Which axe?

31st August 2013 by

Choosing the right axe is key to getting the most out of your winter adventuring. With so many to choose from on the market its worth spending some time to consider the options.

What to consider:

Length – As a rule, shorter axes are better suited to steeper ground whereas a walking axe should be longer (as a guide, a walking axe should reach from your hip to just above the ankle when held at arms length).

Curve – Some axes are curved to provide better clearance on steep ice and mixed ground, it also improves the efficiency of the swing and allows the axe to be used in a variety of placements.

Pick – Walking axes tend to have a more horizontal pick whereas technical axes tend to be downturned, this again allows better clearance and a better placements on steep ground.

Leash – A leash keeps you attached to the axe and can take some body weight but it is now more common, when using technical tools, to go leashless. Leashless climbing allows for hand swaps and easier gear placements but does mean if you drop it, it’s gone! Most technical axes come equipped with triggers on the shaft to take the climber’s weight, there are also several lanyard attachments available to keep the axes attached to the harness in case of a fall or dropping them.

Weight –Unlike most kit, lightweight isn’t always best. If the intended use is occasional or ‘just in case’ then lightweight is the way to go but if you’re intending to swing at hard water ice then you’re going to need some weight behind the tool to guarantee good placements. At the more extreme end of things, dry tooling (where the axe is used to hook rather than swung) requires lighter tools to reduce the load on the arms.


What’s it for?

A Lightweight – walking trekking.  Eg., Grivel Munro or Black Diamond Raven

B Lightweight – Ski touring/Scottish I-II.  Eg., Grivel Air Tech Racing

C Alpine/Scottish II-IV.  Eg., Grivel Air Tech Evo or Jorasses ES

D Steeper mixed ground/Pure ice IV-VI.  Eg., Black Diamond Viper

E Steep mixed ground VI-VIII.  Eg., Black Diamond Fusion, Grivel Master

F  Steeper mixed ground/dry tooling.  Eg., Grivel Force



In Action:

Fairfield Horseshoe in winter – A gentle hill-walk with steeper sections that can prove tricky with snow underfoot. A light walking axe with a longer, straight shaft would be ideal, eg., Black Diamond Raven or Grivel Munro.

Striding Edge in winter (I) – A narrow ridge with steep sections that collect ice and snow. A light walking axe with a slight curve would make the steeper sections feel a lot easier, plus give security on the top under snow, eg., Grivel AirTech Racing, Grivel Nepal SA Plus, or Grivel Brenva.

The Runnel, Sneachda (II) – A steeper gully route with sections of compacted snow and ice. A curved shaft and steeper angled pick will allow better placements on steep snow and ice while the shaft is still long enough to use as a walking axe, eg., Grivel Jorasses ES or Grivel AirTech Evo.

Kaminfossen, Rjukan Norway (WI4) – Steep water ice, mostly vertical. A pair of curved axes with angled picks will make each placement feel solid and secure, eg., the Black Diamond Viper or Grivel Matrix Tech.

Darth Vader, Ben Nevis (VII, 8) – A very steep, technical mixed route requiring a variety of axe placements and positions. A technical route needs a technical axe with a steeply angled pick and curved shaft that will allow a wide range of placements and gymnastic manoeuvres, eg., Black Diamond Fusion.

Don’t Die of Ignorance, Tower Face Ben Nevis (XI, 11) – Mind-blowingly steep mixed ground with minimal placements that require imagination and faith – at the very cutting edge. A route like this requires absolute trust in your tools, lightweight, steeply curved and adaptable, eg., Grivel Master or Grivel Force.

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