.
The binding system is strap-on, so it will fit to any climbing or hiking boot, regardless of whether it has heel or toe welts. Also included are front and rear anti-balling plates.
The Stalker Universal is a great choice for an all-around crampon that will fit to any boot, and at an affordable budget.
Best Crampons For General Mountaineering
Our best choice for general mountaineering is Black Diamond’s Serac.
When climbing moderate routes and big peaks, your crampons need to be capable of a little bit of everything. The Serac has 12 steel points, including two horizontal front points that can climb steep ice when needed, but excel at easy to moderate ice as well as glacier walking and steep snow.
For a more secure fit and if your boots have both a toe and a heel welt, you can get the pro version, and if your boots have no welts, the strap version would be best. On the heel clip you can micro-adjust the tightness for even more precision.
This bomber crampon also comes with front and rear anti-balling plates.
Best Crampons For Ice Climbing
The Grivel G14 is our best pick for ice climbing.
We like our technical ice climbing crampons to have dual, vertical front points for best stability and ease of placement. The G14 features two vertical, forged steel front points that can also be switched into mono-point configuration for more technical, complex ice. You can also replace the points if they eventually wear out. The secondary points are close behind the front points and provide good support and stability when front pointing, pitch after pitch.
Grivel’s automatic binding system, ‘Cramp-O-Matic’, includes a metal ‘safety strap’ extending out from the centre of the toe bail, through which the nylon strap is threaded. This ensures that there is no way you can lose your crampon in the unlikely event that your toe bail manages to come off your boot.
If your toe bail is worn out, you’re using overboots, or your boots simply don’t have a toe bail, there is a hybrid harness system: New-Matic, which has a clip on heel and strap-on toe. Anti-balling plates come on these crampons, and you also get an optional anti-balling sleeve for the linking bar.
The G14 has been my best ice climbing crampon for the last year. It has both performed well and been super reliable in everything from brittle, cold, Canadian Rockies ice to wet, plastic New Zealand ice. I’ve also used it on some technical ski missions and it works well with my ski boots, too.
|Ice climbing crampons should be able to slice through the ice like knives, and offer good support once the placement is made.
Best Crampons For Mixed Climbing
Our best pick for mixed climbing is the Black Diamond Stinger.
Probably the most important traits for a mixed climbing crampon are strength, precision and durability. Stainless steel and with forged single front point, these crampons are lightweight, yet strong. The mono point is hooded and secondary points are aggressive, offering great security on steep ice and rock. The front point is replaceable and easy enough to do in the field, if need be.
Designed to be used only on the most technical terrain, the binding system is purely automatic: clip on at the front and back, and with micro-adjustment on the heel bail. The anti-balling plates are a refreshing lime green colour.
The Stinger is asymmetric and super low profile to fit with modern climbing boots. If your boot size is 46 or larger, you’ll need the long linking bar.
|When mixed climbing, you often need to be very precise with your feet. Your crampons need to be strong for cranking on rock, agile enough for the smallest holds, and able to kick into ice.
Best Crampons for Dry Tooling
Our best dry tooling crampon is Petzl’s Dart.
It has a super low profile, one-piece front section featuring a single vertical mono point. This makes very precise climbing on tiny rock holds possible. With a minimalist 11 points, the Dart is still super aggressive and holds up to steep terrain amazingly. The secondary points provide good support to the front point, while the tertiary points provide stability to the whole foot.
The Dart has an automatic attachment system and is best paired with any technical mountaineering boot which has a toe and a heel welt.
Best Crampons For Ski Mountaineering
For ski mountaineering, our best pick is the Petzl Irvis Hybrid.
Ski boots are already fully rigid, so a rigid crampon is not a necessity. Most of the time your crampons will be in your pack, because your skis will be on your feet, so being lightweight is ideal. And, because of the nature of the activity, if you are wearing crampons (instead of skis) it’s likely that you’re somewhere steep and icy, and you’d best hope your crampons are solid.
The Irvis Hybrid demonstrates all these good attributes for the ideal ski mountaineering crampon. It has a strong, steel front section, but saves weight with an aluminium back section. Instead of a steel linking bar, it has dyneema cord — making it even lighter and super packable. I can attest to this being a huge plus; from experience on week-long ski traverses when carrying boot crampons just in case, I have been so glad to have my aluminium/dyneema crampons.
A basic shape, the Irvis Hybrid has ten points, including two horizontal front points. The ‘Leverlock Universal’ binding system fits the front of any boot, regardless of if it has a toe welt (and some newer ski boots don’t have one). It also comes with anti-balling plates.
|When skiing, your crampons spend most of the time in your pack, so they need to be light. However, when it’s time to put them on, you really need them to be solid.
Best Crampons For Snowboard Boots
Our best pick for snowboard boots is the Grivel G10 Wide New Classic.
In snowboard mountaineering, you’ll need crampons in the same situations as in ski mountaineering (above), but the boots are significantly different. Snowboard boots usually don’t have heel or toe bails; they are softer, and not rigid in the sole like ski boots or technical mountaineering boots, so to get the best fit can be challenging.
The G10 Wide New Classic is a lightweight, basic, ten point crampon with horizontal front points. The linking bar is semi-rigid, so as to move with your snowboard boot. The ‘New Classic’ harness system is a secure, strap-on binding, and on the G10 Wide this makes for the perfect snowboard boot fit.
