A lot of time has passed since the first ice axes were adapted to the current models. An undoubted symbol of mountaineering, how to choose an ice axe is something we should pay special attention to.
Here we will help you make the best choice, because psychologically, to make the right choice with your ice axe is as important as to make a right choice with your boots: the ice axe is for the good times and the hard times. You may even think that your life depends on your axe, or maybe that it has already saved you.
Also, an ice axe lasts for many years (even a lifetime); therefore, it is important to have in hand a tool that we like and trust, instead of regretting not spending a little more money.
However, one ice axe is not like any other. Soon you will have several different ones, for different activities. Usually we do not recommend having several tools of the same type, but rather different models that complement each other.
PARTS OF AN ICE AXE
First we must describe the elements we find on an ice axe, whose assembly and shape will determine the type and appropriate use.
Head (modular or fixed):
- Pick (Positive, neutral or negative)
- Blade (toothed, bevelled, types B or T)
- Adze (normal or inverted)
(tube or forged, types B or T):
- Leash (classic, sliding or technical)
- Grip (tube, rubber, ergonomic)
- Support (first, second, adjustable, trigger)
USE OF THE ICE AXE
POSITION OF GRIP, ACCORDING TO USE
- WALKING STICK POSITION FOR < 45Âº SLOPES
- LOW DAGGER POSITION FOR 45Âº â€“ 60Âº SLOPES
- MID DAGGER POSITION FOR 60Âº â€“ 70Âº SLOPES
- ICE AXE -TRACTION > 70Âº
- STAKE. As a self anchor on snow and rock or emergency snow anchor or as a boot belay.
- HORIZONTAL. As an anchor or snow belay point
- HAMMER. For placing pitons, testing the rock or cleaning ice and debris
- ADZE. For carving ice bollards, cleaning fissures or ledges or carving steps
Over the years, the latest technologies have led to ice axe designs becoming more specific to each discipline and these designs are noticeably different. This means that, for example, a classic ice axe will perform poorly if used for ice climbing.
We are now going to look at the different categories of ice axes and the range of features included in each category, to make choosing a less daunting task.
Bear in mind though, that some ice axes have a multi-purpose design and therefore could fit into more than one category.
- 1. CLASSIC
- 1.1 Mountaineering
- 1.2 Skiing
- 1.3 Climbing
- 2. TECHNICAL
- 2.1 Technical climbing
- 2.1.1 With leash
- 2.1.2 With adjustable hand rest
- 2.2 Climbing
- 2.1.3 + 2.2.1 With fixed hand rest
- 2.2.2 Ergonomic
All ice-axes are certified with a safety standard. This helps the consumer have a better knowledge of the product, although it can sometimes be slightly confusing, for example, when you find you have to choose between a type T and B ice axe. So let's take a closer look at this now:
T (Technical) or B (Basic)
This classification can be deceiving since it is not related to the use, but to the resistance of the ice-axe. It is governed by the standard EN-13089 and UIAA-152, which indicates the resistance in Kn and the exact laboratory tests to be passed, by both the shaft and the blades.
- Type 1 (Basic): Basic or walking ice axe: resistance requirements are lower.
- Type 2 (Technical): Technical ice axe, suitable for all uses, greater resistance is required in all tests (traction on the shaft, resistance of the shaft, bending of the blade).
That being said, one would think that, for a modular ice climbing axe, the best would be a type T-type blade, but that is not always the case. A T-type blade is usually thicker, which means it doesnâ€™t give good penetration on ice. So many technical ice climbing ice axes use a B type blade, (as torsion is not usually an issue in this discipline, this kind of blade provides enough strength). And if you use the ice axe for mountaineering or mixed climbing, the blade should be changed for a type T, which offers greater resistance to torsion and is perfect for wedging the blade in cracks.
Lately however, manufacturers have begun to use T-Type picks on ice and mixed climbing ice axes.
Checking the safety standards is is certainly an important factor to bear in mind when choosing your ice axe.
CLASSIC ICE AXES
1.1 Classic mountaineering ice axes
In this group we include tools for hiking, crossing glaciers or climbing easy mountains on normal ascent routes.
