As Fell Top Assessor on Helvellyn my job is to go to the summit of the mountain every day (well, on a 7-days on, 7-days off shift pattern anyway) to take weather readings and monitor the snow pack from early December through the winter until Easter. Yes, during my time off from this routine I might go and climb a gnarly Welsh gully or a mixed buttress route somewhere, but essentially I wanted to review a pair of crampons that would be suitable throughout the whole season for the Helvellyn gig.
When Petzl asked me which model of crampon I’d like to review, although I was oh so tempted to opt for the technical Sarken, Lynx or Dartwins, I knew that I really wanted something that would pass as a good general purpose mountaineering crampon, but one that I might also be able to get away with strapping to my bendy boots later in the season when most of the snow had melted and winter boots might just feel a bit over the top for the ground conditions.
The Vasak crampons look good on paper, and come in a range of four different bindings, so I had hopes that they might turn out to be the ideal choice for me.
Hoping beyond hope that we were in for a good winter (I started field testing these crampons back in early December) I felt that I’d most likely be wearing the crampons with my Scarpa Manta Pros, but that on those lean days of very little snow and ice I’d want to use them in conjunction with a lighter pair of walking boots, Hanwag Tatras as it turned out, so it was important to avoid the much more funky Leverlock and Spirlock bindings. These simply wouldn’t do on bendy boots.
So, early in the season, with very little snow and summit temperatures just above freezing, the Hanwags went on my feet, and the Vasak Flexlocks went into my rucksack. This arrangement was great until the first of the cold weather arrived. Surprisingly the Vasaks went very neatly onto my Hanwag boots, and I had a couple of good days on Striding Edge and Swirral Edge with that combination with no problems at all.
However, on day three I reached the summit plateau and started heading towards the summit shelter when I noticed that the crampon on my left boot was actually loose. The flex in my boots had forced the lug at the back of the crampon beneath the sole of the boot, and the whole thing was hanging off. I re-strapped the crampon, and got off the hill with no further mishaps.
Now, as winter was now really getting going, the next day I switched boots to the Scarpa Manta Pros. Since then I’ve had the Vasaks on those boots almost every day, and not once have I had a repeat of what happened with my Hanwags. There is definitely a lesson for me to remember there – don’t try to get crampons to stay on bendy boots! The fault was certainly not due to a technical hitch with the crampons, more to do with user stupidity.
The Vasaks are incredibly easy to adjust to size, to put on, strap up, and take off again, even when wearing winter gloves, and in use I find them absolutely spot on for anything from walking on a flat, ice-scoured surface to climbing grade III or IV mixed pitches.
They are very well designed and manufactured too. Petzl’s own bullet-point description of them goes:
- Point lengths designed for maximum stability without having to high-step
- Sharp points for great purchase in ice
- Two wide front points for purchase in snow, reinforced for rigidity
- Second row of teeth angled towards the front for support when front-pointing
- Third row of points to optimize bite on hard snow slopes
- Four teeth for stability when descending facing downhill
- Side points for purchase while traversing
- Linking bar can be set for flexible or semi-rigid modes to adapt the crampon to flexible or rigid boots
- Weight varies from 920 to 980 g (including ANTISNOW), depending on binding system.
My intention in testing the crampons for review was to wear them for a couple of weeks, then to go back to my old favourites. Now I’ve tried the Vasaks, those old favourites will never get another look in. The Vasaks really are a very, very good set of crampons, and being widely available at around the £100 mark they are set to become a market leader for general mountaineering use.