The Lowdown on Crampon Configuration

Girly Guide, Kitty Calhoun, gets the goods on crampon configuration (including BD’s new Snaggletooth) from her gear techy friends.

MoreCramponPrepThe choices between crampon configurations are: duo-point vs. mono-point and horizontal points vs. vertical points. I wondered if  one crampon worked better for mixed, if one crampon was better for longer routes, if one was better for brittle ice (or soft).

I asked three of the most techy guys I know: Mark Miller, Will Gadd, and Bill Belcourt  (tech guy at Black Diamond) about the differences in configuration.  Recently, I included Peter Wilk, a Black Diamond engineer in the discussion as well. Each has a different opinion.

Mark likes his mono-points for everything – mixed and ice and does not believe that a mono-point gives any less support on long routes than duo-points.  He does not think that a mono-point is any more likely to shear in hollow ice or fracture brittle ice than a duo-point , whether horizontal or vertical.

Will Gadd likes his horizontal points for mixed and ice routes.  He finds duo-points more stable than mono-points.  Furthermore, he says that horizontal points allow you to climb ice more like you climb on rock because when you raise your heels, they are less likely than vertical points to break the ice and shear out.  There were only a few unique places and conditions where he thought any other configuration out-performed horizontal points.

Bill Belcourt said that everyone has their own theory as to which configuration is best, but none are verifiable by science.  He does not like mono-points in less than vertical terrain because he feels it is more work to stand on your feet and keep your balance.  The Black Diamond vertical duo-points (Cyborgs) have front-points with serrations on the teeth so they feel more secure when standing on mushrooms.  They are heavier than the horizontal points, but you can change out the front points to mono-points or replace the points when they become worn out so the crampons last longer.

Peter Wilk said the following:
There are two major kinds of crampons. You have horizontal front points and vertical front points.  Traditionally, horizontal front points have been used more in alpine and mountaineering conditions because the front points have more area to grab the ice or snow.   The other major style, vertical points, tend to be used more in vertical ice, more difficult ice conditions, because they displace less ice.  But the displacement comes because there is less contact.  They tend to slice through the ice rather than standing on top of it.   In general, in ‘snice’,  or soft ice, the vertical crampon will tend to track down through it.  In vertical points you have the duo-point Cyborg and the mono-point Stinger. The Stinger displaces less ice because there is only a single front point.  Again, the duo point Cyborg will have more stability in snice than the single point Stinger, but less than the horizontal points.

If you go into the dry tooling or mixed terrain, single front points tend to be more useful because with two points, when you balance on a tiny edge, if you rotate your foot, one point will tend to turn into the rock and the other will turn out and tend to pop off.  When you have a single point, the single point will stay where you placed it because it’s not going to get pushed off by another point.

snaggletooth-black-diamondWe have a new crampon, the Snaggletooth, which is a single point horizontal crampon.  The Snaggletooth has advantages in snow and soft ice as well as the dry or mixed terrain.  You have the advantage of the single point on rock and you get more stability with the width of the horizontal front point vs. the point on a vertical crampon point.  When you do get on less consolidated ice, you get the more stable horizontal point as well as the advantage of the single front point, which has only been available in the vertical configuration.

I asked our own Dawn Glanc, who has been using the Snaggletooth this year, what she thought.  She admitted that she was skeptical at first, but now prefers the Snaggletooth.  She says it climbs exceptionally well on mixed because of the increased surface contact and that she can torque it into a crack. She also likes the increased stability of a horizontal point on soft ice.

In conclusion, I think that it is best to demo all types of crampons to find out what you like best.  In the meantime, it is fun to play with different configurations because it tends to focus your attention on your feet, which in itself would cause you to climb better!

-Kitty Calhoun