In this discipline, 90% of the time the ice axe will be used in the walking stick position. It will occasionally be used in the low dagger position; and very rarely, or never be used in the mid dagger or traction position. The only emergency use you should be prepared for is to use the ice axe for self-arrest.
The walking stick position means you will grip the ice axe at the head, so it is important that this is comfortable in your hand.
Its pick may be "negative" or neutral, usually without a sharp edge or tapered at 90Â°. The negative pick facilitates self-arrest manoeuvres, but results in a diminished ice penetration.
The toothing often disappears near the cross to improve its grip.
If we have to use an adze, a big one is better.
A classic ice axe for hiking has a straight or slightly curved shaft.
It must be long enough to more or less reach the ankle when grasping it from the cross, without bending over. The longer it is, the more comfortable and practical it will be to use on mild or moderate slopes (it is not made for steep slopes). However it is more cumbersome to transport and it will probably get caught on many branches as it sticks out from the backpack.
As they are designed for a less aggressive use, they are constructed prioritizing lightness over robustness.
This type of ice axe has a "leash", with a small sling attached to a ring (leash stop) that runs along the upper half of the shaft. This leash is very comfortable to use, although its resistance to use for self-safety is quite limited as they are made of plastic.
1.2 Classic ice axe for ski touring
For ski touring, having an ice axe is as basic as using a helmet.
We are not talking about climbing with skis, when skiing is just a means of approximation to go climbing with our ergonomic ice axe, but rather when go skiing we are able to resolve difficult or dangerous situations if they arise.
The ski ice axe should be equally lightweight, small and sturdy. The reason for needing lightness is obvious. The small size prevents it from cropping out from the backpack while we ski, and to avoid becoming a dangerous item as we roll when falling.
And despite being as light as possible, it must withstand any use. Usually, it is only used when the slope is vertical, as a stake, or hoe, in dagger or traction position. We might use it little but very intensely.
1.3 Classic ice axe for climbing
If the ski ice axe must be designed to withstand any kind of use, imagine how a mountaineering ice axe should be designed.
As the ice axe must be strong, a T type axe must be used. A mountaineering ice axe is designed for more aggressive use, on steeper terrain, with hard ice and rocks; and it must be versatile to be used in many ways: as an anchor, carving ice mushrooms or whatever it required.
Construction using blades and crosses made from sheet metal (as in mountaineering) are not used here; these ice axes are forged in a single piece that is securely attached to the shaft. The same happens with the spikes.
The pick will be neutral or positive, sharpened at 90Âº or higher.
Full or partially rubber grips are often used with a bend in the shaft. This curve is functional as it separates our hand from the surface of hard snow when using it in a dagger position. This is very useful on long and cold steep slopes.
It may have a leash, but it will not be sliding and will be for self-arrest and traction.
BARRABES CLASSIC 2017 ICE AXE
Who says a classic ice axe cannot be technical? Let's see what Grivel offers:
The G Zero is the cheapest of its line. For less than 70 Euro you can have a Grivel ice axe of less than half a kilo, with leash and the best grip on the cross of the market: a great walking stick ice axe.
For a little more money you can have the Nepal SA
, with optional rubber grip. A super technical ice axe to move through large snow areas: Lightweight, with an especially large shovel and spike, extra smooth grip with excellent penetration, negative pick and leash. Like all Grivel axes, it has a double rivet on the cross, so it wonâ€™t let you down at eight thousand metres.
Grivel Nepal SA
, also available with rubber on the grip as an option, is the only super light ice axe with all the head forged from a single ergonomic piece to have an excellent grip and performance. It has a neutral hand-finished pick with a modifiable tip and a good toothed blade that ends in a usual grip for the hand, an excellent tool. At 475 grams, it is the best of its kind. Of course, it includes a lightweight leash, for self-arrest.
For classic ski touring, Grivel offers us the Haute Route
with a negative pick and a leash. Itâ€™s a minimalist, lightweight axe (weighing only 318 g.), making it easy to carry it anywhere. For an even more lightweight model, the Ghost
(at just 264 g.) will be released soon.
