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Which Mountain Boots and Crampons? | Buying Guide

As you may have noticed, for the last decade Rock + Run have not offered a range of 3-season walking/hiking boots. This was a conscious decision made, due in the main, to the proliferation of products in this area of the market. We decided to fully concentrate our efforts on the technical top-end footwear sectors, at polar opposite ends of the spectrum – Running/Approach and Mountain/Alpine. In these areas we offer a good range of styles and brands in an effort to cover all bases in the respective categories. Here we look at what to look for when purchasing a pair of mountaineering or ice climbing boots and the relevant crampons.

Mountain & Alpine Boots

Your average mountaineer and/or Alpinist’s winter season is a varied affair; often consisting of a range of activities including rock routes, mixed terrain, deep snow and pure ice. As with other specialist footwear – such as rock shoes – no one pair of mountain boots will excel on all of the above terrains. Therefore, when deciding on a new or first pair of boots it's well worth considering the following elements before committing to what is usually a fairly hefty price tag.

Sizing & Fit

As with rock shoes, sizing on this type of footwear can vary greatly, and as the consumer needs a performance fit to avoid discomfort and get the most out of his or her boots. Fitting your boots correctly is imperative. Many top-end mountain boots are still handmade, meaning that the quality is usually impeccable, but equally this human element can result in the same size varying, even between pairs of the same model - sloppy heels lead to blisters, whilst a loose forefoot is insecure when edging on rock; conversely, too tight a fit will lessen blood flow and result in cold feet or, in a worse case scenario, frostbite. Taking these factors into account, buying boots over the internet is only recommended for those who have already worked out what size and model they require, or are replacing an existing pair of the same model – of course if you have no alternative or are unable to try a desired model close to home, you can, if necessary, return (for a full refund or exchange) any boots purchased online.

Crampon Compatibility

The sole construction and rigidity of a boot determines its crampon compatibility. Using incompatible combinations of boot and crampon can lead to epics and at worse accidents. Always check the compatibility of a crampon-boot partnership before buying your boots. In the UK we have trended toward the B and C categorization of boots and crampons, a simple and effective method of matching up boots to crampons – beware this is only a guide and even where categories match up, some products simply aren’t congruous!

B - for Boots

B0: This covers most lightweight 3-season fabric and/or leather boots with a flexible rocking sole. Boots in this category are not suitable for crampons, other than the wrap-around or instep styles such as: Kahtoola Micro Spikes.

B1: These are study, yet flexible boots which will take a C1 walking crampon.

B2: Boots of the semi-rigid variety; designed for mountaineering, easier grade gullies and ridges and some mixed climbing. Usable with both C1 and C2 crampons.

B3: A fully stiffened boot for all levels of mountain use – higher altitudes will also require a well insulated boot – such as mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing at all grades. These boots are usually a little uncomfortable to walk in over longer distances. Fully compliant for use with C1, C2 and C3 crampons.

C - for Crampons

C1: Flexible (e.g. Kahtoola KTS, BD Contact, Grivel G10)

C2: Semi-rigid (e.g. BD Cyborg, Grivel G12/14)

C3: Rigid (e.g. Grivel Rambo):

Crampon Bindings

Another consideration when fitting crampons to boots is which style of binding to choose.

Strap On: Also referred to as ‘French Bindings’, these will suit any B1 or above boot, and are safe bet if you are unsure whether your boot will accommodate any of the other binding styles. (e.g. Grivel New Classics)

Step In: These come in a full and semi offering: The semi step-in connotation only requires the boot to offer a heel notch or welt*. Whereas the full step-in version will also require a notch/welt on the lip of the toe box - this accommodates the crampon toe-bail.

Appropriate Rigidity 

In this excellent video, expert mountaineer Brian Hall, of the Mountain Boot Company (UK distributer of Scarpa and Grivel), explains the importance of wearing the correct stiffness of outdoor footwear in various scenarios, for reasons of support, protection and compatibility with crampons.

Rigidity versus Comfort

Whilst a softer more flexible boot is more pleasant for walking and general mountain use, the appeal soon wears off when your calves are cramping up on steeper snow and ice. Remember, it's all about the right tool for the job. Pick a boot that fits your requirements.

Materials & Insulation

Modern boots, especially at the more technical end of the market, combine leather with all sorts of plastic and synthetic panels as well as a whole host of manmade components and linings. Thus the offerings can be constructed to almost any design spec. and be much lighter than the wholly leather footwear of yesteryear. Many technical single skinned boots now come with some level of insulation, which is a useful option for high-altitude use; however for serious use nothing beats the warmth and versatility of double boots – that is boots supplied with a removable inner boot, usually insulated with something like Thinsulate.

Finally, it is worth mentioning Thermo-fitted inner technology which, in recent years, has migrated from the world of ski boots to the world of top-end climbing footwear. These custom moldable inner boots provide more warmth for less weight and a custom fit. The boots supplied with this feature can also be used without thermo-fitting the inners or be fitted at home with relative ease. 

* Be warned: some boots, which are unsuitable for step-in crampons, still have a heel notch/welt on the heel of the boot as an aesthetic point of interest, rather than a functional design feature. We do not sell any boots with "false welts".

Check out our full range of Mountain Boots 

Check out our full range of Crampons