How to use crampons: walking safely and matching to your boots

Learn when to use crampons, how to put them on, and how to walk in them with our expert guide.

Hiker wearing crampons with clear sky in background

by Live For The Outdoors |
Updated on

Crampons provide exceptional grip in snow and ice, but when should you put them on and what’s the best way to use them? Mountaineering instructor Rob Johnson walks us through it.

Get half-price digital OS Maps. Trail and Country Walking magazine members get 50% off an annual subscription to OS Maps for 12 months! Find out more here.

When to put on crampons

Hiker putting on crampons
©Live For The Outdoors

When walking becomes difficult

If your boots are starting to slip then you will benefit from wearing crampons. It’s as simple as that. We humans are inherently lazy, so there is a tendency to leave putting them on as late as possible. This is fine, until the consequences of a potential slip become serious.

On or near steep ground

Once you’re anywhere near steep ground then a bit of anticipation with where you put your feet is a good idea. If you have good traction but the possibility of a slip is high, then consider putting your crampons on as a preventative tool.

When going downhill

It’s common to stroll uphill with no problem at all and then find that going down is much more difficult – partly due to gravity and partly because the snow becomes more compacted as the day goes on, and so gets more slippery than it was in ascent. I normally wear my crampons for a greater part of the descent than the ascent for this reason.

How to put on crampons

A hiking boot fitted with a crampon
©Live For The Outdoors

Use flat ground

Try to get into the habit of putting your crampons on while on flat ground. If you’re on a slope then cut a ledge in the snow to create a level platform to work on. This will help you maintain balance and be much less likely to go sliding off down the hill.

Secure your kit

Make a platform big enough for you and your kit. Practise fitting crampons while wearing gloves, as being able to do this will help you avoid frostnip in really cold temperatures.

Don’t sit

I like to see people putting on crampons from a standing or kneeling position if on a slope rather than sitting in the snow, where the risk of a slide is much greater.

How to walk in crampons

Hikers in snow with crampons
©Live For The Outdoors

Get used to walking with your feet slightly wider apart to begin with, making a conscious effort to avoid snagging your trousers or boots. Make sure there are no loose bits of fabric flapping around, and tuck your crampon straps away neatly into the outside of your boot.

Crampons work best when all of the downward pointing spikes are in contact with the snow. This is called ‘flat footing’ and it is a skill that takes practice – especially as the slope gets steeper.

On steep ground, the slope may reach an angle where it is not possible to walk with both feet flat on the ground. Here you will need to use the front points or a combination of one foot flat and the other front-pointing.

Practice these techniques somewhere safe with no consequences of a slip, and try to play on a variety of angles and snow textures. The firmer the snow, the more exact you will need to be with your technique. You will find that ascending and descending require differing styles and flexible ankles. Remember though, the key to all of it is those downward facing points need to be in the snow. If you’re edging across a slope and half of your points are visible, they won’t be working properly for you.

How to match crampons and hiking boots

Hiker walking in crampons
©Live For The Outdoors

Crampons come in three grades: strap-on C1, hybrid C2, and step-in C3. It’s all about matching the crampon, boot type, and how you're going to use them.

C1 crampons are for walking. C2 and C3 crampons have a greater number of and more aggressive spikes, and are for mountaineering and climbing. Hiking boot ratings correspond accordingly to the type of crampon it can accommodate.

B1 boots – C1 crampons

B2 boots – C1, C2 crampons

B3 boots – C1, C2, C3 crampons

Don't forget to subscribe to the Live For The Outdoors newsletter to get expert advice and outdoor inspiration delivered to your inbox.

For the latest reviews - including extra photos and products that won't appear online - pick up a copy of the current issue of Trail magazine.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us