Throughout a winter cursed with local snow that had all the cohesive properties of dry sand, crampons simply weren’t necessary. That was a bit of a sad anomaly, since I wanted to field test the performance of the CAMP Race 290 crampons. Eventually though, April and May arrived, bringing with them a relative change in the snow surface. Ice and hardpack arrived, heralding the time for spiky footwear. Finally, out came the Race 290’s.
Billed as the world’s lightest crampons, I weighed them each, coming up with 146 and 148 grams respectively. C.A.M.P. achieves this weight reduction – as compared to other crampons – through two primary devices: a Dyneema connecting strap between the toe and heel pieces, and a Dynafit compatible heel connection method. (For anyone unfamiliar, Dyneema is a fiber whose strength-to-weight ratio ranges from 8-15 times that of steel. Enough said.)
The CAMP Race 290 crampons also fold up neatly into a compact package. With the Dyneema strap connecting the fore and aft spike beds, one simply folds the crampon in half – with the spikes pointing inward – when it’s time to put them away. By levering the Dynafit styled heel attachment unit forward (it’s mounted on a pivot point), the entire crampon unit – both pairs – occupy just a few square inches. This is evidenced by the small, neatly zippered storage pouch the crampons arrive in. I don’t use the pouch in the field, though.
My observations on the performance of the C.A.M.P. Race 290 crampons are as follows:
They’re billed as light, and that they are. Just over ten ounces for a pair of secure walking feet is impressive. Unlike an ice climbing crampon for example, I don’t even notice their weight, either in the pack or on my boots. They’re small, too, which is handy when pack space is at a premium. That’s what CAMP specializes in – getting the maximum from the minimum. Check.
Next up, comes individual boot sizing. Adjusting the Dyneema strap properly is, in a word, tricky. Two screws clamp down on two metal plates, which hold the doubled back Dyneema strap. Put ‘em on the boot, and pull the (non-fastened) strap tight. Mark it with a marker. Take the crampons off the boot, re-align the marked position, and tighten the screws firmly. Test. You may need to make a minuscule tightening adjustment to get it just right.
After several tries, I learned to enter and exit the crampons in what feels like a strange fashion. Initially, I tried the standard crampon entry method – toe bar up, step in, then tried to get the heel based, Dynafit-like heel bars into position by stepping down on them. From the moment that I first saw the Race 290 crampon, that’s how I envisioned that they worked. It may be the design, I’m still not sure. However, it doesn’t work for me. It’s next to impossible to apply enough force to ‘step in’ as one does on a ski mounted tech binding. This is a 3 inch long heel piece, and its small size means it simply sinks into the snow.
Instead, I first seat the Dynafit compatible heel bars into my boot’s rear slots by hand, not by stepping down on them. From there, I lever the toe piece into place over the boot’s toe flange. This requires something small, flat, and strong, like a screwdriver. But I don’t ski with one of those… However, I do ski with a Whippet when conditions are suitable for crampons. It turns out that prying the toepiece on the CAMP Race 290 crampon over my boot’s toe flange is Whippet use #333.
Voila! They’re sized, and they’re on the feet. From there, they operate as one expects from a crampon. Solid footing is offered over rocks, ice, and other questionably grippy surfaces.
However, there are two things I hope CAMP changes on the next edition of these crampons.
- First – Fully engaged in a tightly adjusted crampon, there is a fair amount of side to side play on the toepeice. Plant the crampon in firm snow, wiggle the toe of the boot side to side, and there is a lot of movement. I’m not used to seeing any movement in this scenario, so it is quite unnerving. However, I quickly learned that this doesn’t necessarily mean the crampons will come off. There’s just play, because the toe bar is quite wide. I believe that a narrower toe retaining bar would largely fix this issue.
- Second – Despite ranking down on the screwdriver to tighten the plates that hold the Dyneema in place, I’ve noticed that the crampons can become looser after multiple outings. I attribute this to slippage. Providing small gripper teeth, such as found on an ascender, on the inside of the adjustment plates would likely curtail this issue. In the field, having experienced slippage and popped out of the toe piece, I’ve found that twisting it in a circle once or twice effectively shortens the Dyneema, resulting in a quick field fix.
Of note: These are walking crampons, not meant for technical ice ascents. They’re mostly meant to help one get across, or up, the random icy section. If you absolutely require your crampons to be 100% bomber at all points in time, use the metal bar between the heel and toe pieces. CAMP provides this in the packaging. Obviously, it adds weight and cuts down on the minimalist sizing benefit. But if you don’t like the idea of a Dyneema strap holding it all together, you’re already covered.
My takeaway of the Race 290 crampon (available for purchase at the link) is that they’re light, pack down incredibly small, and their ten points, which includes two front points each, grip effectively when on icy or slick terrain. But, despite CAMP’s usual ‘fast’ designation, they take me longer to put on the boots than a regular, heel cantilevered design does. If you’re staring at the toepiece as you walk, you’ll see side-to-side movement, which can be disconcerting. It’s best not to stare at your feet in the mountains, though. But if you’re looking for a minimalist, unobtrusive crampon to frequently carry around in your pack for those sections where you need secure footing, the Race 290 is it. As for the skimo racers out there, well, it simply doesn’t get lighter.