cramponsCram­pons are vital for moun­tain trav­el: they let climbers ascend ver­ti­cal water­fall ice, walk secure­ly on steep snow, trav­el across glac­i­ers, and scale ice-cov­ered gran­ite. But because there are so many options on the mar­ket, buy­ing your first pair can be con­fus­ing. Many aspir­ing alpin­ists don’t know where to start—but it’s actu­al­ly sim­pler than you might think.

When you’re look­ing at cram­pons, the first step is to choose the met­al: stain­less steel or alu­minum. Stain­less steel cram­pons are clas­sics for a rea­son: they’re durable, cor­ro­sion resis­tant, can be re-sharp­ened, and hold up well in steep or tech­ni­cal ter­rain like ice, snow, and rock. They’re heav­ier than alu­minum cram­pons, though, which are bet­ter for alpine climb­ing, ski moun­taineer­ing, and approach­es that require short glac­i­er cross­ings. But those saved ounces come at a cost: because it’s a soft­er met­al, alu­minum cram­pons tend to get dull and deformed quick­ly if used on rock or hard ice.

Once you’ve decid­ed which met­al is best for your needs, it’s time to look at bind­ings. Cram­pons are gen­er­al­ly sold in three bind­ing vari­a­tions: auto­mat­ic, strap-on, and hybrid. Auto­mat­ic (also called “step-in style”) cram­pons use levers and met­al bars that fit onto spe­cif­ic notch­es on moun­taineer­ing or ski boots (called “welts”), and they’re by far the most secure fit, which makes them best for tech­ni­cal climb­ing, ver­ti­cal ice, and high-con­se­quence ter­rain. Some boots don’t have welts, how­ev­er (think of reg­u­lar hik­ing boots, approach shoes, snow­board­ing boots, etc.) For these, strap-on cram­pons (which use flex­i­ble plas­tic toe bales and nylon web­bing straps) are best. For gen­er­al-pur­pose moun­taineer­ing (e.g., Mount Rainier, the Haute Route, etc.), some climbers also use a hybrid bind­ing style, which are made with a met­al heel lever and a nylon toe strap.

Points (Spikes)
Most moun­taineer­ing cram­pons have either 10 or 12 points, or “spikes.” Cram­pons made for tech­ni­cal ice or mixed climb­ing may have a more aggres­sive design, which makes them bet­ter for ver­ti­cal ter­rain but worse for walk­ing on snow. You’ll also need to con­sid­er front­points, which are the for­ward-fac­ing prongs on each cram­pon. There are three types of front­points: hor­i­zon­tal, ver­ti­cal, and mono­point. Horiz­ton­al front­points are pre­ferred for alpine and snow/ice climb­ing, where­as ver­ti­cal front­points and mono­point options are bet­ter suit­ed for climb­ing steep­er water­fall ice.

There are lots of options on the mar­ket, but don’t be intim­i­dat­ed: at the end of the day, most cram­pons will work for most objec­tives. Before you buy your first pair of cram­pons, ask for help. Do some back­ground research. And always bring your boots along when shop­ping if you can—because there’s so much vari­a­tion, it’s always worth dou­ble-check­ing that your new spikes will be com­pat­i­ble with your favorite boots. For large boots, you might need to buy an extra-long cen­ter bar—and that’s some­thing you’ll want to know before you get into the moun­tains. If your cram­pons don’t come with them, you’ll want to buy a set of anti-balling plates, too.

Read the Manual
Final­ly, read the man­u­al. Learn how to make micro-adjust­ments to your cram­pons to make sure you’ve got a seam­less fit. Then strap them on and head for the hills!

international-mountaineering-featuredA trag­ic and glar­ing spot­light has been placed on inter­na­tion­al climb­ing and moun­taineer­ing expe­di­tions in the past few weeks after ten for­eign climbers camp­ing near the base Nan­ga Par­bat  of Pak­istan were killed by the Tal­iban. This rais­es safe­ty con­cerns for out­door adven­tur­ists who, so keen to sum­mit a for­eign peak or send a cov­et­ed route abroad, may ven­ture into dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry. Though the group of climbers observed many safe­ty pre­cau­tions, obtained the nec­es­sary per­mits, and employed a guide, the fact remains that they met their end in a tumul­tuous area of the world plagued by war and upheaval. This begs the ques­tion: Should out­door enthu­si­asts risk their lives by ven­tur­ing into hos­tile or unsta­ble areas? And what pre­cau­tions should they take before leav­ing the safe­ty and pro­tec­tion of their home countries?

