Sandvik Nanoflex® steel alloy is a proprietary metal that uses nanotechnology to modify the molecular structure of traditional stainless steel alloy making it stronger and harder. In their own unique ways, these characteristics of Sandvik Nanoflex® steel have allowed C.A.M.P. to further blur the lines between strength, durability and lightweight.
C.A.M.P. uses Sandvik Nanoflex® steel alloy to strategically reinforce wear points on hyperlight aluminum alloy axes and crampons. We have also reconstructed the body of our Vector crampons using all Sandvik Nanoflex® to make the crampon approximately 20% stronger, 20% more durable and 20% lighter at the same time. The Vector Nanotech is the lightest technical ice crampon in the world with strength and durability properties that exceed any traditional steel models.
To fully explain the benefits of Sandvik Nanoflex® steel alloy, it is best to compare each of the singular properties of this miracle metal to the traditional steel alloys commonly found in modern climbing gear. In the end, what we find is that Sandvik Nanoflex® truly is a miracle metal for many (not all) climbing applications.
Note: if you are not interested in all of the nitty gritty details of the following sections, you will find most of what you need in the summaries at the beginning of each section: Properties of traditional NI CR MO STEEL | Sandvik Nanoflex® is STRONGER | Sandvik Nanoflex® is HARDER | Sandvik Nanoflex® is STAINLESS | Sandvik Nanoflex® – MIRACLE METAL | Vector Nanotech | XLC Nanotech | Corsa Nanotech
Section Summary: Steel is comprised of iron and carbon. Metallurgists add other elements to produce alloys with significantly improved properties like tensile strength and hardness. These properties are important in climbing as they affect the equipment’s overall strength and durability. The 39NiCrMo3 steel alloy C.A.M.P. has traditionally used for its crampons and axes has a tensile strength of 1180 N/mm^2 and a hardness of HRC 42-44. We offer these as baselines to compare against the outstanding properties of Sandvik Nanoflex®.
The traditional steel alloy used in crampons and axes is comprised of steel (iron + carbon), nickel, chromium and molybdenum. The common shorthand variations for this grade of steel alloy are Ni Cr Mo, Ni-Cr-Mo or NiCrMo steel. Carbon and iron are the primary elements of steel. Their simple combination forms a hard, but brittle material. By adding precise amounts of these other elements, metal manufacturers are able to significantly increase properties like tensile strength and hardness, both very important to the overall durability and strength of equipment designed for climbing applications.
Brittle is an undesirable property. It means a material is hard and rigid, but lacks the ability to bend without breaking. Soft is another undesirable property. It means a material may be malleable, but when contacted by other hard surfaces, it will erode quickly. The Ni Cr Mo steel alloy traditionally used by C.A.M.P. contains nickel, chromium and molybdenum (39NiCrMo3 to be precise) combined with a hardening and tempering process to significantly increase the hardness and tensile strength of basic steel. 39NiCrMo3 contains 0.39% Carbon, 0.81% Nickel, 0.81% Chromium and 0.16% Molybdenum (AISI/SAE designation 9840). The hardness rating for this metal is HRC 42-44. The tensile strength peaks at 1180 N/mm^2.
Please note that the concepts and measurements concerning properties like hardness and tensile strength will be explained in detail below when we address the differences between traditional Ni Cr Mo steel alloy and Sandvik Nanoflex®.
Section Summary: Tensile strength is the stress at which a material breaks or permanently deforms when pulled. This property is important in climbing applications as it determines the equipment’s overall strength. High strength steel alloys will break when tractioned at around 760 N/mm^2. The Ni Cr Mo steel alloy C.A.M.P. traditionally uses on items like crampons and axes will break when tractioned at around 1180 N/mm^2. Sandvik Nanoflex® boasts a peak tensile strength 2000 N/mm^2; a miraculous 70% increase. This drastic increase in tensile strength allows C.A.M.P. to use significantly less material to maintain the requisite strength properties on climbing equipment like Vector crampons.
