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14er Fun's Ice Axe Review and Recommendations

Many seasoned mountaineers will say that in ice axe should be carried all year long in Colorado’s mountains. Indeed, the quickest way to safely avoid a summer electrical storm can be a quick ride down a snowfield. You’d better have an axe and know how to use it if your going to do that! Ice axes range from general mountaineering axes to specialized ice tools to ultra light ski mountaineering tools. On this page we sort out the differences and make recommendations based on what your objectives are. True ice climbing is not in the focus of this site, so technical ice tools are not reviewed here. You will find however, recommendations of “hybrid” mountaineering axes with more technical features. For a brief summary of all ice axes reviewed, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Note: Owning a good ice axe is completely worthless if you don’t carry it or know how to use it. If you are new to the snow climbing game, get professional instruction or spend time learning with an experienced friend. Practice different self-arrest situations regularly on increasingly steeper slopes with safe runouts. If you ever do take an unforeseen fall, you’ll be glad you spent the time learning how to save yourself.

The first category of ice axes is general mountaineering axes. Most people new to the game will want one of these (if you are certain that you’ll never venture beyond Colorado’s 14ers however, please read the review in the ultralight category below). The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe is one of the most inexpensive, yet high quality, mountaineering ice axes available. Weighing in at roughly 1¼ pounds it offers the most overall bang for the buck in the entry level general mountaineering ice axe category. The Camp USA Tourax weighs in slightly lighter at about 17oz. This ice axe has a tough, rock solid, interchangeable pick but thanks to its aluminum shaft it comes in lighter than almost anything in this category. You can’t beat Camp USA for light and strong. If you want the ultimate however in a general purpose mountaineering axe, you’ve got to check out the Black Diamond Raven Pro. For around $100 you get a spectacularly crafted and supremely functional tool. At around 14oz. this bad boy probably belongs in the ultralight category. The super toughness of the 17-4 investment cast stainless steel head and spike is what keeps in the general mountaineering category. For more information click on the links below:

            Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
            Camp USA Tourax Ice Axe
            Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe

Next is the ultralight category. These axes are so light that there is no excuse not to carry them. Built primarily of aluminum however, they will not stand up to the repetitive rigors of true glacier travel. If the snowfields of Colorado’s 14ers are the limit of your aspirations, one of these is your tool. Due to their light weight and compact size, they are popular with ski and snowboard mountaineers (if ski mountaineering is your game, you’ll definitely want to check the Black Diamond Whippets in the Unique/Specialized category below). First up in the ultralight category is the Grivel Air Tech Racing Ice Axe. Grivel North America has long been at the forefront of ice tool and crampon design. At approximately 14oz. and with its hot forged steel head, the Air Tech Racing axe does not sacrifice toughness. The newest model features a slightly curved shaft resulting in a more technical ice axe. Lighter still at just under 12oz. is Black Diamond’s entry into this category, the Raven Ultra. This axe offers an aluminum shaft and a durable stainless steel spike and like all of BD’s ice axes is a finely crafted piece of equipment. Do you want what is perhaps the lightest ice axe available? Then check out the Camp USA XLA 210. The 50cm length comes in at just a hair over 8.5oz. It is constructed entirely of 7075 aircraft aluminum and thus is not suited to true glacier travel. We have used this axe on many Colorado snow climbs however, including the Bell Cord Couloir on the Maroon Bells and the north face of Mt. Wilson. We’ve tested it in various self-arrest scenarios on slopes of steepness up to 50 degrees. It never disappointed. Aircraft aluminum is a surprisingly tough alloy and this axe is so light you’ll never even know its on your pack! For more information click on the links below:

            CAMP USA XLA 210 Ice Axe
            Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe
            Grivel Air Tech Racing Ice Axe

Are you interested in a slightly more technical mountaineering ice axe? You’ve just cruised 2000 feet in elevation on a 45 degree snow slope to arrive at a 200 foot, 65 degree, icy headwall. You need a hybrid tool. You may want to carry one of these along with one of the ultralight axes so you can use the double dagger technique on steeper slopes. The Camp USA Micro Ice Axe is the simplest, lightest, least technical and least expensive in this category with no grip and a straight shaft. It is available in one length (42cm) with your choice of a hammer or an adze. Don’t let the simplicity or cheap price fool you however…it’s a tough little axe that will get through that tricky spot. The Grivel Air Tech Evo Ice Axe is a lightweight, beautifully crafted hybrid ice axe. The head is tough, hot forged chromoly steel and the shaft is curved aircraft aluminum for knuckle clearance when swinging into ice. No hammer available on the Evo but it is available in 3 different lengths. The Camp USA Alpax Ice Tool is the closest axe in this category to a bona fide ice climbing tool. It comes with an aggressively gripped handle, a curved shaft, an interchangeable T-rated pick, your choice of an adze or hammer and 3 lengths to choose from. For more information click on the links below:

            CAMP USA Alpax Ice Tool
            CAMP USA Micro Ice Tool
            Grivel Air Tech Evo Ice Axe

Two other self-arrest tools deserve a recommendation here. These are uniquely designed, highly functional, yet activity specific pieces of equipment. If ski mountaineering is your game, take a look at the Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole. It is an adjustable length ski/trekking pole with an integrated steel self-arrest pick on top of the grip...two tools in one! The design of the pick makes for a very positive self-arrest. A pair of these in well trained hands will give you tons of confidence on those steep lines. The Petzl Snowscopic Axe with Trekking Pole is fully functional ice axe with an adjustable length trekking pole as an extension to the shaft. This tool is ideal for long glacier tours with a lot of walking but where self-arrest or cutting steps is also a concern. For more
information click on the links below:

            Petzl Snowscopic Axe with Trekking Pole
            Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole

Have your eyes glazed over from all the choices and information?

Here is a brief summary:

            Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe   -  best entry level bang for the buck
            Camp USA Tourax Ice Axe   -  light and strong, interchangeable pick
            Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe   -  Beautifully crafted, best in category

            Grivel Air Tech Racing Ice Axe   -  technical curved handle, Grivel quality
            Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe   -  BD’s ultralight (12oz.), stainless steel spike
            CAMP USA XLA 210 Ice Axe   -  all aircraft aluminum, lightest available (9oz.)

            CAMP USA Micro Ice Tool   -  inexpensive, small, light, tough emergency axe (1 length)
            Grivel Air Tech Evo Ice Axe   -  Grivels beautiful hybrid axe (no hammer)
            CAMP USA Alpax Ice Tool   -  most technical, closest axe to true ice tool

            Petzl Snowscopic Axe with Trekking Pole   -  specialized tool for long glacier treks
            Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole   -  the ski mountaineers tool

For excellent bargains on ice axes and all
quality gear, don't forget to check out...

Sierra Trading Post

No matter which tool or tools you decide on,
Climb safely and be prepared for that unexpected slip.

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