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Dude, I am really not an authority in the in the slightest, I just give long answers as it takes a while to put into text what I would otherwise say verbally \:\)


The key determinant is what you want to use it for. I am assuming you aren’t talking ice climbing, just general alpinism?


Factors to consider from what I have read in books:


Shaft length

- ease of walking and as a balance aid

- functionality in self arrest

- ease of technical ice climbing


Shape of the pick point (positive clearance or negative clearance)

wikipedia on Self Arrest: “The tip of pick of the ice axe forms a short blade. When there is positive clearance the downhill point of this blade will engage the ice first when the axe is in arrest position. With negative clearance the uphill point of the blade with engage first. On hard ice a negative clearance axe will skate across the surface when attempting arrest, resulting in very little braking force. This has often resulted in very serious injury and death. A positive clearance point will dig in aggressively requiring skill to avoid too much braking force but giving the climber his best chance to survive”



Light is good for energy conservation, but a bit of substance in your hands is nice when you want to tackle something tough. There are very light ones and also more substantial ones, that are however not heavy.


Do you want a rubber grip?

- Some books say no. A smooth shaft is much easier to nail into very hard snow for a belay.


It should have a good hole in the head for clipping a carabineer for belaying.


Some forums have heated debates on this topic. The awesome textbook of mountaineering states the situation from their perspective clearly, I will check it when I get home. Some people don’t agree with that authority. Either way, this is a true textbook for mountaineering. If you plan to need an ice axe then you would enjoy owning this impressive text book. That is formed form decades of revised editions and many peoples opinion, not just one author.




For the limited mountaineering that I have done I have formed the following opinions:


- I am 172cm tall and like a 60 or 65cm axe for my general walking and mountaineering on moderately difficult terrain (very hard snow and some ice to 50 degrees, but not for hours on end). A 30-40cm axe would be nice for steep pitches of more technical climbing, but I don’t really do that. An axe that short would give me a sore back after a long day of alpine snow and ice trekking.


- I like a rubber grip when my hands are cold and tired. It is easier to hold and hammer the pick home as it is grippier and also makes the shaft thicker. Narrower super light smooth shafts are hard for me to hold with numb fingers.


- weight: I have a light axe for its size, but there are heaps that are noticeably lighter. I don’t mind a little bit of substance rather than a super light axe. Some just feel so light that I swear they would bounce of the snow rather than penetrate.


- I think the default pick shape is positive clearance.


The shaft should also be strong and not bend or buckle when it is buried for a belay. I don’t know anything about what is strong and what is not in terms of materials used.


For what its worth, I have this, but only bought it in mid spring after borrowing other people’s axe (or not using one at all). The Grivel site has a nice synoptic table of axes with different features listed.


Grivel Airtech


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It is simple, but hard to express in words so I found a picture.


This axe has positive clearance. If you reverse the shape of this pick point, that is, if the upper edge of the axe pick were to protrude further than the under side edge then it would have negative clearance. Does that help?


I don't actually know anything about this issue, I just often read about it when attributes of different axe designs are discussed so I mentioned it in this thread.


picture from climber.org


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There is too much that I could poke at in this thread, so I'll just resist the urge...


Ah **** it!


Shaft Length

Shape of Point




And so much could be done with FTs posting there re all the bending over...

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As for length

Some people like it long while others like it short

I know a guy that likes a longer shaft as it is easier on the back when walking. I'm not talking really long though. Just the longest size you can handle

While some like a short shaft as it doesn't get caught on things when in the thick bush




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haha. it's not how big your ice axe is, it's how well you can stab it in and out of the snow.


my yet-to-be-used HB Snowstorm ice axe

pole basket for scale:


it's 70cm and light as a feather. but i'm only 66kg/145lbs., so i don't want that much weight. this ice axe mine weighs 19oz. i've got too much other kuso to carry in my pack.

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Mountaineering and climbing for riding can lead people to choose different routes.


The link above is for mountaineering.


Seriously, you'll be sold the first time you use a good ice axe because standing on a slippery slope without an ice axe is just silly.


I am 175 cm and my axe is a 65 cm Black Diamond Raven Pro.






We feel in love when we climber Fuji san on May 5th - honey, I'll hold you forever and never give you up no matter what.



The name axe is misliading because it refers to the pre-crampon practice of using the adze to cut steps.


Know how to self-arrest - and know how to snow walk, kick steps and self-belay so you don't slip!

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