Grivel Haute Route
It is the best mountaineering ice axe; it has been in the market for 30 years with only slight variations throughout the years. It has a neutral toothed pick with a modifiable tip, hand-finished with a head forged into a piece ready to use. Extremely light for a type T, it can be used on everything, in its light Racing
version (406g) and the Evolution
, or the luxurious Carbon
version. Now you can also change the classic leash for the Easy Slider, including sections 1.2, 1.3, 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 herein.
Air Tech Evolution
Finally, the line of ice axes is completed by the only wood axe that exceeds the standards (the ash wood is lined between sheets of composite for this purpose): The Monte Bianco
is an extra-classical, fully functional mountaineering ice axe. No drawbacks and some advantages: good wood is light, strong, elastic and insulating. It also isnâ€™t cold to the touch like metal. It has a neutral pick with a modifiable tip, good grip on the cross (forged in one piece) and the newest conical spike of the market. Monte Bianco is not only beautiful; it is a great ice axe.
Air Tech Evolution
The giant from Premana is another reference in the market for climbers. It maintains its ultra-technical range under the legendary brand Cassin; and continuous to develop its active R & D department, so, they always have the last word. If you are looking for a light and basic ice axe, Camp Neve
is the reference.
What to use for skiing? Do you want to go as lightweight as possible? At 205 grams, Corsa
is the lightest ice axe on the market.
Looking for something more technical, but just as light? The Corsa Nanotec
has a positive steel pick on an aluminium blade and steel in the spike, to move on hard ice with a 300 g. tool.
If we were talking about photography, Petzl would be like the equivalent of Nikon. They have not innovated anything in ice axes in a long time... but when they start something they always surprise us.
As for classic ice axes, Petzl clearly chooses the lightweight option. The Glacier
, extremely lightweight, attractive and with an ingenious, effective leash, is a great option for walking.
For classic mountaineering we offer the two heirs of the Charlet Moser Summit
with the same head. The grip is what differentiates them: the new Summit
has a much lighter grip, but with no rubber and a flat spike.
The Summit Evo
features a hydroformed tube with a great grip on ice axe dagger position and a rubber plastic grip, where the spike made of sheet metal is mounted.
Petzl Summit Evo
As an ice axe for mountain skiing, the Ride
is like an ultra-compact, lighter Summit, and it looks great.
In its most classic line, they make no concessions in terms of reliability when offering a lightweight option. The Raven
line is a top sale for a good reason: with the exception of the G-Zero, it probably has the most comfortable cross on the market, but with additional advantages: rounded steel that also achieves top performance by securing the ice axe boot belay. Both, the head and the spike are forged and inserted perfectly into the grip, offering a rubber grip as an option. They add a very well-made leash, finishing off a light, solid and reliable assembly. As for skiing, as we said, Black Diamond does not sacrifice any benefit in its lightweight material. Perhaps the excellent Raven Pro
is not the lightest, but it's ready to perform on heavy duty terrain. It will last forever; and because it is a raven, it has all its advantages, exceptional grip and exquisite work on the ice axe boot belay, very useful technique in skiing, where perhaps you only take a small rope of randonee to secure complicated routes.
y el Raven Grip.
Black Diamond Raven Grip
Faithful to its values, the DMM ice axes fulfil one premise: not to break. If you are able to break a DMM and come out alive, you should probably get in touch with them. You may even be sponsored! In Barrabes you will find the Cirque
, an ice axe for classic mountaineering that will last a lifetime; And the Raptor
, similar but with a modular head to get you the chance to try the technical mountaineering.
This young Czech company is earning its own space with good products at excellent prices: the Merlin is a classic, well made, lightweight and robust ice axe... for only 70 Euros at retail price.
Singing Rock Merlin
is the same, but with a curved grip (because of the dagger position ice axe).
Singing Rock Wizard
2.1 ICE AXE FOR TECHNICAL MOUNTAINEERING
Commercially, an easy way to identify a technical mountaineering ice axe is when the model has a shovel and hammer version.
However, a user will talk about technical mountaineering when using two ice axes.
In this segment, at the functional level, we can identify three types of ice axe: with a leash, and with an adjustable or fixed hand rest.
They usually exist in several sizes (although not mandatory) and some can mount classical and inverted blade.
