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Ice axes belong to that group of tools that is largely bypassed by the regular joe, as little is known about them – angle grinders are another that falls into this category. However, we intend to pull the ice ax out of its shaded corner and provide you with a helpful guide that will walk you through not only what to look for in an ice ax, but which ones are best.
What to look for in an ice ax
The point at the front of the head is the peak, and it is used for more vertical ground and ice ax stops (to stop a slide). At the other end, a small shovel-shaped piece called an adze is used for cutting steps in ice or scooping snow. The more technical axles have removable picks, allowing you to change them according to your intended use or replace them when they wear out. Climbing axes often come with the option of a hammer instead of an adze for placing protective gear.
A light ice ax will be more comfortable to carry in the hand, but less effective for biting into ice when climbing or stopping the ice ax. As such, mountaineering axes will tend to be heavier than walking axes.
Hold the ax by the head with your right arm at your side. For a versatile ax for walking and easy mountaineering, the point at the end of the shank should reach your ankle. For a dedicated walking axis, a slightly longer length makes it more comfortable to use, while climbing axes tend to be shorter.
The curve of the tree
Walking axles that will be used more as a trekking stick tend to have straight stems, while mountaineering axles that will be swayed by the stem when climbing will have a more curved profile. The greater the curve, the more the ax is oriented towards climbing.
Ice ax heads are given a score to indicate their strength. A Type 1 or B ax is suitable for winter walking and will likely be lighter. Type 2 or T axles are stronger and can be used on harder terrain or to create relays. Note that the handle and head of an ax may have different dimensions.
To prevent an ax from falling and getting lost, a removable leash attaches to the ax head and secures it to the wrist. Many axes come with a leash, but leashes can also be purchased separately. The more technical axes use lanyards that attach to the lower point on one end and to the belay loop of a climbing harness on the other.
The best ice axes
Grivel G Zero
With its straight handle, long lengths (up to almost a walking stick proportioned to 74cm) and removable head cover for better grip and comfort, the G Zero is an excellent walking ax. Unusual for winter equipment, it comes in several colors!
Lengths 58cm, 66cm, 74cm | Weight 425g (58cm) | Strength rating 1 / B-rated
DMM Spire Tech
The new Spire Tech is a classic ax for walking and easy mountaineering. It has a slightly curved shank and a machined grip for use on steeper terrain, and is lightweight when used for walking.
Lengths 45cm, 50cm, 55cm | Weight 323g (45cm) | Strength rating 1 / B-rated
Another novelty of the ice ax, the Alpine-Tec is a technical evolution compared to the more basic axes of walking. The ergonomic head and light weight make it comfortable to carry in the hand, while the aggressive pick and adjustable palm rest allow it to tackle the steepest slopes.
Lengths 50cm, 58cm | Weight 366g (50cm) | Strength rating 1 / B-rated
Petzl Summit Evo
The Summit Evo’s curved rubber shank makes it a tool for those venturing into more vertical terrain. Its weight offers an excellent balance between carrying comfort when walking and effective use as a tool for climbing on more technical ice and snow.
Lengths 52cm, 59cm, 66cm | Weight 400g (52cm) | Strength rating 1 / B-rated
Edelrid Riot Advisor
With a ‘T’ strength rating, replaceable pick and adze, and a matching Riot Hammer pattern to use as a pair, the Riot has the key features of a climbing tool. With the removable lower hand rest removed, it also works great as a general walking ax.
Lengths 50cm | Weight 595g (50cm) | Strength rating 2 / T-rated
More Live For The Outdoors on the Winter Kit:
Our guide to mountaineering boots, including reviews of the best.
Our guide to winter backpacks, including reviews of the best.
Our guide to waterproof winter hardshell jackets, including reviews of the best.
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