How to Sharpen Your Crampons

Keep Crampons Sharp for Ice Climbing

You need sharp front points to climb steep ice at Ouray Ice Park. Keep your crampons clean and points sharp for safe climbing. Photograph copyright Alain Denis/Getty Images

Ice climbing, mixed climbing, and mountaineering on varied terrain are hard on crampons. While ice climbers generally do not blunt their crampons by using them on rock and talus, mixed climbers are hard on technical crampons since they are using the front points to stand on edges, flakes, and other rock footholds. Crampons often dull quickly early in the ice climbing season since climbers are often using them when ice and snow lightly cover the mountain slopes.

Alpine Climbing Is Hard on Crampons

Mountaineers also need to regularly sharpen their crampons because they often travel from ice or snow slopes onto rocks and rock features, and then climbing back onto snow. Climbers who regularly ascend snowy mountains, like those in the Canadian Rockies, Alaskan ranges, Alps in Europe, and the high mountains in Asia, will have dull crampons. Make sure you sharpen your crampons before going on any expedition. Also, bring a small file to sharpen them up in the mountains.

Crampon Points are Blades

The cure for dull crampons is to regularly inspect them and then sharpen their points when they get dull. Think of your crampons as short sharp blades that work best when they are sharp. Most mixed climbers and mountaineers need to sharpen their crampons at least once a season. It's best to sharpen them at the start of the ice season.

Sharp Front Points are Essential

For ice climbing and mixed climbing routes, you need to keep the front points on your crampons extremely sharp.

When the front points are knife sharp, it is easier to place them in the ice without kicking and sharp points cause less damage to ice. You also need to keep the bottom crampon points sharp, but they do not have to be razor-blade sharp since they primarily provide foot traction and grip on lower-angle ice terrain.

Clean Crampons Before Sharpening

Clean your crampons before sharpening them. When you are out climbing ice and peaks, your crampons get dirty, especially if they have hinges. Rinse them off with water and detergent, and scrub with a brush if necessary. Then thoroughly dry the crampons before sharpening them or storing them. If crampons are stored wet, then you risk having them rust.

What You Need to Sharpen Crampons

You only need a hand file to sharpen your crampons. Go your local hardware stores like Home Depot or Ace and buy a hand file called a flat mill bastard file. “Bastard” in this instance is not a bad word but instead refers to the midgrade roughness of the file’s cutting teeth. “Mill” describes the flat shape of the file. It is best to use a small vise to clamp the crampons when filing. If you don’t have one, then hand hold them. A pair of sturdy work gloves keeps you from scraping knuckles with the file.

How to Sharpen Your Crampons

The first steps to sharpen crampons are to clean them and assemble your tools. Next secure a crampon in the vise in your workshop, front porch, or dining room table. Now it’s time to sharpen.

Follow these directions and tips to properly sharpen your crampons:

  • File each crampon point, trying to imitate the original shape and manufacturer’s bevel.
  • Push the file in the direction of its teeth rather than scraping the file back and forth across the point’s blade.
  • As you file, try to maintain a straight line from the crampon frame to the point’s tip.
  • File the crampon side-points on each of their sides. They don’t have to be super sharp. Aim to have them as sharp as the tip of a ballpoint pen.
  • File the front points as sharp as possible. It’s best to sharpen horizontal front points from the top. Vertical front points can be filed from each side.
  • It’s best to avoid using an electric grinder to sharpen your crampons. It is easy to overheat the metal, causing them to lose temper and weaken. If you do use one, go slow with light contact, and wear gloves.
  • After sharpening the crampons, wipe them down and wash them again. Also, check to make sure there are no burrs on the filed points.
  • If any of the crampon points are bent, it is easy to straighten them in the vise.
  • Lastly, check the crampon frame and points for fatigue cracks. If your crampons have been sharpened several times, make sure the point sidewalls are not too thin. Also check the straps, plastic cages, and all attachment rivets to make sure they are secure. It’s a good idea to do this check at the beginning of every ice season.