2.1.1 With leash at the wrist
This type of ice axe is still popular when you have to drive the grip regularly and it is not necessary to release the tool a lot, for example, snow areas in which we donâ€™t need to use too much rope.
2.1.2 Adjustable hand rest
The adjustable hand rest will give you more freedom of movement. The mobility of the support allows, by lifting it, to drive the grip correctly and move comfortably with the axe in dagger position. Lowering it, we can go on traction axe without wrist leash (in these cases, a harness leash is usually very good, single or double). It is a system with additional benefits; and of course, those in this category also serve as a starting point to have your own â€œminimum equipment."
2.1.3 y 2.2.1. Fixed hand rest: ice axe for technical mountaineering and climbing
This was the climbing ice axe until the ergonomic grip became popular, which until then were used only in competitions or technical climbing. But far from extinct, thanks to its versatility, it lasts till today.
This type of tool allows you to climb difficult areas, you can still stick the grip in the snow, despite the hand rest, being the best option where you also have to climb snow, or make exposed flanks.
It is curious that you can still find for sale some model with wrist leash, totally in disuse. Climbing without a wrist leash is much more fluid, natural and relaxed, despite appearances. In order not to lose the tools or to improvise any possible hanging or self-belay, we only have to get used to wearing a harness leash (the famous "elastic", like the X-Gyro or Spinner Leash).
In the blade which is always reversed, we find a sharp positive pick, with the very important first tooth, very flat and long for ice, either pronounced or concave for mixed; fine and sharp teeth later, before wider teeth. Near the cross, the teeth become small and sharp despite the detriment that this entails to grab the cross (they devour the gloves), since they are of great help to hook on to big objects.
The upper and lower bevelling is a must, because when climbing vertically, good penetration is as important as a good recovery of the tool.
The sharpening and the toothing are very important as they determine that the head must be modular: blades for ice are different from the mix ones, thicker, with less acute sharpening and a different first tooth. Fixed blade climbing axes also belong to this description.
In recent times and with only a few exceptions, grips are well curved, something very practical to hook cauliflowers, holes, logs and columns (together with the teeth). To adapt to this curve, the blades no longer emerge at an angle from the cross as before, which was used along with the curved grip to achieve a perpendicular impact on the surface for a greater penetration.
The handle has a rubber grip for a better hold, always with a support for the hand and another one on top to move the hand as well as to use it on more flat terrain. Some models display a trigger for the index finger. Although it may seem of little use, you immediately become interested in the trigger, as you can aim better with it.
Finally, spikes that can be clipped have reappeared, as they had disappeared in recent times as the rest had been mounted on them.
Here we present the modern ergonomic climbing ice axes, where driving the grip in the snow is sacrificed for a better grip in search of our limits.
For the blades, everything in the previous section still applies, although on the cross, the back element, shovel or hammer, often disappears. There are more "sporty" models without this option, or with it, for a multi-purpose use.
The equally curved grip is always manufactured with a second rubberised position (this type of ice axe is usually covered with "grip") and the most striking element is the grip, with or without spike, adjustable in size or angle, with a trigger.
In short, what is achieved with these grips is a more effective punch when we are fully stretched (we are talking about serious difficult climbing) and better top release. We will see different elements and benefits when talking about each model in detail.
BARRABES TECHNICAL 2017 ICE AXE
The Light Machine:For couloirs, goulottes and technical mountaineering "North Face" type Grivel offers us this model with the best advantages in its category, thanks to its modular cross and the aggressive Ice or Mix blades. It has the Easy Slider harness leash to use the hand rest in traction mode, or to nail the grip in the snow without hindrance, keeping the anchorage of the leash in place without changing the clip.
If you want it even lighter for the same type of climbing, the Jorasses 2.0 offers the latest fixed inverted blade of the market for an ultra-light and super technical tool, plus the Easy Slider as standard.
The North Machine Carbon: This is the most spectacular and popular tool in the market, with a carbon grip (aluminium coated with carbon-composite, more specifically) and the Machine cross to mount the Ice or Mix blades (with hammer or blade); it is ultra-light and ultra-precise.
