Cold Cuts: The 6 Best Ice Axes

The term “Ice Axe” has changed numerous times over the years. The original ones were built like trekking poles and meant for hiking and prodding while the most modern ones are intended for scaling any icy wall that nature put in your way. There is an ongoing debate among the community over what constitutes an ice axe, what makes an ice tool, and what is technically a mountaineering or climbing pole. However you come down on that debate, we’re here to help you out.

We’re not going to debate semantics. For the purpose of this review we’re using the term to refer to mountaineering axes and ice tools as much as true ice axes. Some of them will have the distinctive curve meant for swinging from a hanging position. Others will have an axe head on a mountaineering pole. We’re trying to give options for climbers of every skill level so we hope that whatever mountain you are scaling or ice you’re chopping, you’ll find something of use to you. Happy climbing and onto the 6 best ice axes.

Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe

Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe

Pro: Comfortable in any position
Con: Won’t destroy tough ice easily

Entry Level: The price of the Raven coupled with its timeless simplicity makes it one of the most common mountaineering choices you can buy. Though you can get one for a fraction of similar products, the aircraft grade aluminum doesn’t skimp on quality and won’t leave you stranded with a broken piece of cheap metal. The body is comfortable for holding in any position so you can be ready in self-arrest, belay, or standard carrying pose. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means, just know that it won’t wear on your body when you strap on your snowshoes and cart it around any of the Fourteeners in the Rockies. The axe itself makes short work of thin ice but when faced with a challenge it’s not going to do as much damage as some. A great way to start on the journey to more intense models. For a lighter choice, you can also get the Raven Pro. [Purchase: $80]

Petzl Summit

Petzl Summit

Pro: Long grip
Con: Old-School design

Old and the New: Like a classic ice axe pick but want to add a few extra technical features to give it that extra boost? This uses the archaic piolet head that your great-grandfather preferred, but does a bit more than that. The coated shaft lets you swing away whether you prefer a lower grip or like to choke up for smaller work. The mild bend in the shaft adds the ability to chop away even when you’re off-centered but doesn’t have the deep hooks preferred by vertical climbers. At just over a pound it runs on the heavy side and younger guys in love with the new leashless models will find it old-fashioned. Just know they are only one dropped axe away from coming around to your way of thinking. Vertical climbs are possible and can be used for perfecting technique. [Purchase: $136+]

Grivel Air Tech Evolution

Grivel Air Tech Evolution

Pro: Chops through anything
Con: Heavy

Heavy Hitter: Trying to take on a vertical climb with any of the T-shaped ice axes is asking for trouble, but the bulletproof design of the Evolution weaves an interesting web between the standard mountaineering options and their dangling counterparts. Don’t bother spending the money on this if dry ascents are all you are after, but if you want to face down nasty couloirs, you’ll be glad to have this on hand. The pick and shaft receive 400 kg rankings and can hack away like a tactical tomahawk without trouble if you’re clearing off a campsite or cutting into the bedrock. While it can dig like a gopher and anchor like a champ, it is heavy and uncomfortable to carry. You might not notice at first, but it will creep up. The investment cost is steep, but the lifespan is unbeatable. [Purchase: $180+]

Cassin X-All Mountain

Cassin X-All Mountain

Pro: Digs in easily
Con: Pick can get stuck

On Thin Ice: This is a strange beast that looks too classic to really be effective, yet handles thin ice climbs better than most mixed bags. If you’re convinced that you need a wide range of ice tools to make an easy ascent, giving the All Mountain a shot might just see you kissing thin air. The trim picks on the end make them a joy to bury and dig with, though pulling them out is a whole other matter entirely. You can either get it with or without the traditional alpine spike depending on how you prefer to grip it and rip it. Definitely a tool for climbing and mountaineering rather than a more challenging climb that requires a little more aggression. Hackers and choppers will want to ease back lest they find this stuck, and taking extra time to clean it will reward your efforts handsomely. Trying to carve steps is a pipe dream. [Purchase: $220]

Black Diamond Cobra

Black Diamond Cobra

Pro: Works well for mixed climbs
Con: Gear is expensive

Complete Comfort: It’s hard in the world of aluminum materials to think of swinging at a frozen waterfall could ever be comfortable, but the Cobra makes it surprisingly easy on your shoulders and back, allowing you to extend your climb further than you thought possible. It has a carbon-steel head with great weight and balance that puts the mass beneath your strike without wearing on your joints and ligaments. This works well on mixed climbs where you’ll be dealing with both ice and dry portions, though it is clearly meant for fighting the frost giants. You can outfit it with a leash if that tickles you for those times when you need a belay, or take it as is. Adding a laser cutter isn’t strictly necessary since you can get such a deep swing, but smaller climbers might prefer it. Overall, this is probably the best balance you can find between the old and the new. [Purchase: $336+]

Petzl Ergo

Petzl Ergo

Pro: Fits incredibly well in your hand
Con: Only for vertical climbs

Weird and Wonderful: When climbers get in fights over what constitutes an ice axe and what constitutes an ice tool, the name Ergo is likely to come up. If the debates heat up enough, it’s also likely to be drawn in anger. The strange, pretzel shape draws as many critics as it does converts. If you don’t love it from the first swing you could soon end up cursing it. The handle is fully adjustable which allows it to work better with other equipment, winter gloves, or to be used by different people, though get the measurements wrong and it will annoy you all the way to the top. The pommel gives you the option of resting or anchoring, making it good for those leashless wonders out there. For steep tooling you’ll love the deeply twisted handles since they work with your natural motion but anything less than vertical – or if you actually try to use this as an axe – just won’t work. [Purchase: $360]

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