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How to use crampons – Tip #11

By 20th September 2018January 18th, 2021Resources, Tips, Winter, Winter Mountaineering, Winter Walking

How to use crampons

Winter will be back, and when it returns, some of you will want a tip on how to use crampons for the first time. Here are the top three ‘golden rules’ for walking in crampons. (Climbing vertical terrain using the front points is a different subject).

How to use crampons (Tip 1) – Maximum points in the snow

Most walking/mountaineering crampons have 12, or occasionally 10, points. You need to aim to have all, or almost all, of them sticking in the snow at any one time. This means you need to keep your feet flat relative to the surface of the snow. On perfectly flat terrain this happens automatically. However, as the gradient increases then you will need to use your feet, legs and body differently to achieve this. Walking directly downhill a gentle slope isn’t too bad because the way our leg joints work makes this easy. But walking directly uphill is impossible without using different techniques, because our bodies simply do not bend the right way.

To keep your foot flat and all the points engaged with the snow, these are the tips on how to use crampons that you will need when walking uphill. The same applies for traversing across a slope:

  • Flex your ankles.
  • Bend your knees, and squat slightly
  • Angle your toes down the slope so your toes point downhill even if you are walking uphill.

How to use crampons (Tip 2) – Take shorter steps

Once you have crampons on your boots, your feet are now two inches higher than they were. A lazy walking style, dragging your feet, or taking long strides will lead you to catch a crampon point in the snow or on a rock. This will trip you up, with potentially painful consequences. The best technique is to take shorter steps than usual, lifting your feet more deliberately so that they clear the surface of the snow.

How to use crampons (Tip 3) – Feet wider apart

Your feet are also slightly wider with crampons on. What’s more, there are now lots of interesting straps and buckles on each foot for the crampon points of the other foot to catch or snag on.  To avoid tripping, you therefore need to stand (and walk) with your feet slightly further apart than you would normally do. Imagine a ‘safety bubble’ around each foot – the other foot must not come into contact with this safety bubble. Instead, you must keep your feet apart and move one foot very deliberately over and around the other foot.

Putting it all together

So to walk safely in crampons you need to walk with flat feet, squatting slightly , with shorter steps, and with your feet wider apart. This creates a very particular walking style. You can visualise it as a baby or toddler with a wet nappy! The best tip on how to use crampons is to master the ‘wet nappy’ walk, then you are doing it right.

You can learn all about crampons and more tips on how to use them on our winter skills courses in Scotland and the Lake District.