Tensile strength is the stress at which a material breaks or permanently deforms when stressed. The test is conducted by applying a strain to a specific surface area of material and measuring the point at which the material deforms but can rebound to its former shape without any structural weakening (this is called the yield strength), and the point at which the material is permanently deformed or broken (this is call the ultimate strength). The traditional unit of measurement for tensile strength is Newtons per millimeter squared (N/mm^2). A Newton is the force required to give a mass of 1 kg an acceleration of 1 meter per second squared.
Basic structural steel has a tensile strength rating of around 250 N/mm^2 for yield strength and 400 N/mm^2 for ultimate strength. Stronger steel alloys have tensile strengths around 690 N/mm^2 yield and 760 N/mm^2 ultimate. The Ni Cr Mo steel alloy C.A.M.P. traditionally uses on items like crampons and axes has a tensile strength of 785 N/mm^2 yield and up to 1180 N/mm^2 ultimate. You can see from these direct comparisons that alloying and conditioning (i.e. hardening and tempering) have the power to significantly increase the tensile strength of steel to make superior metals for specific applications like kicking front points into ice, walking over talus or torquing ice axe picks to remove them from solid placements.
The other way to increase tensile strength is to increase the material’s cross section. For applications that require sharpness, however, this must be done within reason. Thinner means sharper, but also means weaker in terms of tensile strength. Thicker, of course, also means heavier. The proper compromise for the main body on our Vector vertical ice crampons is to use a sidewall thickness of 2.75 mm. Any thinner and we sacrifice strength. Any thicker and the crampons become heavy.
Enter Sandvik Nanoflex® …
Sandvik Nanoflex® steel alloy goes further than these modern practices of alloying and conditioning by using nanotechnology to manipulate the molecular structure of the metal for even higher tensile strengths. Sandvik Nanoflex® boasts a peak tensile strength of 1800 N/mm^2 yield and 2000 N/mm^2 ultimate; a miraculous 130% increase in yield and 70% increase in ultimate from the 39NiCrMo3 steel alloy traditionally used for climbing applications. This drastic increase in tensile strength allows C.A.M.P. to use significantly less material to maintain the requisite strength properties on climbing equipment like Vector crampons. C.A.M.P. was able to realize a 22% weight reduction by reducing the sidewall thickness of the main structure from 2.75 mm to 1.8 mm (a 52% reduction) while simultaneously realizing a 20% increase in tensile strength! The reduced sidewalls result in sharper points and the significantly higher tensile strength helps the structure of the crampon absorb stress from repeated vibrations caused by front pointing and trekking in cold temperatures.
Section Summary: The hardness of a metal determines its durability. Harder metal is more resistant to erosion from contact with other surfaces like ice, grit and stone. Hardness is measured by striking a test material with a cone of harder material and measuring the resulting indentation (a shallow indentation indicates a harder material). There is a trade off between hardness and tensile strength that metallurgists address with conditioning like heat treatments and alloying where they add other elements to the metal to help balance these properties. Sandvik Nanoflex® provides the ultimate balance by simultaneously increasing both properties bringing the hardness in line with fine knife blades and increasing the tensile strength by 70%.
Hardness is a measure of how well a material resists the penetration of another material striking its surface with a specific amount of force. The most universal test for material hardness is called the Rockwell Hardness test whereby a specific material in the shape of a pointed cone strikes the surface of the test material with a defined and uniform force. The depth of the indentation indicates the material’s relative hardness. The deeper the indentation, the softer the metal … and vice versa. There are different Rockwell hardness scales for different kinds of materials (ceramic, for example, uses a cone of much softer material with less force than the diamond cones and higher forces used for metals). The specific scale used for hard metals is the HRC scale. Traditional treated steel alloys will have hardness ratings of HRC 40-45. Common items found in this range include an axe head or chisel. Steel alloys developed specifically to increase hardness (like alloys used in fine knife blades) range from HRC 55-62.
Generally speaking, the harder a material, the less likely it is to deform when struck by or rubbed against other materials. A chef’s knife is a great example of a product where hardness is a virtue. Higher HRC ratings allow a knife to stay sharper longer since nearly all of the materials the blade will cut are significantly softer than the blade itself. The very same analogy can be drawn for climbing equipment like crampons and axes. Simply put, a harder ice axe pick or spike, or harder crampon points will stay sharper longer than softer alternatives. What this really translates into for climbing applications is durability. A field test between a crampon designed from a soft metal like aluminum alloy and a harder metal like Ni Cr Mo steel alloy reveals that the aluminum alloy version wears down significantly faster than the steel version. This is because harder materials like rock or grit mixed into glacier ice dig straight into the material effectively chewing it away. The lowest profile (sharpest) areas of the metal are reduced the fastest meaning not only does the total amount of metal get chewed away over time, but the security of sharp points for optimal penetration is reduced the fastest.
