by Brad

October 13, 2021

How to Choose an Ice Axe

Among all the gear that hikers carry, an ice axe is the most unique and iconic. It’s the beating heart of ice climbing.

Should you have intentions of getting your first axe for the summit adventure, you have to think about the correct length, the layout of the ice, and the activity your axe will be supporting. Needless to say, you have to be acquainted with the different parts of an ice axe.

Generally, ice climbing axes are designed for frozen waterfalls, icefalls, and rocks or slabs covered with ice. Besides being ideally suited for the terrain you are hiking, they should also be sized correctly. 

This article will look at the anatomy and how ice axes are suited for different landscapes, how to choose an ice axe, and the need for long short axes. 

Parts of the Ice Axe

How Long Should an Axe Designed for Ice be

1) Spike 

On an axe, the spike features a sharp metal point. Its function is to create and keep balance when moving on ice. However, some tools may lack this feature since walking is not the primary use. 

2) Shaft 

Most ice axes have straight shafts though some are slightly curved. These parts are typically made of aluminum, steel, or carbon. 

3) Pick 

An axes pick a point you clip into the eyes. It also can be used in self-arrest. 

4) Adze/hammer

An adze is located opposite the pick. For an ice tool, it may have an adze or a hammer. 

5) Carabiner hole 

The carabiner hole is an opening situated at the top of the axe. It’s the part that provides an attachment point for a harness. Again the hole can be used to attach the leash. 

6) Ice Axe Leashes

A leash, which is sold independently, helps keep the axe in place whenever you drop it. If you consider the event of losing the axe on glacial passages and rocky, snowy parts of a climb, the grave danger you are subjected to justifies the need for a leash. 

Parts of the Ice Axe

However, there are hazards in being attached to a sharp instrument. To some extent, they may hurt you when falling. As such, most climbers prefer to work without leashes but in specific areas. This makes sense as dropped axes would naturally land near you when dropped.

Several ice-axe manufacturers provide pre-made leashes which precisely match their equipment. Alternatively, you may construct your leash using Perlon cable (5- to 7-mm) or 1″ elastic bands.

How Long Should an Axe Designed for Ice be?

Generally, a technical axe comes in several lengths, starting from 50cm, 55cm, 60cm. Remember, variations will depend on the brands. 

You can figure out the precise length for your ice altitude by standing upright and holding the axe by the head. In this scenario, should the spike fall past your ankle, then the axe is inappropriately long for you to use. 

How to Match Ice Axes with Different Terrains? 

The rule mentioned above can be overlooked in some ways.

The terrain you are going to climb will dictate the type of axe to be used. If you use a wring axe, it will affect your balance and give you a hard time.

1) Moderate Terrain 

For instance, if you are going to moderate terrains such as Mt. rainier cleaver route, you have to choose a classic straight shafted axe. The shaft shape should also support you as a walking stick. 

On the other hand, the angle of the pick and the longer shaft combinations will provide good leverage, should self-arrest be needed.

How to Match Ice Axes with Different Terrains

Besides, the axe must be lightweight on a glacial trip and feature both a steel pick and an adze for cutting through snow and building anchors. 

When it comes to sizes, the axe has to be reasonably long. The spike should reach your ankles if you grab it by the head or between the pick and the adze. That way, it enables the spike to contact the ice without the need to bend your back.

2) Steep Terrain 

For steeper terrains, a hybrid-style axe will suffice. The axe you choose should feature a slight bend and a hand resting place. 

This way, it becomes adaptable to changing terrains and slope angles within the climbing route. Also, the axe should feature a more drooped pick angle and shape. It’s the only way to account for a better swing into the ice while giving you the ability to switch between the adze and the hammer. 

On size, a vertical terrain axe has to be short 50-59cm. A long axe will get longer when you climb steeper terrain, hence the risk of catching on the rock’s surfaces and the ropes. 