Reg­is­ter with Your Embassy
Tak­ing the time to reg­is­ter with your embassy is the first step to adven­tur­ing safe­ly. When you reg­is­ter, this ensures that you’ll receive updates if life-threat­en­ing emer­gen­cies arise in or near the area where you’re trav­el­ing. Your embassy will also let you know if U.S. Cit­i­zens are being evac­u­at­ed from the area and as con­tact your fam­i­ly to inform them if you’re safe. That being said, most climbs take place in remote loca­tions where access to inter­net and cell phones is min­i­mal, so if you find your­self beyond the reach of your embassy’s elec­tron­ic updates, be sure to have a go-to check-in point where you can get the lat­est scoop on new world and region­al developments.

Research the Region
There is no sub­sti­tute for talk­ing with climbers and ex-patri­ots trav­el­ing through and liv­ing in the region you plan to vis­it. Read expat blogs, con­nect via Face­book and Twit­ter with folks in that part of the world, and do your home­work. The climbers in Pak­istan serve as a cau­tion­ary tale; they were climb­ing in an area of Pak­istan that was known to be peace­ful and far from the Taliban’s reach. Despite the seem­ing­ly safe nature of their vis­it, they found them­selves at the mer­cy of for­eign rebels intent on harm­ing peace­ful adven­tur­ists to make a polit­i­cal statement.

Make the Call
In the end, only you and your team of fel­low adven­tur­ists can make the call con­cern­ing whether or not to risk your lives by ven­tur­ing into a region that may be haz­ardous for for­eign­ers. Often times, the moun­tains them­selves are dan­ger enough that climbers may view any oth­er risks as a mute point worth fac­ing. That being said, climb safe­ly and, above all, climb on. 

In this short clip spon­sored by Red Bull, Aus­tri­an climber David Lama makes a first free ascent of the Com­pres­sor Route on Cer­ro Torre, Patag­o­nia, a climb that is rife with controversy.

Cesare Maestri claimed to have made the first ascent in 1959 then returned in 1970 to lug a 300lb gas-pow­ered com­pres­sor up the route, con­tro­ver­sial­ly drilling close to 400 bolts into the South­east Ridge’s head­wall, cre­at­ing the infa­mous Com­pres­sor Route. The com­pres­sor is still anchored to the wall just shy of the actu­al summit. 

Not only tech­ni­cal­ly demand­ing but often un-climbable due to inclement weath­er, Cer­ro Torre is a cov­et­ed achieve­ment for climbers. Some sea­sons, the icon­ic moun­tain won’t see a sin­gle ascent because of unsta­ble weath­er con­di­tions. Lama’s suc­cess came at the end of a three-year bat­tle that saw his tac­tics and ethics evolve. 

The source of scruti­ny for his first attempt, the climber fell under heavy crit­i­cal fire after his par­ty added even more per­ma­nent pro­tec­tion to the rock in order to accom­plish the climb. Own­ing this mis­take, Lama returned in Jan­u­ary, 2012 to use only exist­ing pro­tec­tion and remov­able, clean pro­tec­tion pulling off one of the great­est feats in mod­ern climb­ing his­to­ry. Watch his accom­plish­ment in the clip above. 


Mem­bers, click through below for exclu­sive sav­ings on today’s fea­tured brands:

Gre­go­ry: Light­weight, inno­v­a­tive­ly designed for com­fort and fit, and prized for their dura­bil­i­ty, Gre­go­ry packs have defined qual­i­ty for the past 30 years. Fea­tur­ing a pletho­ra of packs at mem­ber-exclu­sive pricing. 


Bur­ley: Burley’s com­mit­ment to safe­ty, dura­bil­i­ty, and qual­i­ty in their child-car­ry­ing bike trail­ers earned them a Gold award at the 2010 Euro­Bike tradeshow. Cart your kid safe­ly with the trail­ers fea­tured here.

Bertuc­ci: The watch­es in this col­lec­tion blend vin­tage tra­di­tions with mod­ern sophis­ti­ca­tion. Water­proof up to 328 feet and housed in a tita­ni­um case, these field watch­es look good tak­ing abuse.

Alpin­ist: Alpin­ist mag­a­zine cap­tures the spir­it of a sport that often requires pre-dawn starts, life and death deci­sions, and breath­tak­ing views from the sum­mit. Inspire your climbs with a sub­scrip­tion here.

Ober­mey­er: From Aspen, Col­orado, Ober­mey­er is a fam­i­ly-run busi­ness that has designed tech­ni­cal win­ter appar­el for over 60 years. With this win­ter col­lec­tion, you can out­fit your whole clan for the slopes.

Haul It All: Some days, you only need to car­ry a sand­wich down the trail. Oth­ers, you have to pack enough Hawai­ian shirts for an ill-fat­ed three-hour tour. This col­lec­tion will enable you to haul it all in style.