Any dedicated mountaineer is going to own at least one pair of crampons. The climber on a budget will likely have one pair of crampons that do it all, while the climber with some extra ducats in the bank will have a variety of crampons specific to the style of climbing. Commonly owned crampons are ones specific to ice climbing and general mountaineering (snow, ice, and glacier). For many years, in the shadows of the internet and specialized outdoor retail stores, climbers could also find super light crampons made mostly or completely out of aluminum, intended for objectives that required minimal time on snow or ice, while the rest of the time the spikes sat in a pack.
Now, with the increasingly popular attention to light and fast climbing, and especially with ski-mountaineering becoming more mainstream in outdoor sports, the number of offerings in this category of lightweight, specialized crampons has exploded.
Petzl has substantially upped the game with the Irvis Hybrid crampons. The Irvis Hybrids are a marriage of the Petzl’s Leopard and Irvis models. The Leopard crampons have aluminum fronts and heels, and a cord made of Dyneema (Petzl calls it Cord-Tec) that connect the two parts instead of a traditionally rigid steel or aluminum bar. The Irvis crampons are a standard set of 10-point steel crampons with a steel connection bar. The Irvis Hybrid combines the Leopard’s Cord-Tec and aluminum heel with the Irvis’s steel toe/front piece.
What’s the value of all this cross-breeding? The first question to ask is, “Why are most crampons made of steel and not aluminum, since aluminum crampons are lighter?” Aluminum crampons are nice to carry in a pack and wear on the feet because they are so light–we’re talking almost a pound’s difference between an average pair of steel and aluminum crampons. But if durability and sharp edges are what you are looking for, you won’t find them with aluminum crampons. Here’s an example of when you might wear a totally aluminum crampon: the Grand Teton in early July–start with a 4-mile hike on a dry trail. Then slap on your ‘pons and easily ascend a moderate snow slope for 3,000 feet. Then, with ‘pons off and stored back in the pack, finish with a 1,200-foot scramble and rock climb of 5.5 to the summit, which may require sections of wearing crampons across small snowfields.
On the flipside, climbing the classic four-pitch All Mixed Up (III WI4) in Rocky Mountain National Park or the Kautz Glacier (AI2-3) on Mt. Rainier in aluminum crampons would be like roller blading with wheels made of soap. You might not have much left at the end. For this kind of situation, you wouldn’t want anything except steel, assuming you’d like your crampons to last for a while.
Petzl’s intention with the Irvis Hybrid is to provide functionality while keeping the pack light. One might use these crampons in many of the same situations as aluminum crampons, except with the Irvis Hybrids, a climber can venture farther into technical terrain where steel frontpoints are necessary–such as climbing water ice and alpine ice. These crampons are equally marketed for ski-mountaineering in which skiers depend on a tight and light pack to ski safely and competently in the backcountry.
During my testing of the Irvis Hybrids I was able to use them in a variety of conditions throughout the winter, including ski mountaineering, alpine climbing, mixed climbing and ice climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park–as well as for a summit climb of Pico de Orizaba (18,491′) in Mexico. I found them to be a stellar addition to my quiver of crampons, and I will definitely use them again. Of all the positive things I have to say about these crampons, I have only one critique worth writing about. I’ll begin with the positives.
These crampons are an alpinist’s dream. Most important, they fold up and fit into a helmet. Crampons are this odd piece of equipment that baffles climbers on the best way to pack them. Do they go on the outside in the water bottle pouches or between the body of the pack and lid? Or do we dare put these in the main body of the pack, risking puncture holes in jackets and water bladders? No, the Irvis Hybrids and their Leopard siblings cozy right up into a helmet or a small corner of the pack. Brilliant.
To make this option possible, the steel or aluminum bar that connects the heel and toe pieces has been replaced with Dyneema cord. As far as cord goes, Dyneema is durable, strong, and waterproof. In the 30 days of use I put on these crampons, I see some wear in the cord, but it appears to be minimal in comparison of how much longer it will last. Replacement cords can be bought online. I noticed considerable stretch in the cord when clipping the crampons onto my boot. As a result, I had to estimate the amount of stretch before sizing the distance between the toe and heel pieces. Though you’d normally want to fit your crampons to your boots before heading out into a cold, snowy environment, it is even more imperative to do that with these crampons.
The Irvis Hybrids, at 17.8 ounces (505g with bail, 540g with toe strap), weigh less than Black Diamond’s completely aluminum 10-point ski-mountaineering Neve Crampons (576g), and CAMP’s completely aluminum 12-point XLC 390 (522g). The Irvis Hybrids will only fit rigid- and semi-rigid-soled boots with heel welts (the small edge on the back of the boot where the heel lever clips), while the universal model (toe and heel straps) of the Black Diamond Neve and the universal model of the CAMP XLC 390 (called the XLC 490) can be used with shoes that don’t have rigid soles. Even so, the Neves and XLC 390/490s give you either the option to get a universal model or a fully automatic model, but not both in the same crampon. The Irvis Hybrid comes with both a toe strap and a toe clip, easily interchanged to meet the climber’s needs, depending on whether the boot has a toe welt or not. I am sure other crampon manufacturers will soon be following suit with this innovation.
Only one negative issue stood out to me about this crampon, and unfortunately, it was a big enough deal that I subtracted one star from its potential 5-star rating. The heel lever was quite difficult to clip onto the heel of my boots. Of the seven pairs of crampons I own, four have heel clips. Of these four, two have a secondary edge on the clip that helps seat the heel lever to the heel welt to ease the clipping action. I’ve come to appreciate the difference between crampons with this secondary edge from those without. When you’re standing out in the cold and wearing thick gloves, this little feature makes a noticeable difference. The Irvis Hybrid does not have this secondary edge. The Irvis Hybrid’s flexible Dyneema cord connecting the heel and toe pieces makes the heel lever slightly more difficult to clip than a crampon with a rigid connecting bar, so the secondary edge sure would have helped. Luckily, with crampons, once you get the heel lever clipped, you’re usually going to leave it on there for a while.
With that said, the Irvis Hybrid still stands out as an innovation in the industry that will surely be followed soon by the other top gear manufacturers. The packability alone is revolutionary and will assure their place in my pack for light and fast alpine and ski-mountaineering objectives.
Mike Lewis, M.A. is an AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide living in Estes Park, Colorado. Mike has been guiding and instructing for 24 years throughout the U.S. and internationally. Learn more about Mike at www.LunchboxJackson.com.
Interchangeable toe strap/bail
No plastic edge to aid in clipping the heel lever
Requires rigid and semi-rigid soles