The G10 Wide comes with anti-balling plates.
Best Crampons For Trans-Alpine Hiking
Grivel G10 is our best trans-alpine hiking crampon.
For trans-alpine hiking, you’re probably wearing flexible hiking boots that may or may not have a heel welt, and probably don’t have a toe welt. You’re covering long distances, but not necessarily steep ascents and probably with no technical climbing involved.
The G10 is a basic, ten point steel crampon with horizontal front points — perfect for covering distance on flat and low angle terrain. The linking bar is semi-rigid and moves with your hiking boots, maintaining a comfortable stride. Anti-balling plates are included.
The ‘New Classic’ is the strap-on version, but if your boots have a heel welt you can opt for the New-Matic version which have a heel clip and toe strap.
|Semi-rigid boots such as these are great for trans-alpine hiking. As you can see, they don’t have a toe welt, so they need to be paired with a hybrid or a strap-on crampon (see the Attachment System section).
Choosing The Best Crampons For You
Before you get to choosing the best crampons for you, you’ll need to decide on their main purpose. Do you prefer ice climbing, or general mountaineering? Will you use them mainly for ski touring or for cragging at the local mixed cave? Perhaps you already have a pair of general all-rounders and you’re looking for a second, more specific pair.
If you’re after something for less technical pursuits like trans-alpine hiking and maybe some general mountaineering thrown in, you would be looking at something nice and simple. Ten or 12 points with horizontal front points will be perfect.
Then you need to have a look at your boots and assess what type of attachment system you’ll need. Chances are, for hiking and less technical general mountaineering, you’ll have a semi-rigid boot with no toe welt. If that’s the case, make sure the crampon you have in mind has a strap-on or hybrid closure system.
If you’re looking for a great steep ice and mixed crampon then you’ll be after a slightly different set of features. You’re going to want vertical front points, and you’ll be faced with a range of configuration options. If you’re leaning more towards pure water ice climbing, then dual points will be great. If you’re more into steep mixed lines and complex ice features, then mono points will be great. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then why not opt for a crampon with a changeable front point configuration? Often, having aggressive secondary points is also helpful in this kind of steep, technical terrain.
For those ski mountaineers out there, you’ll be looking for a different set of features, again. You’re looking for something lightweight, that packs down nicely and clips securely onto your ski boots. You probably only need ten points, and they don’t all need to be steel — but having at least steel front points can be a good idea. If you’re mainly skiing in continental snowpacks and your main concern is steep, frozen snow, then you could get away with a super lightweight aluminium crampon.
For snowboarders, the main thing to really get right is the fit. Make sure your crampon has a strap-on closure, as most snowboard boots don’t have heel or toe welts. Wide models, in particular, fit snowboard boots really well.
There are many other models of crampons that didn’t make this list. Some were too heavy and/or bulky compared with their equivalents in other brands. Some were made of less durable materials, and others were cumbersome to adjust.
Having said that, there are also many other great crampons that were close runners up in several categories but didn’t make this shortlist. To this end, this article has outlined enough for you that you can go ahead and make some informed judgements on other models that weren’t explicitly covered here.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is chromoly steel best or stainless steel best for crampons?
A: Both steels are common to see in crampons. There are rumours out there that stainless is lighter and behaves better in the cold, however those are just that — rumours. Both chromoly and stainless behave the same way as the temperature drops, and they also weigh in at about the same. The differences are small: stainless maintains a cleaner, rust-free appearance for longer, and chromoly holds a sharper edge for slightly longer, being a slightly harder steel.
Q: My toe bail doesn’t fit my toe welt exactly. What can I do?
A: Different companies have differently shaped toe bails, and these in turn fit various boot brands differently. Ideally, try the crampon with the boot before you buy to get the best fit. If you’ve already got one that’s not quite fitting snugly enough, you can swap out your toe bail with that of another brand.
Q: I’ve seen people running with spikes on their feet. What kind of crampons can I put on my running shoes?
A: Those aren’t actually crampons, they are known as micro spikes. There are several brands out there making elasticated micro spikes and/or chains that fit onto running shoes and soft hiking boots. These actually work best, instead of crampons, for running in icy conditions.
Q: My feet are quite small. Is there anything I should know about sizing crampons to small boots?
A: Yes! Firstly, make sure the shape lines up properly with the sole of your boot. Crampons these days are asymmetrical to match the shape of modern boots, but I find that when you shorten them to fit the length of small boots, often they are too asymmetrical. Secondly, make sure that you can shorten the linking bar enough. For my Grivel crampons, I’ve had to take out the bar, flip it over, and then put it in the opposite crampon to get the best fit.
Q: How should I look after my crampons so that they last?
A: Make sure you let them dry out after use, to minimise rust. To keep them in good working order, you’ll need to file them every now and then when the points get worn down and dulled, especially after contact with rock. A regular, handheld metal file works best for this.
Wrapping It Up
We’ve taken a look through several main features of crampons and how they affect the type of use a crampon may be best at. We’ve mentioned several great models that came out best in our trials, and given some advice on how to choose the best one for you.
Whether you’re just starting out in the mountains, or you’re looking to broaden your alpine pursuits, there’s something to be said for getting exactly the right crampon for your needs.