Axe, Boot and Crampon Advice
An overview of ice axes, crampons, mountaineering boots and crampon-boot compatibility.
With hundreds of different boots, crampons and ice axes available on the market, choosing the right kit for your upcoming trip can feel a bit confusing. With that in mind, we’ve done the hard work for you by distilling our guides knowledge on what works best and come up with the following recommendations.
For classic Scottish and Alpine Mountaineering, a good quality traditional axe is ideal.
We cannot recommend enough that you spend a little more money in order to get one with a stronger and better designed T rated pick made for mountaineering, rather than just a hill walking axe with a B rated pick. It should be somewhere between 55-70cm long depending on how tall you are.
The DMM Cirque is a popular well priced model 100% made in Wales, or if you want our current ‘guides favourite’ then go for the excellent Petzl Summit.
Other good lightweight axes that are up to the job are the Grivel Airtech range – these are particularly popular for ski mountaineering.
Reverse curved technical tools come into their own at around Scottish IV and are conversely not so good on easier terrain. Models with curved shafts give better clearance and are less strenuous on really steep ground. For pure icefall climbing, we currently rate Petzl Nomics as about the best around – these are very specialist tools however, so only worth purchasing if you do a lot of pure steep ice climbing each winter.
For all rounders that are good for mixed climbing and harder alpinism as well, then DMM Apexs and Petzl Quarks are our favourites (other pure ice tools can still be used for this type of activity if you fit thicker picks, but will take a battering and the highly sculpted grips make plunging into deep snow more difficult).
Boots are rated for their stiffness and the type of activity they were designed for:
B1=flexible – suitable for trekking and hill walking only. Will take C1 crampons only.
B2=semi rigid – good for classic mountaineering and mid grade mixed climbing, but not suitable for pure ice climbing or harder mixed climbs. Will take C1 + C2 crampons.
B3=fully rigid – give much more support for front pointing on steeper terrain: suitable for steep ice climbing and harder mixed routes. Can take C1, C2 or C3 crampons. Less comfortable for walking long distances.
One Boot For All
If you want one pair of boots that are suitable for most types of mountaineering – ie summer alpinism, scottish winter climbing and european icefall climbing – then a pair of fully rigid (B3), insulated leather mountaineering boots are the best choice (in Scotland you’ll need use a good pair of gaiters with them).
La Sportiva Nepal Evos and Cubes are both good all rounders in this category. Because of it’s volume adjustable tongue, the Evo model in particular fits a wide variety of foot shapes very well.
Easier Grade Mountaineering
For easier grade mountaineering (eg winter hillwalking, Scottish I-II, alpine F-PD) and alpine routes which don’t involve front pointing (easier classic 4000m peaks etc) – then a semi rigid (B2) 4 season winter hillwalking boot is also OK. The Scarpa Manta Pro and Sportiva Trango are both popular models. NB these boots are also a good choice for approaching alpine rock routes and for climbing rockier alpine ridges (eg Cosmiques Arete, Hornli Ridge on the Matterhorn in dry conditions etc).
For climbing in colder conditions – eg Arctic Norway, winter alpinism etc – we recommend either ‘one and a half’ boots (models with an integrated gaitor) such as Scarpa Phantom Guides and La Sportiva Baturas, or for even colder conditions (or if you suffer from cold feet) one of the latest composite double boots such as Sportiva Spantiks or Scarpa Phantom 6000s – both of which are very warm, but still great for technical climbing.
For improved comfort in your boots, you could also invest in a custom moulded footbed (eg by Sidas) or a pair of Sorbothane Double Strike insoles (the latter give less support, but more cushioning between your foot and the ground – take your pick!). Finally, if you want the best possible fit, then buy from a master boot fitter (such as Backcountry Uk) – as they will make sure you buy the right boot for your foot shape and they can also extensively customise the shape and fit if necessary, in order to make the boot as comfortable as possible for you. Uncomfortable and poorly fitting boots are the most common cause of problems on our trips, so it really is worth seeking out a good boot fitter if you can!
As with boots – crampons are rated as C1 – flexible, C2 – semi rigid and C3 – rigid models. It’s vital that you get a crampon at least as stiff as your boots as otherwise they may fall off, so you can put any crampon on a fully rigid B3 boot, but only a flexible C1 crampon on a flexible B1 boot etc – it’s best to take your boots down the shop.
All Purpose Mountaineering Crampons
For general mountaineering trips and easy climbing go for good quality 12 point mountaineering crampons with anti ball plates. AB plates are universal these days, and integrated into most crampons – they make a big improvement to the safety of a crampon in soft snow conditions, and are mandatory on all of our mountaineering trips. Currently we reckon that Petzl Vasaks are the best all round mountaineering crampons, so these would be a good choice.
NB Unlike ski boots (which have a standard heel and toe shape to clip into various ski bindings) there is no standard heel/toe shape for mountaineering boots – which makes things very difficult for crampon manufacturers! The upshot is that the best crampon fit for your boot may not be the model that you’ve researched online – so it’s best to take your boots down to a shop with a good selection of crampons and try different models on the boots to see how they fit.
Some boot/crampon manufacturers also have collaborations – eg Grivel and Scarpa – the idea being that Grivel crampons are designed to fit well on Scarpa boots. This doesn’t guarantee that all Grivel crampons give the best fit on all sizes and all models of Scarpa boots, but at least it’s a start.
Technical Climbing Crampons
For a technical crampon that is also very good for steep ice climbing, then look at the Petzl Lynx – this is a modular design so it weighs a bit more, but it has vertically orientated front points and several different options for varying styles of climbing. In a similar vein, amongst hard Scottish winter activists nowadays, Petzl Darts set up with mono points are pretty much universal.
A word of warning about super light alloy ski touring crampons like the Camp XLC models – these are great for ski tours where you carry them most of the time and only ever climb steep snow, but they are not suitable for summer alpinism or any other technical use, as they won’t stand up to the abuse.