A healthy debate is ongoing over in the UKC Forums on whether or not stainless steel crampons are a true innovation or simply a way to capture the attention of climbers that are attracted to shiny objects. This past year, Black Diamond released three, fully stainless steel crampon models: the
and Serac. Black Diamond claims that stainless steel makes for a lighter weight, durable crampon that resists snow balling and won't rust.
Stainless steel, like other steels, is an iron based alloy that contains at least 12% chromium, enough to ensure resistance to rust. The chromium in the stainless steel oxidizes and creates a constant film on the surface of the metal, protecting it from rust and creating the shiny appearance. There are many different types of stainless steel, which has contributed to some of the confusion. One particular type however, has shown to have the same hardness characteristic as chromoly.
Chromoly is the traditional steel used in crampons from companies such as Grivel, Petzl and even Black Diamond. Chromoly is know for its excellent strength to weight ratio and is considered stronger and harder than other standard steels. Chromoly does not contain as much chromium as stainless steel however, so is subject to rust or corrosion over time. This is usually combated by applying some sort of surface treatment to the crampon (not exactly eco-friendly).
Grivel, with their traditional chromoly crampons, seem to strongly disagree with the Black Diamond claims that stainless steel is better. Their argument for staying with chromoly is that the steel is harder than stainless and it takes years and years of occasional rusting to have any affect on the durability of your crampons. Even CAMP, a big user of stainless steel, admits that the effect of rust on climbing equipment has far less impact on durability than the metal property of hardness. The hardness of chromoly and its ability to resist abrasion from walking or front pointing on hard surfaces will boost the crampons durability far more than the rust resistance of stainless steel.
So much like the waterproof breathable fabric debate, the answer comes down to personal preference. Properly maintain your traditional chromoly based crampons and you shouldn't have to worry. On the other hand, if you are one of those climbers attracted to new, shiny gear, get yourself a set of
stainless steel crampons
this Christmas. Which would or do you prefer?