When we practice any activity related to the mountain, especially in the winter season, we find elements such as ice and snow that hinder or prevent our walking. That is why we need to be equipped to face these situations. One of the tools that cannot be missing is the ice ax, essential to meet the most challenging climbs.
In addition to this help, without which it would be impossible to face icy walls or steps, the ice ax also serves as life insurance when an uncontrolled slip occurs, either on its own or to secure a rope partner. Remember, your security is priceless. That is why in this guide, we will help you make the best purchase decision.
Important points to remember about Ice Ax:
- An ice ax is a tool that cannot be lacking in mountain activities where we face surfaces, especially with more or less steep slopes covered with ice or snow.
- Resistance and lightness are two of the characteristics that cannot be lacking in any of the models, regardless of how we will use our ice ax.
- As we will see in the purchase criteria, manufacturing materials are essential in a product on which our safety depends.
Highly recommended best ice axes
Recommending ice ax models is not an easy task. The high quality of almost all products makes a choice difficult. However, we are going to be guided by buyers. The number of sales and the ratings is reliable data when deciding on an item. We will also discuss the best options to carry out a specific activity.
- Online shopper’s favorite
- The best ice ax for technical mountaineering and ice climbing
- The best valued by users
- Classic ice ax for skiing and glacier hiking
Online shopper’s favorite
This is a classic T-type ice ax. The head is made of tempered steel, with a black cataphoresis treatment (a painting process utilizing an electric current that provides high resistance to metal parts).
The handle is made of light alloy and with a slight curvature. It has a leash (strap with an adjustable loop to secure the ice ax to the user’s hand). Lacks grip and blade guards.
The best ice ax for technical mountaineering and ice climbing
This ice ax’s high quality has led it to be one of the best sellers, both among professionals and among the initiated. It is very resistant and, at the same time, light. Its versatility makes it ideal for technical mountaineering and ice climbing.
It is made with the best materials. It is easy to operate. By having the same anchoring format, pieces such as shovels, blades, or clubs can be used.
The best valued by users
Black Diamond, a prestigious manufacturer of sports equipment, offers a classic mountain ice ax model blessed by buyers, as reflected in the positive reviews it receives.
It has excellent anchoring efficiency. The head is made of stainless steel, and the body of aluminum. The straight handle allows it to be used as a cane. The grip is made of rubber. It has a strap.
Classic ice ax for skiing and glacier hiking
This classic ice ax is versatile and allows us to use it in various activities, especially glacier hiking and skiing when we come across snowy or icy steps that are difficult.
The head is ergonomic in forged steel. The light alloy handles and straight at the bottom for better penetration in the snow. The grip with non-slip. Includes leash.
Shopping guide: What you should know about the ice ax?
Next, we will ask ourselves some questions about the ice ax to try to get to know this tool better. It is essential to know which product is ideal for each activity, how we have to use it, or how to carry out its maintenance to extend its useful life.
What is an ice ax?
An ice ax is a mountaineering tool. Practically all climbers wear it, especially those who face surfaces where ice and snow predominate. It is also used by other types of athletes who may encounter these elements, such as skiers or those who practice hiking on glaciers.
How do we classify the ice axes according to the activity to be carried out?
In an overview, we can classify ice axes into classic and technical. Within these two options, there are several types of tools that we will distinguish according to the activity that we will carry out and their requirements. Let’s see in this table its main features and utilities:
|Classics for mountaineering.||Activities of low technical difficulty.||Extensive blade, with little curvature and long handle.|
|Classics for skiing.||To cross some icy or snowy pass.||It should be small and light for easy portability, but sturdy.|
|Classics for mountaineering.||On steep slopes with rocks or hard ice.||Very resistant one-piece blades and curved handles.|
|Classics for mountaineering.||On steep slopes with rocks or hard ice.||Very resistant one-piece blades and curved handles.|
|Technical mountaineering.||Ideal for very hard walls. Two ice axes are usually used at the same time.||Small size, with very curved handles. They stick like a dagger.|
|Ergonomic (technical climbing).||For activities of maximum technical difficulty.||Lightweight and with a curved grip, and rubberized for easy grip.|
What are the components of an ice ax?
The ice ax: It is made up of seven components. They all fulfill a fundamental function for this tool to help us climb tasks on rocky, ice, and snow terrain.
However, the strap could be eliminated, although it is recommended to have this element as well. These are the parts of the ice ax:
- Head: It is made of metal. It is used for self-arrest or self-insurance. The center has a hole that is used to pass the carabiner or tie the leash.
- Leaf/pica: Located on the head. It has a curved shape with teeth, which allows you to hold on more quickly in case of slipping.
- Shovel: The flat part is located in the broad area of the head. It is used to cut ice and hard snow. Some models have a hammer instead.
- Handle: Made of light metals such as aluminum, titanium, or fiberglass, among others.
- Tip: We find it in the lower part of the handle. When it is nailed in the snow, it provides us stability and security.
On rocks, it helps us balance. It is also known as a regatón. You have to be aware of its wear, which would affect its correct functions.
- Dragonera: It is a strap with an adjustable loop that allows you to secure the ice ax at hand. Some models lack it, using curved shapes and grips.
- Ring: It is on the handle and limits the slippage of the leash. In certain products, the strap is anchored in a hole in the head of the ice ax.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of ice ax according to the approval?
