Whether you’re scrambling, mountaineering, hiking or ice climbing, having the best ice axe you can find is something you cannot go without. No outdoor adventure can be completed without the right tools for the job, and your ice axe will be your trusty companion all the way. It will help you overcome difficult passages, keeping your balance while descending or ascending and can prevent dangerous sliding falls that will put your health at serious risk. Therefore, you want to be paying close attention to the ice axe reviews we have compiled below.
The choices are many since ice axes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be used in a variety of different situations, but anyone will tell you how important it is to have one you can trust by your side. The list of best ice axes you can find below should give you a complete overview of what are your options so you can identify the one that is best for you.
How To Choose A Ice Axe – Buying Guide
The overall weight of your gear is something you want to consider very carefully before you head out in the open since it will heavily influence your mobility and the way you can deal with the various obstacles you will find in your path. The weight of an axe depends on the material it is made of, with aluminium being the lightest but also the less durable and steel sitting at the other end of the spectrum in both regards. Much will depend on your exact needs, since lighter axes may work well for hiking or scrambling but lack the heft to penetrate well into ice or hard snow when climbing. A heavier axe will, therefore, be a more effective tool in executing an emergency self arrest, despite being less easy to carry.
Judging the correct length for your ice axe is relatively straightforward, but very important. Simply stand up straight and hold the axe at its top, letting it fall down your leg. The spike should fall right around your ankle, or maybe just slightly above. A shorter axe will obviously also be lighter and easier to manage but provide less leverage and is recommended mostly for very technical ice climbing where accuracy is key. A longer axe can make self arrest more difficult being harder to wield and will be best suited to building snow anchors or going over lower-angle terrain.
The materials most axes are made of are aluminium, titanium, carbon fibers or steel, which will all influence the feel of your axe in different ways. A steel head is the only one that will provide the necessary strength for climbing and mountaineering. Carbon fiber is also very strong but expensive, while titanium is lighter but softer. Aluminium provides a good balance of features even if it cannot match steel for pure strength.
One of the great benefits of having an ice axe with you is the great variety of uses it can have. Axes are useful as canes, if they have a straight shaft, or can help you overcome steep obstacles or terrain that may be covered in snow or ice, dig steps for your feet thanks to the adze or just simply save your life if you have to perform a self-arrest or slow yourself down while sliding on a slope. Depending on what you plan to do, we recommend you carefully study all the ice axe reviews you can find to see which characteristics best suit your needs. The best mountaineering ice axe can last you basically your whole life so it’s worth putting some effort into research.
The CEN rating provides a good way to understand how durable an ice axe really is. CEN stands for Comité Européen de Normalisation, which is a European group that develops and maintains equipment standards, and on every model you will find an indication of what its specific rating is. In the case of ice axes, you can find either a B for “basic” rating or a T for “technical” rating. The B indicated that the axe you are looking at is best designed for less technical climbs and will likely be lighter and less durable. A T rating, on the other hand, will tell you that the axe is strong enough for the toughest conditions, but in all likelihood, this will come at the expense of greater weight.
Safety should always be at the forefront of your thoughts if you decide to go climbing, since dangers, such as avalanches, are always around the corner. In this sense, an ice axe is a must-have tool, but since it comes with sharp edges itself it is also something you need to be wary of. Make sure you know how to properly handle your axe before setting out on the trail, practicing movements that will allow you to understand how it feels to wield it and to dig it into terrain or ice, while avoiding getting too close to the dangerously pointy spike. Some models also come with a pick and spike cover to ensure safe travels and might be something you want to look into if you need the extra reassurance.
Ice axe’s shafts come in different shapes that are designed for different needs. A straight shaft is ideal for mountaineering or as a hiking ice axe because it also functions very well as a supportive cane on not so steep terrain and they work very well as an anchor if you need to self-belay in the snow. On the other hand a curved shaft axe is a more specialized tool that will work best on the steepest terrain, keeping your hands away from the snow. Ice climbing axes are even more curved to facilitate the swinging motion you need while ascending.
The adze is the part opposite the pick, on the top of the axe. It is usually used to cut steps in ice or snow as well as seats or whatever other kinds of hole you might need. Most adzes are shaped like a small shovel but their edge is also tough enough to cut through ice. On axes that are specifically made for ice climbing the adze is often replaced with a hammer which can be very useful to knock pitons in the wall. Adzes also provide a good way to grip your axe without having to wrap your whole hand around the pointed pick.
The pick is arguably the most important feature of an ice axe since it will face intense use but is also the point that may have to sustain your whole body weight. For this reason, it is usually made of steel, which is tougher than aluminium, and is the material we recommend to choose. In most cases, the point of the pick will be curving slightly downward because this makes it easier to perform a self arrest. This is called positive clearance, but picks such as these can get uncomfortably stuck in ice. For this reason the more technical tools for ice climbing often have a negative clearance point, which bends slightly upwards and is much easier to remove from an icy wall. Some manufacturers continue to produce neutral clearance picks, but these as slowly falling out of use.
On the other end of the axe is another very important sharp point, the spike. The stronger it is, the easier it will be to push through a firm surface and anchor yourself securely, which is the reason why these parts are also mostly made of steel. Some models of axes that are not intended to be used as a cane will not even have a spike on their lower end, so depending on what you plan to do you might not even need one, but if you want one make sure you can comfortably rely on it.
Since you will be carrying your axe around for long hours, you will want to make sure that it is comfortable to manoeuvre. Manufacturers give you different options to choose from, some with rubber grip or just with moulded handles. Keep in mind that you will most probably also be wearing gloves when you wield these axes so try to practice while wearing them before you set out. Also, think about how you will want to carry the axe, whether strapped to your backpack or inside it.
Q: What Is An Ice Axe Used For?
An ice axe is a very versatile tool that should be part of the gear of anyone who is active outdoors. It can be used while hiking, mountaineering or scrambling both as to secure a hold or as a cane to support yourself on steep terrain. More specialized ice axes are used for vertical ice climbing, that comes with its unique set of challenges and therefore requires specific tools that cannot be used as well on a simple hike.
Q: Do You Need An Ice Axe On The PCT?
For the gear that you decide to bring with you on the PCT, a lot will depend on the season you decide to embark in this wonderful adventure. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared for the worst, so a small ice axe could definitely turn out to be a useful tool to have on the road. Given that there are several lightweight options that do not take up too much space, it might be good to consider bringing one along.
Q: How Do You Attach An Ice Axe To A Backpack?
Most backpacks come with a small loop on the outside designed to allow you to slide the ice axe in. Once you’ve done that turn the axe so that the pick is facing towards the inside of the pack. This will prevent it from wounding you if you fall. At this point, the shaft should be dangling off of the backpack and you need to flip the shaft upwards and secure it to the bag. In this way, you can safely move around without fear of injury or of losing your equipment.
Q: What Size Of Ice Axe Do I Need?
The right sized axe for you will depend on your height and on what you plan to use it for. Reread the section about length to find more details. In general, a long and straight axe will work best for mountaineering or hiking and a shorter more curved axe is better suited for ice climbing.
Globo Surf Overview
As you have seen, an ice axe is a basic tool you should not be without on any kind of winter adventure. Safety is paramount in these situations and ice axes will help you out in almost any situation you can think of. You might also want to consider purchasing an ice axe leash to avoid losing it. We hope that our reviews have given you a good insight into what are your options so you can make up your mind and head outside very soon.