At this point, one might have the inclination to ask why items like crampons and axes do not simply employ the hardest materials available. In general, this is because there tends to be a trade off between hardness (the ability to resist abrasion resistance) and tensile strength (the ability to be stressed without breaking). A high-end knife blade, for instance, will boast very high hardness ratings, but lower tensile strengths than alloys used in climbing applications. This is okay for a knife blade designed to cut items in straight lines with limited force being applied sideways across its weaker minor axis. But for items like crampon points that get walked on in all kinds of terrain or ice picks that get stuck and require significant side to side torquing to get unstuck, the ability for the metal to bend without breaking is extremely important.
As a result, the optimal steel alloys for climbing applications require a trade off between hardness and tensile strength. Maintaining high tensile strengths with reasonable sidewall thicknesses (i.e. thin enough to be sharp and thick enough to not break when they are bent) requires a softer (less brittle) metal than some of hardest metals available. Elements like nickel, chromium and molybdenum are strategically added to the iron and carbon that form the basis for steel to help simultaneously increase the hardness and tensile strength allowing for both properties to be higher than they would be as found in nature. Conditioning treatments like hardening and tempering work even further towards this end.
And Sandvik Nanoflex® takes it even further …
Using nanotechnology, Sandvik Nanoflex® significantly manipulates the molecular structure of the alloy to bring the hardness more in line with high-end knife blades while simultaneously increasing the tensile strength compared to conditioned Ni Cr Mo steel alloys. The specific Sandvik Nanoflex® stock used by C.A.M.P. on its crampons and axes has a hardness of HRC 52 compared to the HRC 43 in traditional Ni Cr Mo steel. This means points will stay sharper longer and resist the wear and tear of abrasion at least 20% better than any other material used in climbing applications today!
Section Summary: Stainless metals are defined by their ability to resist corrosion caused by rust. Metallurgists use elements like chromium and nickel to help stop the activity of rust in steel. Other metals like aluminum alloy are stainless by nature. The traditional Ni Cr Mo steel alloys used in items like crampons and axes is not stainless. It should be noted that the effect of rusting on climbing equipment like crampons and axes has far less impact on durability than the property of hardness. The ability to resist abrasion caused by walking or front pointing on hard surfaces will boost durability far more than using stainless metals (especially when the equipment is properly maintained). That said, stainless is still an admirable property as it helps increase the equipment’s overall durability. Sandvik Nanoflex® is the most stainless of any of the steel alloys currently used on ice axes and crampons.
Stainless refers to a metal’s ability to resist corrosion caused by oxidization (rust). Aluminum, for example, is a naturally stainless metal. When exposed to air and moisture, a thin passive film of aluminum oxide forms and prevents further corrosion. Conversely, traditional steel comprised of iron and carbon is prone to rust when exposed to air and moisture. An active iron oxide film forms on the exterior of the metal and will penetrate the internal structure of the steel over time making it weaker. Metallurgists can block the formation and spreading of this active iron oxide film by adding specific amounts of chromium, nickel (the presence of nickel in steel alloy not only makes the metal more stainless, but less brittle in cold temperatures), and molybdenum to the metal. To be called stainless, a steel alloy must contain a minimum of 10% chromium by mass. When iron oxidization begins to occur, the chromium reacts by forming a passive film of chromium oxide, which inhibits the spreading of the active iron oxide film.
In climbing applications, the use of stainless metals can increase durability and help sharp points stay sharper longer. Each time crampons are thrown wet into a bag for a descent or otherwise allowed to sit in moist conditions, a very thin layer of metal can oxidize (this is the visible rust) and is usually filed away during the sharpening process for subsequent uses. Over time, repeated rusting and consequent filing will result in the presence of less metal. Once enough metal has been eroded away, the equipment becomes less safe. It should be noted, however, that the effect of rusting on climbing equipment like crampons and axes has far less impact on durability than the property of hardness. Simply put, the ability to resist abrasion caused by walking or front pointing on hard surfaces will boost durability far more than using stainless metals (especially when the equipment is properly maintained).
