You've signed up to an expedition and the kit list says words like 'Crampon Compatible', 'Walking Crampon' or even 'Double Boots' - but you've got little idea to what this means. In this blog I'll explain all, and relate it to the expeditions we provide so you know what to look out for.
Winter Boots / Crampon Compatible Boots / Mountaineering Boots
The three names above mean the same thing to a mountaineer, but can paint a very different image to those less educated in the world of climbing mountains. More than a few times over the years of running winter skills courses in the UK, I've had people ask if their fluffy, après ski, insulated, winter boots are suitable for the course - sadly not, and likely for a few reasons too.
Winter Boots - Can you guess which one may be more suited to mountaineering?
Unsurprisingly, the outdoor market is full of thousands of different styles of boots which can only add to the confusion to which one to buy, so here's a go at explaining it all simply:
The first thing to be aware of is there is a widely recognised rating system for walking / mountaineering boots which is known as the 'B Rating'. This rating was designed by the footwear brand Scarpa, and although many other brands adopt it, it is also worth knowing that some brands have their own system of displaying recommended usage.
B0 Rated Boots:
Generally 'Summer' walking boots will fall into this category. They will have very flexible soles and likely lighter weight fabric uppers. Strictly speaking, a B0 rated boot would have a sole too flexible to operate well with even the most flexible crampon - although I've certainly seen it work. The lighter weight uppers generally don't provide much protection against crampon straps, and the tread profiles (mixed with a flexible sole) also don't offer much bite into harder snow when you're not wearing crampons.
B1 Rated Boots:
Now stepping into the world of winter mountaineering boots, but generally with some cross-over too. B1 boots will have stiffened mid sole, thicker more robust uppers, a protective rand and sometimes a heel ledge for attaching crampons (more on that later!)
B1 boots will often have great application for scrambling or via Feratta and lend themselves well to winter walking.
Interestingly, there are many robust B0 boots that tick all the boxes of a B1 boot, especially full leather boots. The Meindl Bhutan GTX for example is classed as a hillwalking boot but would certainly be more than capable of being a winter walking boot for a day with a 'strap on crampon'. The sole has real stiffness, the uppers are robust and it even has a protective rand.
B2 Rated Boots:
As you'd expect, they're a step up from a B1 boot, and generally suited to more serious winter walking and mountaineering endeavours. A B2 Boot would still work well as a scrambling boot, but then provides the compatibility with the more climbing oriented crampons (Low to mid Scottish Winter / Summer Alpinism). A B2 Boot will have a heel ledge for clip in crampons, will be stiffer under foot, and will tend to be warmer.
B3 Rated Boots:
This is the upper end of the rating and B3 boots will be applied to high altitude winter mountaineering boots, ice and mixed climbing boots. They are very stiff under foot in order to provide maximum support and effectiveness when on steep terrain or front pointing. They will have a heel ledge and a a toe ledge to work with particular crampon styles.
If you're not sure what rating your boots are then head to the manufacturers website. We find a lot of people hope their Summer Boots will suffice and as eluded to above, some may well just do - however:
How flexible is that sole? If you can bend the boot in half or twist the sole then it's not going to work well with a crampon.
How warm are they going to be? Is it worth risking frostbite?
How comfortable are they going to be once the crampon straps are tight?
Double Boots & Gaitered Boots
Double boots tend to come into the equation when you're going into an environment that is especially cold. When it comes to mountaineering, a lot of people introduce them at around 6000m and above (Lobuche East 6119m / Mera Peak, 6476m). A double boot will have an insulated bootie that slots inside the main boot shell. These outers used to be plastic but you won't tend to find them in the shops these days - but there are plenty on Ebay! Most, if not all, Double Boots will sit under the B3 Category.
The La Sportiva Olympus Mons - suitable for expeditions up the tallest peaks in the world (B3 / Double Boot / Gaitered)
Gaitered boots have become exceedingly popular. Most are a bit of a hybrid between a normal 'single boot' and a Double Boot*. The gaiter provides additional protection from water and snow, and will generally keep your feet warmer. A gaitered boot can be a good option for winter trips up Mount Toubkal (4,167m) and the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro (5,895m)
*and many Double boots have a built in gaiter now too.
A Scarpa Manta (B3) and a Gaitered La Sportiva boot (B3) on a Winter Toubkal Expedition. The La Sportiva boot is rated to 5000m
Pictures from Grivel.com
Image 1: Grivel G10 .Basket Style bails on the front and back (C1 Crampon)
Image 2: Grivel G12 .Basket Style on the toe, Clip Style on the Rear (C2 Crampon)
Image 3: Grivel G22 with a full 'Step in' set up on the front and rear (C3 Crampon)
Rather handily, there is also a rating system for crampons which helps you to identify what they're designed for. The rating actually refers to the style of binding, but the application of the crampon does tend to change with the rating. There is some crossover of features, but most manufacturer websites will do an effective job of making selection easy for you.