The Tech Machine:
We reach the segment of ergonomic grips and Grivel offers us a super rubber grip, with spike, whose shape allows variations in grip according to the circumstances, together with the typical elasticity found in Grivel tools. You need more? Then you must have the carbon version.
For heavy duty of the dry tooling or the hardest mixes of the planet, is the Tech Machine 3.0.
Grip and cross forged in a single piece of Ni-Cro-Mo steel to mount the Ice or Mix blades, with elastic rubber grip and spike.
Grivel The North Machine
Finally, if you climb at a high level but you have few resources, or if you want to experience new sensations, for a bit more than 200 Euros you can buy a pair of X-Blade
with a fixed blade, ultra-technical for any type of climbing, with incredible performance in ice, rock and snow thanks to its flat profile; or the great X-monster, which adds to the concept of flat profile an interchangeable blade, with hammer or shovel.
Camp does not have as many models as Grivel, but the ones it offers, obviously under the Cassin brand (which it uses in its climbing line) are first class products. The X-light
, is great in terms of lightness and versatility, as you can see in the BarrabÃ©s test material:
In the ergonomic segment, the X-Dream deserves a detailed explanation, as nowadays it is the most technical tool for climbing: ultralight, balanced, with three blades available, third support; and a grip with everything: variable inclination, accessory to shrink it and two triggers to choose. Also, the Alpine version includes a hammer and spike.
What we were saying about Petzl with classic ice axes is also true with their technical ice axes, they are not very innovative; however they are the best sellers. Let's see why:
It is not the most technical in its segment, or the best in performance, but when it comes to nailing the grip, it stands out thanks to its grip, smooth handle and spike. It is the first choice by many mountain guides. It has different sizes and a short hammer version without spike.
It is the ice axe of reference for a good reason; although in the previous versions it was possible to find a weak spot, not in this one: the cross is smaller and super functional, the spike can already be clipped and the first tooth of the pick is great. In addition, in their single innovation they give us a plus: a second adjustable support that can be adjusted without tools and with a trigger. No one else offers this.
Again, itâ€™s a tool for reference; adjustable, super ergonomic grip with a small tooth instead of spike but with a small orifice to fix the rubber. The same cross as the Quark, compact and functional, in which we can assemble blades for ice or mixed climbing. A shovel and two types hammers can be attached if wanted. To top it all, although itâ€™s lightweight, it can take everything.
Is a technical climbing mountaineering ice axe with a leash, in several sizes, with an interchangeable blade (classic type and inverted curve). It comes with a steel cross, fixed shovel or hammer and has the characteristic good grip of the brand.
Black Diamond Venom
Although the new Viper
seems to follow the Quark's features, improving the grip and making the second support adjustable (which rises up to the top of the grip without a tool, and can be removed at any time), it remains faithful to the steel cross with its typical bolts (which can be moved in situ using another ice axe blade for exceptional situations), to the hydroformed tube and glued joints. It is a safe product for any situation.
Black Diamond Viper
is a durable ergonomic ice axe with a stainless steel cross and a concealed fixed hammer, hydroformed twist-proof grip, adjustable size grip and adjustable spike.
Black Diamond Fusion
Finally, the Fuel
is an evolution of the Fusion, which sacrifices the hammer to make it better balanced.
Black Diamond Fuel
If you are really not sure which one to choose or you like to take high levels of commitment, you can rely on the Fly
for technical mountaineering, the only model that keeps the blade "with a hump" that can be used to hammer the pick in. They also have the super curved Apex
, suitable for any type of climbing, or perhaps in the brutal Switch
to reach the limits of the possible, where any other model breaks before ending a season.
comes with enough excellent quality grips to cover the entire handle. If you balance quality-price, it may be the best option.
is a type 2.1 ice axe; a technical model with leash and north face type rise, robust (type T, both grip and blade), with excellent grip on the cross, modular, ergonomic and rounded, reversed blade, positive pick and technical leash at an unbeatable price.
Singing Rock Edge
For climbing, the Czech brand offers us the Bandit
, with identical head, mounted on a curved T-handle, with grip and two hand rests, light and aggressive, at a great price for the market of technical tools.
Singing Rock Bandit