That said, stainless is still an admirable property. The most common type of stainless steel is SAE designation 304, which contains 18-20% chromium and 8-10.5% nickel to help resist corrosion. Other steel climbing products like steel carabiners and quick links are often dipped in an aqueous solution of zinc to help resist corrosion. Until the layer of zinc is worn off, the metal remains stainless.
Like 304 stainless steel, Sandvik Nanoflex® is stainless by design. But it is actually more stainless than 304 making it, once again, superior to traditional steel alloys (even other stainless steel alloys) found in climbing equipment.
Sandvik Nanoflex® is the most technologically advanced metal for use in climbing applications like crampons and axes. Its ability to retain a remarkably high tensile strength along with superior hardness make it the most durable and lightweight (less material = less weight) option for steel products like the main body of our Vector Nanotech crampons. Stainless is icing on the cake.
The use of an entirely new metal must be warranted and we hope that after reading this article you are as enamored as we are with the advent of Sandvik Nanoflex® in climbing equipment. This miracle metal has further allowed C.A.M.P. to blur the lines between lightweight, strength and durability; a story we have become known for. It can truly be said, for instance, that the Vector Nanotech is not only the lightest vertical ice crampon in the world, but also the strongest and most durable!
It should come as no surprise that C.A.M.P. was the first to experiment with this miracle metal in climbing applications. For 120 years (the company made its first set of crampons in 1889), C.A.M.P. has continually pushed the limits of international mountaineering with the most innovative products in the world. Today, C.A.M.P. is proud to offer the largest selection of climbing equipment in the world with the lightest products in nearly all of our product categories.
C.A.M.P. uses Sandvik Nanoflex® on three products at present: Vector Nanotech, XLC Nanotech and Corsa Nanotech. Please see the specific product descriptions to see how this miracle metal has transformed these products:
The lightest, most technologically advanced vertical ice crampons in the world! The Vector Nanotech uses a new alloy developed by Sandvik (a world leader in steel) called Sandvik Nanoflex®. The new alloy increases tensile strength by 70%, hardness from 43 HRC to 52 HRC, and is stainless by design. This allows C.A.M.P. to decrease the thickness of the main body on its Vector crampons from 2.75 mm to 1.8 mm thereby significantly reducing the crampon’s weight, increasing the penetration capability of the points and increasing strength and durability by 20%! The hardness of Sandvik Nanoflex® resists abrasion caused by walking and front pointing better than traditional steel alloys, the higher yield strength reduces the affects of fatigue from bending and its ability to repel corrosion means rust will not degrade the structure over time.
The modular design of the Vector allows front points to be interchanged between dual and mono. The mono point can also be offset left, right or centered by using the accessory spacer kit. The Vector also features eight total points of adjustment to fine tune a perfect fit with any technical ice climbing boots.
CLICK HERE FOR VECTOR NANOTECH PRODUCT DETAILS
The main body of the XLC Nanotech uses the same 7075 aluminum alloy and stamped construction as the XLC crampons to achieve the superior balance between lightweight and strength these crampons have become known for. The addition of innovative Sandvik Nanoflex® reinforcements on the front points increase their durability and strength. Available in automatic and semi-automatic binding styles (for telemark or A/T boots, use the automatic binding 180001).
CLICK HERE FOR XLC NANOTECH PRODUCT DETAILS
The Ferrari™ of mountaineering axes. Constructed from the same 7075 aluminum alloy as the hyperlight Corsa with a more aggressive single-curve shaft and innovative Sandvik Nanoflex® reinforcements on the pick and spike. The steel reinforcements dramatically increase the durability and strength of these critical points with only marginal increases in weight. Climbers will realize the benefits of the Sandvik Nanoflex® reinforcements particularly in the spike where the steel acts as a barrier between the aluminum shaft and the ground. Available in 50, 60 and 70 cm.
CLICK HERE FOR CORSA NANOTECH PRODUCT DETAILS