How to use crampons for climbing

Walking with crampons: this is how it works

A model with eight or ten "vertical spikes" (which point straight down from the shoe sole) and two "frontal spikes" (which point forward from the tip of the shoe) is ideal for classic high-altitude tours. Articulated crampons offer somewhat softer walking comfort and are less prone to clipping than rigid irons, which are particularly advantageous in steep ice.

Check and adjust at home

Thanks to the rocker arm connection, the irons can be put on and taken off in no time; Of course, you need crampon-compatible boots with a sufficient edge on the sole.

It is fundamentally important that the crampons fit well on the shoes: so tight that they hold on to the shoe with practically no binding, the front points must be available in full length. You should check and adjust the exact position of the irons at home, not at the hut or on tour. Be careful if they are / have been used on ski touring boots: the sole lengths are not always the same.


The art of crampons also includes avoiding them as long as possible (meaningfully). On gently sloping, rough bare ice, for example on the Mer de Glace, the bare soles of shoes also find a good grip, iron would make walking stiff and bumpy here. In softened snow, crampons can put on cleats; here it can be safer to do without iron.

But as soon as hard firn or smooth bare ice of a certain inclination has to be walked on, the irons have to be on your feet. It is clever to recognize this in good time and to use a sufficiently spacious and level place to get dressed.

The basic position

At the Walking with crampons you walk a little wider than normal walking. Because there is basically the risk of getting tangled in the strap of the iron or in the trousers and tripping. In addition, the position of the crampons is adapted to the terrain.

If you move in flat terrain or in a well-trodden lane, you put on the crampons in the normal walking motion. One of the most common forms of crampon use at full speed is the traverse. If the ground is hard here and there is no trace, walking becomes challenging, especially because, depending on the nature of the group, it makes sense to walk without a rope.

At the Traversing or traversing The biggest mistake is trying to put on the crampons with the edge, i.e. with only one row of teeth. There is always the risk of slipping away. Even if it becomes more and more difficult with increasing steepness, you should always try to put on all vertical points (those are those that point downwards).

With a traverse, the easiest way is to turn the valley-side foot towards the valley with your toes. If the terrain becomes steeper (> 30 degrees), turn the foot on the mountain side with your toes towards the valley. With this way of walking, the valley-side leg swings in a wide arc into the new position, the rear mountain-side foot is adjusted accordingly.

That has to be

Equipment tips for alpine tours

Mountain boots

Crampon-compatible mountaineering boots of categories C and D are recommended. Category C (as shown) means limited crampon-proof, for easy glacier climbs and mountaineering. Category D stands for crampon-compatible mountain boots with a very stiff sole construction for demanding glacier, ice and high-altitude tours.

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In this area there should always be a long enough ice pick to be there. And: Even if it looks "extreme": A (short) ice ax with a pronounced handle is out of place here. The pimple is used to keep balance and to get a hearing rhythm. And for this the shaft has to be longer (approx. 55 - 60 cm).

To the change of direction (similar to a hairpin when touring) you first move the foot on the mountain side and then the pimple. So you have a stable stand to move the second foot. The pimple is always carried on the mountain side. From an incline of approx. 45 degrees, it makes sense under most conditions to switch from climbing from the side to the vertical point to straight climbing on the front point.

The exact steepness at which you change depends heavily on the surface, the material (shoes) and personal preferences. You should choose the version that is safer and more energy-saving on the road. Often it is also advisable to use the techniques alternately.


The descent it is best done in a straight line; The tips of your toes are turned outwards like Charlie Chaplin, slightly bent knees and a bent upper body bring the center of gravity over the crampons and create a willingness to react.

Even with so-called "easy" alpine tours, there can be places where you no longer feel comfortable with the vertical jagged technique: a steep crevasse flank in the glacier break, a short upswing under the summit ridge ...

The frontal point technique is cheaper for such passages. You don't stand on the vertical spikes, i.e. the sole, but rather on your toes, the front spikes. This gives a more stable feeling and better control in steep places, but also makes more effort - so: use it sparingly!

So that the frontal points hold well, the sole of the foot must stand horizontally when sitting, the heel hanging rather than pulled up. In Hartfirn, it is enough to just step in; when the ice is hard, the foot swings freely from the knee to the front, like a kick in football. This movement is difficult on the descent, and the front point technique is not necessarily superior to the vertical point technique.

Appear confident and steadfast

The most stable position is to stand with the pimple in a walking stick position; only on extreme slopes of around 45 degrees or at steep descent points it can be more beneficial to support yourself with the pickaxe and your free hand on the ice.

This may sound complicated at times, but it is easy to learn in practice. Nevertheless, it makes sense to learn and practice these techniques under expert guidance before things get serious - many mountain schools offer beginner courses that also include high peaks, so that fun is not neglected.

What is essential for safe crampon walking cannot do any harm in life: appear confident and steadfast.

Text by Andi Dick, Olaf Perwitzschky


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