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The Best Ice Axe for Hiking needs to have a certain weight, length and be made of the right material to be durable. Here is a breakdown of what makes the best ice axe:
When you hike in winter, be it on trials or mountainsides, the ice and snow that covers everything makes things a lot trickier than what they normally are. To hike safely under snowy and icy conditions, on icy and snowy trails, you will definitely need additional equipment.
Depending on how severe the conditions and the terrain are, the list of equipment can be quite extensive, and ranges from warm clothing and shoes or boot, to a helmet, sun glasses and a first aid kit. The actual kit that will help prevent you slipping or enable you to move up steeper slopes includes crampons, a climbing harness, ropes, carabineers and an ice axe. (Scroll down to see our pick for the best Ice Axe)
Crampons are used to provide traction, while an ice axe has a number of uses, including using as a walking stick, helping you arrest your fall in case you slip on slippery terrain, and even for carving out steps on a steep incline.
Although general purpose ice axes are mainly shaped to arrest a fall and cutting steps in the snow, they can also be used to climb pretty steep slopes in much the same way as specialized climbing ice axes are used, e.g. by hooking the ice axe into the slope in front of you. General purpose ice axes also usually have quite long, straight shafts, unlike a climbing ice axe which often has a more convex shaft. This makes them suitable to use for improved balance – like trekking poles.
Ice axes contain two functional elements – the head and the shaft. The head in turn consists of a rear facing adze and a pick. When walking along the foot of a slope, or hiking on terrain that is not very steep, the ice axe is held at its head, while the shaft is used as a hiking pole. Should you slip or fall slip while holding the ice axe in this manner, it is very easy to simply lean in the ice axe’s direction. This will allow the ice axe to quickly hook into the ground and decelerate your slide until you can stop and get up safely.
When traversing very steep terrain, the ice axe is usually held at the shaft. This will enable you to either use the flatter adze to cut steps in the snow, using it like a mini shovel, or to use the pick to ascend the slope like you would do with a climbing ice axe.
To learn more about the general use of an ice axe for snow walking, including how to arrest a fall or cutting steps, check out this video:
There are three things to look out for when deciding to purchase an ice axe for ski mountaineering. These are its weight, length and material that it is made of. These factors combined will determine what the specific axe is most suitable for.
If you want to do general mountaineering, hiking and glacier travelling, it best to use a lighter ice axe, while heavier ice axes are normally used for technical mountaineering and ice climbing. A heavy ice axe will also allow you to hook the pick into ice and snow easily while you’re climbing steep slopes. The axe that we have selected as the best for general mountaineering and discuss in detail later on in the article is a lightweight ice axe.
To be able to offer you support while walking on an icy trail like a hiking pole, an ice axes suitable for general mountaineering and hiking is normally longer than an ice axe used for climbing. Different brands and models are normally available in more than one length and the length that will be most suitable for you will be determined on your height. As a general rule of thumb, people shorter than 5.5 ft. use an ice axe that is less than 24 in. in length, while people taller than 6 ft. use an ice axe of at least 27 in. long.
Ice axe shafts are made from aluminum steel, or carbon fibers. While aluminum and steel shafts are stronger than carbon fiber shafts, carbon fiber shafts are lighter. Ice axes with shafts made from steel and aluminum are normally used for hiking and mountaineering, while ice axes with shafts made from carbon fibers are usually used for climbing. Ice axe heads are always made from steel as this makes them a lot more durable than any other material.
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
When looking at ice axes suitable for general mountaineering there is a wide range available at a big price range.
We settled on the Black Diamond Raven as the best general purpose ice axe because it is the most comfortable model to carry, while still being a solid axe for general mountaineering. The price is also awesome for what you get. Check out the current price on Amazon here.
The Black Diamond Raven Ice axe is suitable for:
- Glacier travelling
The Black Diamond Raven ice axe is very popular among mountaineers and hikers, simply because it provides superb performance for a relatively low price. The durable straight shaft is made from aluminum, while the head is made from stainless steel.
The head is very well designed and features an adze, pick and a hole where a carabiner van be attached. The adze can be used to penetrate snow easily, making it ideal for a cutting steps, while the pick has been designed mainly for self-arrest. The adze is also very comfortable to hold, making this ice axe a pleasure to use as a trekking pole.
While the Black Diamond Raven ice axe is great for mountaineers and hikers, it was however not designed for climbing steep slopes. Its functionality on very steep terrain is severely reduced due to the pick being relatively wide and it having a big clearance angle. The Black Diamond Raven ice axe is available in seven different lengths – 55 cm, 60 cm, 65 cm, 70 cm, 75 cm, 80 cm and 90 cm.
As with any product, this axe has various pros and cons:
- Comfortable to carry
- Comes in 7 different lengths
- Good adze performance
- Easy-to-clip head
- Performs below average on steep snow
- Heavier than some similar models
- Not good at penetrating hard ice
- Fair Self-arrest performance
The Raven’s primary drawbacks are that it performs below average on steep snow, is heavier than some similar models, it is not good at penetrating hard ice and its self-arrest performance is only fair.
In spite of these drawbacks, we think the Raven is a great axe for the price, especially since it was not designed for climbing in steep snow. The fact that it is available in a number of different lengths is also a bonus, as this means that you’ll easily find one that’s just right for your height. If you absolutely have to have a similar axe that is lighter, it will cost you about $25 more.
On the other hand, if you looking at doing some steep snow climbing rather than doing general ski mountaineering on slopes that are not very steep, you may want to consider buying the Petzl Summit 2 Ice Axe that was designed specifically for serious climbing. Be aware though that this axe is about double the price of the Raven.