Best Ice Axes for Winter Activities - Backpacker

Best Ice Axes for Winter Activities

When you fall and need to self-arrest on the mountainside, you want complete faith in the ice axe at your side. They are an essential (and iconic) piece of equipment for winter mountaineering, hiking, and climbing. You’ll reach for it on the mountain for many reasons, not just during falls - for balance, as a snow anchor, and a brake when glissading. The features of the ice axe may change depending on the usage, but the essential components will remain the same. A few of the most important aspects to consider when shopping for an ice axe are the length, straight or curved shaft, grip, and head features. As a general rule, ice axes should be long enough to avoid internal organs during a fall and short enough to not be unwieldy. They should be light enough to use all day and hefty enough to provide support through snow-fields. Here are three of our top picks.
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Most Versatile 

PETZL- SUM-TEC Modular Ice Axe 

Easy Adaptation for Mountain Activities. The SUM-TEC is a modular ice axe. It’s easy to adapt it to a range of winter mountaineering activities. Optimize the hand rest, weight, and accessories for the task at hand without needing tools.

What We Liked: 

The easy adaptation of the SUM-TEC can’t be beaten. It does every job you want it to on the mountainside, with no need to pull out a set of tools to adjust its features. It comes in two versions, adze or hammer. Both versions have the TRIGREST handrest that changes on the fly for climbing mode. A curved shaft protects the hand while anchoring, and it is possible to add weights for better performance. It’s also compatible with several PETZL accessories. Buy it here.

Best First Axe

GRIVEL Nepal Self-Arrest Axe with Leash

Designed for Falls. This one is optimized to easily wield during a fall for fast, secure self-arrests. The curved shaft increases weight to the steel pick, which drives deep into ice and hard snow in a self-arrest position.

What We Liked: 

Safety is the most important thing on the mountain, and the GRIVEL is designed for reliable self-arrests. Every feature assists you during a fall. It comes with its own leash, so an additional purchase isn’t necessary. The specially designed pick arrests gradually, instead of suddenly ripping the axe from your hands. It’s a little heavier than other ice axes, helping the steel pick to drive into neve snow. In a longer length, it works well as a support and provides extra reach during your gradual climbs.  Buy it here.

Best Value

Omega Pacific Ice Mountain Axe

Lightweight and Durable. This ice axe is laser-cut from aircraft quality aluminum. It’s lightweight but can withstand aggressive use on the mountain. It’s a straightforward (with a straight-shaft) old school ice axe.

What We Liked: 

For early and late season hiking, this axe won’t add much extra weight to a pack. It doesn’t sacrifice utility for weight and is durable enough to withstand regular use season after season. It’s a no-frills ice axe at a great price point for people who don’t need versatility in uses. The head is specifically cut with self-arresting in mind and can reliably perform when called upon. Buy it here.