3)  Steeper to vertical terrains 

When climbing particularly steep or vertically structured terrain, two axes are usually required. For a genuinely vertical ice terrain, you may want to use a hybrid axe along with other ice climbing gear. 

Ice tools have a longer drooped pick, a curved shaft, and a finger resting point instead of composite axes with only a hand rest.

How Do You Size an Ice Axe? 

In general, while buying an ice tool, you’ll be more concerned with the device’s functionality than with the size of the shafts.

There are a couple of different attachments for distinct functions. But their use shall depend on your designated route. They start from head attachments, such as an adze or hammer, to the varieties of shaft angles and grips. 

Ice axes have a lot of features and may solve extremely particular climbing issues. It doesn’t matter what mountain peak you aim for or what route you are taking; an ice axe can handle it all. 

ow Do You Size an Ice Axe

Why Should You Use a Shorter Ice Axe? 

Most folks select a shorter axe because they want to cut off unnecessary weight. Should you be climbing on challenging terrain or a route with limited use of the ice axe, you will have to use shorter axes. -10 cm from the normal length will suffice. 

However, if you purchase a smaller axe below 55 cm, the spike will be perilously close to your critical body parts in case of a leaf arrest.

Climbers use ice climbing axes to breach ice walls, and they must swing their axes monotonously. Shorter axes are therefore best suited for such an environment. 

How to Choose an Ice Axe Questions and Answers

Do you need a longer Ice Axe? 

Suppose you are going to use an axe primarily to create ice anchor points, explore for overhangs and fissures, or traverse on small angled snowy mountains. In that case, you may want to consider purchasing a somewhat lengthier and larger axe. 

However, a lengthier axe might be awkwardly useful during self-arrest since the spike may get stuck in the snow and topple your axe. And in as much as a long axe may come in handy, only use an axe that your height can handle.

Which materials are used for ice axes? 

To give higher durability, ice axes are constructed of steel alloys. As for the shaft, the ones made of steel are more robust but with extra weight.

Nevertheless, if you’re starting and haven’t yet mastered your swing, the extra weight of an ice tool can be beneficial for penetrating hard ice.

On the other hand, lightweight shafts, which are aluminum made, are ideal for winter sports like ski climbing, glacier travel, and regular winter hiking, where being as light as possible is an important consideration.

Carbon composite shafts are used in more specialized ice axes and other ice equipment.

The material makes them extraordinarily light and versatile, but that comes with additional cost. Ice, steel, or aluminum tools are generally the best choices unless you want to cut weight on your trip. 

How Dangerous Is Ice Climbing

Is a curved pick necessary for an ice axe? 

Pick curves are classified into three varieties: classical, reversed, or neutral. A bulk of ice axes and devices, however, utilize either a traditional or reversed curved pick. Besides, many climbing axes typically feature a classical curve. 

The classical curve is good for self-arrest and steeper ice structures. A classic curve is safer when compared to a neutral curve as it will allow you to ascend safely.

The main disadvantage of a classical curve is their difficulty cleaning and pulling from the ice when they get stuck. Picks with a reverse curve are considerably simpler to extract from the ice, often known as a reversed positive. As a result, nearly all professional ice tools employ reverse curve selections.

The Adze vs. Hammer, which one do I need? 

Climbing axes generally have an adze and may be used for a variety of tasks such as step chopping, excavating snow anchoring, cutting a tent foundation, or excavating a snow tunnel. In self-arrest, the broad crossbow protrusion also serves as a superb grip surface.

Nevertheless, while climbing slippery ice or blended routes, the use of an adze is far less necessary. Alternatively, some ice tools include a hammer for pounding on ledges. 

Several climbers prefer a piece of adze equipment and one hammering gear, although you can have whatever combination you wish. Because most ice axes feature detachable heads, you may swap out the adze and hammer when needed, cleaning oven dismantle them entirely to save weight.

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About the author 

Brad

Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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