C1 Crampons - 'Strap on'
These are the most flexible style crampons and tend to have 10 points. Most styles have a basket style attachment on the front and back, (and therefore technically compatible with any boot stiff enough) which in turn relies on the webbing straps to secure it to the boot . A C1 Crampon is best suited to winter walking and glacier walking.
A C1 Crampon is compatible with B1, B2 & B3 Boots (and as eluded to above, maybe even the odd B0 boot....but I'm not officially recommending that)
For all of our expeditions that involve a winter or glacial element, a 10 point walking crampon will be sufficient.
C2 Crampons - 'Hybrid'
Much like a B2 Boot, the C2 Crampon is a step up and is more versatile. They tend to have at least 2 more points and be more aggressive. This lends them better to steeper terrain (such a snow gullies) and winter climbing. A clip style on the back of the crampon is now the most common, and really does provide a much better fit to your boots. For a clip style crampon to work your boots MUST have a heel ledge, but as above this is common place on many B2 boots and above. A C2 crampon can certainly be used for everything a C1 crampon can be, but they'll likely be a bit heavier than a C1 due to their desired end use.
C2 Crampons are compatible with B2 & B3 Boots
Reserved for ice climbing and technical mountaineering. There tends to be another variation with the point style, and will have full 'step in' bindings for the most secure fit. Your boots must have a toe and heel ledge to be compatible with a full step in crampon.
C3 Crampons are compatible with B3 Boots only.
As with many things, there are always variations and the above explanations aren't as set as they used to be. For example, you can get the Grivel G10 ( a walking crampon) with a clip binding, and likewise a G12 (a climbing crampon) with a basket style set up on the front and rear.
Are Crampons sized?
You don't buy crampons to suit a shoe size, you adjust them to fit using the holes in the extension bar (the bar that joins the front and the back). This said, if you have particularly small feet you may need to add a nut and bolt to lock in a shorter length, or even cut down the bar. If you have large feet (About UK11+) then depending on the brand you may need a long extension bar.
It is also good to know that some brands sell more flexible extension bars, which may be useful if you want to take your climbing crampons on a long walk instead. Finally, some brands sell asymmetric extension bars which can help improve the fit of the crampon to your particular boot.
These are the bits of plastic that sit under the front and rear parts of the crampon. They are there to prevent snow from building up under the spikes and ultimately rendering the spikes useless - not ideal! My recommendation would be to make sure your crampons have these attached.
Are Microspikes the same as Crampons?
They are similar in the fact that you're adding spikes to your footwear, but that is where the similarity ends. Microspikes can be really useful on iced up paths, but as soon as snow is met the spikes are simply not big enough to provide enough traction to progress confidently.
C1 Crampons - although the boot was capable of taking C2 as it has a Heel ledge.
What to Buy (or hire)?
Well, there's a question! If you're looking at kitting yourself up for winter walking and a bit of climbing in the UK, I would always suggest going middle of the road with a B2 boot and a C2 crampon as it offers loads of versatility. But if you're buying for expeditions then the envelope is opened somewhat.
Here are some pointers as to what footwear, and if applicable, crampon combo we'd recommend on our expeditions:
Summer - Walking Shoes / Lightweight walking boot
Winter - B1-B3 Boot with C1 Crampon. A B2/ B3 boot is likely to provide more warmth. Add a gaiter, or get a gaitered boot for increased warmth and protection. Crampons are easily hired from the refuge on the expedition. Boots can be hired but quality and sizes cannot be guaranteed.
Walking Shoes / Lightweight Walking Boot. If on an April / May expedition then having waterproof footwear (or waterproof socks) is recommended due to an increased chance of snow.
B3 Double Boot with a C1 or C2 Crampon.
Add a gaiter for more warmth if the boot is not gaitered.
Crampons are easily hired whilst in country. Boots can be hired but quality and sizes cannot be guaranteed.
Always a tough one due to the range of climates experienced, but a solid B0 summer boot teamed up with a gaiter is a good combo.
On Mera Peak with Double Boots (B3) and C1 Crampons
Finally, if you get new boots (whether new to you, or brand new) take the time to break them in and know that they fit well. The last thing you want to do is find out whilst on your trip that they give you blisters or cause pain.
When it comes to crampons, it's also not a bad idea to have at least a little knowledge on them before you head away. Getting out walking in them, knowing how to adjust them or even pack them away will make life easier when you're out on your trip.
If you're on one of our trips we will always set aside time on the trip to help you get skilled up or refreshed, or if you want to gain the skills beforehand you can join one of our Winter Skills Courses in the Lake District.
If you have any further questions or want to check if the kit you have (or are looking at buying) is suitable then please don't hesitate to message.