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)
Shaft (tube or forged, types B or T):
- Leash (classic, sliding or technical)
- Grip (tube, rubber, ergonomic)
- Support (first, second, adjustable, trigger)
Spike (flat, conicalâ€¦)
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
- 2.1 Technical climbing
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 sho