Whether you’re a mountaineer who treks across rock, snow, and ice, or a mixed climber who traverses all manner of abrasive terrain—know that every time you use your crampons, you’re dulling their grip. Here’s how to sharpen and maintain them to optimize safety and longevity.
First, Dial In Your Work Area
When working with any manner of tools and technical gear, it’s worth taking the time to set up a work area that’s safe, comfortable, and well lit. Because sharpening creates metal shavings, sharpen crampons in an easy-to-sweep area.
Sharpen by Hand
Start by thoroughly rinsing dirt and dust off your crampons, then wipe them completely dry. Depending on the design, you may be able to separate the heel from the toe section–if you can, do so. Some choose to put their crampons in a vice to sharpen them, which is fine—just take care not to bend the metal. You can also simply hold the crampons, but protect your hands by wearing gloves. Using a coarse hand file, file the side and points of your crampon spikes, following the existing forge. When filing, be careful to strike a straight line from frame to tip. Never use a grinding wheel, which generates heat that may weaken metal by changing the temper of the steel. Straighten bent points as much as possible, either by the direction of filing or with a hammer. For mountaineering crampons, aim for the equivalent sharpness of a steak knife tip (ultra-sharp blades can cut pants, legs, and backpacks); for technical/vertical crampons, the sharper the better.
Coddle Your Crampons
After you’ve sharpened your crampons, wash and wipe them down with a clean rag. Carefully inspect them, looking for chips, burrs, or warped edges. Carefully examine the points—if they’re getting thin, oddly shaped, or noticeably shorter, it might be time for a new pair.
When packing for an adventure, check your crampons for loose rivets, wiggly screws, and worn straps and buckles—replace or adjust as needed. Ensure the heel and toe bails are in good working order and that they fit your boots snugly. For longer trips, carry a small repair kit including a multi-tool, bailing wire, and spare parts like straps, bails, and extra center bars.
Finally, after each trip, make sure your crampons are completely dry before putting them away; if they sit with moisture on the metal, they may begin to rust. If you’re storing them for the season, clean them thoroughly then consider coating them with a light oil or a water-displacement spray like WD-40.