10-Point vs. 12-Point Crampons
When it comes to general mountaineering, there are really two options when it comes to crampons: 10-points and 12-points. When you're first starting out, it can be hard to know which one will be best, and unless you've done a lot of research, the difference certainly isn't always clear at first glance. I bought my first pair of crampons when I registered for a guided climb of Mt. Rainier. I didn't put a lot of research into what pair would be best and simply got what the guides recommended - a pair of Black Diamond Contacts. They've served me well and each time I've summited Rainier, I've had these underfoot. I can't say that I have any complaints about them, but since then I've obtained a pair of G12s and the new Petzl Leopard to serve a wider range of needs. I believe that if you're looking for a first pair of crampons, you should strongly consider a pair of 12-point crampons, but let's go over the pros and cons and you can decide for yourself which one is best for you.
Grivel G12 Cramp-O-Matic, Black Diamond Contact Strap, Petzl Leopard LLF
First off, let's talk about the difference between various types of crampons. 10-point crampons have - you guessed it - 10 points. There are also 12-point crampons, which have 12 points, the main difference being the geometry of the secondary points (the first ones that point downward), which jut out further for more stability on steeper terrain. Beyond the 12-pointers are the technical ice and mixed crampons. For these, the number of points becomes less relevant and the main factor becomes the arrangement and geometry of the front points for precision on vertical and overhanging terrain. There are also aluminum crampons, which are nearly half the weigh of their steel counterparts, though are relegated to activities that don't involve walking over rock, as aluminum is softer and the points will dull faster. (For the record, there are 10 and 12 point aluminum crampons, which is not what we're talking about, we are comparing 10-point steel and 12-point steel crampons.)
The secondary points on the G12s are almost twice a long as those on the Contacts, and jut out further
For general mountaineering, what you really want is a pair of 12 point crampons. 12-pointers are far more versatile and will cover a wider range of climbing than their 10-point counterparts. With a good pair of 12 pointers you can climb vertical ice and even some mixed climbing, as well as all the glacier walking you could want. Where 10 point crampons will work, 12 point crampons will excel.
It's not that 10-point crampons are bad by any means. People have taken them up Denali and Everest, and they're even useable for vertical ice. They'll do just about anything you want them to do, it's just that 12 point crampons are much better when it comes to technical terrain, basically anytime you're 'front-pointing'. The only standard drawback of 12 point crampons is that the secondary points are more likely to 'catch' as you walk on flat ground. In my experience this has been almost a non-issue. You may feel them catch a little bit more, but it doesn't become problematic or even annoying - at least in my experience.
Well, what about weight? Don't 12-point crampons weigh more?
Sure, let's look at Black Diamond as an example: the Sabertooth (a 12-pointer) weighs 1lb. 15oz.(890g), the Contact (a 10-pointer) weighs 1lb. 13oz. (808g). That's a difference of a whopping 2oz...that's not something you're ever going to notice. It's the same for other brands, Petzl and Grivel both have a difference of less that 4oz. between their standard 10 and 12 pointers. Besides, if weight truly is of concern, why not just use a pair of aluminum crampons and shave off a whole pound?
But 12-point crampons cost more!
They sure do, a pair of G12s will set you back $175, whereas a pair of G10s only costs $130. But consider this: You initially buy a pair of G10s cause"that's all I need", and then you discover that you'd like to do something slightly technical and buy a pair of G12s. You've now spent $305, when you could have just spent $175 in the first place.
So is there any situation where 10-point crampons are preferred?
Yes, there can be, but it all depends on what your goals and aspirations are. If you aren't interested in doing anything technical, or anything where you might be front-pointing, then 10-pointers might just be the right thing for you. If you're absolutely certain that you're never going to want to do anything even remotely technical, then by all means, get yourself a pair of 10-point crampons. But if there's a chance you might have some future aspirations for some bigger, badder objectives, it's definitely worth springing for those extra two points.
And even if you do go for 12-point crampons, it's not like you have to do any technical climbing with them. Heck, you may not need those extra two points very often at all, but when you do need them, you'll be glad they're there. Having them simply widens the range of activities you can do and gives added control, stability, and confidence on steep terrain.
You should buy 10-point crampons if you only want to do non-technical climbing, such as glacier travel. You should buy 12-point crampons if you plan on doing both non-technical climbing and technical climbing.