The law says that the letters T (technical) or B (basic) should be visibly displayed on the page, although marking the latter is optional. But these references are not related to use but to resistance. This is measured in kN (Kilonewton) during the tests that pass blades and handles. In this table we are going to see the advantages and disadvantages of each type:
|Basic type (B).||It sticks into the ice with complete safety as there are no twists.||The resistance requirements are lower.|
|Its thinner leaves favor penetration.||The handle, without curvature, is not suitable for ice climbing.|
|Its price is cheaper.||It supports 280 kilograms of traction.|
|Technical type (T).||It passes the most demanding tests in blade flex or handle strength.||Worse penetration of ice due to thicker leaves.|
|Perfect for twisting, rock work or blade locking in crevices.||It has a greater weight.|
|It is more resistant and withstands 400 kg of traction.||They are models of higher economic cost.|
How do you use an ice ax?
Before embarking on the first adventure, it is interesting to seek a person with experience in using the ice ax. If you do not know an expert, you can turn to the tutorials or the information offered by many net pages. To get an idea of what we need to know, we will cite some premises that we cannot ignore.
- It is a matter of rehearsing with the ice ax. We will practice self-arrests to stop possible falls.
- We will make progressions on moderate slopes to find the correct shape.
- It is imperative not to start an adventure if you have not mastered the ascent and descent techniques perfectly.
- In short, we will apply the theory for acceptable use of this tool in ascents, descents, and emergencies.
What is the useful life of an ice ax?
Ice axes are exposed to extreme situations, so they wear out fairly quickly. However, the quality of the new materials and their designs make them exceptionally resistant even in the harshest conditions. Its useful life is many years, but its elements must be periodically checked especially the blade’s shape.
To help its durability while we use it, we will avoid making levers with the blade or handle. We will also not twist sideways to remove the tool from the ice. As for maintenance, we must wash it with water, let it air dry, grease it and store it in a dry place.
What are the most recognized brands of ice axes?
The large firms that manufacture mountain equipment guarantee the excellent quality of almost all ice ax models, something important. It is a tool that takes care of our safety on complicated surfaces and real risk situations. We are going to know some of the most important and prestigious worldwide:
- Black diamond
- Climbing Technology
Ice Ax Purchase criteria
The acquisition of an ice ax requires a rigorous analysis of some details, such as the blade’s size or shape. Any characteristic can be positive or negative for the activity we want to develop. And we are not to waste money. We are going to follow these criteria to find the correct product:
- Leaf shape
- Modular type
The materials with which the blades and handles are made are of outstanding quality. It is expected in products relevant to our safety. Resistant elements are used on the head, while lightness dominates the handle. We are going to know the materials most used in the manufacture of an ice ax and the characteristics that may be best for your personal use:
Steel: It is the most used material in the leaves’ manufacture, as it is a very resistant and durable element. Stainless steel is used to prevent corrosion. The downside is that it is cumbersome.
Titanium: It is also used in the blade or spike. It is lighter than steel but solid and will not rust or alter. Its price is higher.
Aluminum: With this material, the handles are made to give them incredible lightness. It is also used in some sheets but to carry out activities of minimal demand.
Carbon fiber: Also to make the handles and make them very light. That gain in fewer grams supposes a quite significant economic expense.
Depending on the shape of the blade or beak, three types of ice axes can be distinguished. The first one we will mention is the negative peak, which arches down with a slight curve. Most of these tools have it since it has self-arrest and the climb on ice is very safe. The negative is that if the ice angle is large, it will be difficult to unhook it.
The neutral peak ice ax does not incline. Although it is the best for self-arrest, its use is not recommended as it is not safe when balancing on ice. Lastly, the positive peak starts down, but in the middle, the angle rises slightly. It is suitable for ice climbing since its extraction is straightforward. It should not be used for self-arrest.
It is essential to look at the measurements, as they help us know the activity for which the ice axes are suitable. These tools usually measure between 40 and 90 centimeters. Those of greater length are useful for most of the activities that we carry out in the mountains. The smallest ones, up to 60 centimeters, are best for ice climbing.
Typically, in this last type of ascent, up to two ice axes are used simultaneously. This improves balance thanks to the additional support. These tools are curved in shape, so your hands won’t hit the ice. Besides, it allows the pole to penetrate at a more efficient angle to support the climber’s stride.
The modular ice ax has the advantage that you can replace any part, either due to the wear of some element or because you want to make a hybridization, for example, by putting a technical-type blade on a basic-type handle or vice versa. You can also place the type of peak in the shape that suits you best. The main disadvantage is that they are heavier.
Weight is one of the values to consider before purchasing an ice ax, as it conditions the different practices that we carry out on the mountain. It also influences the load that we are going to transport, reducing it if this tool is as light as possible. It is up to the user to find a light ice ax without losing strength and effectiveness.
After following this guide, you are more prepared to face your adventures in the mountains. But remember that we must continue to learn every day and that these activities in rugged terrain pose a significant risk to our physical integrity. We must be responsible and try to walk safely.
The equipment to face these challenges in areas of ice and snow is very extensive. And all the elements are essential to guarantee your safety and well-being. This time we have paid attention to the ice ax, a tool without which we could not make ascents or descents on icy surfaces.