The ice axe is multipurpose tool which is used for climbing and as a safety when walking through and areas covered with snow, ice and rocks.
There are two types of ice axes: basic mountaineering and technical climbing. The basic mountaineering ice axes are designed to be used as a safety if you fall for “self-stopping”. The others are used to climb steep vertical routes on ice, rock or mixed terrain. The main components of the ice axe are: head, pick, adze, hammer, shaft and spike. Also there is a leash for securing the ice axe to the hand.
All the ice axes you use must be certified by UIAA (Union Internationale Associations d’Alpinisme) and the European Committee for Standardization.
How to choose your ice axe?
What is it made of? – The ice axes usually are made of steel alloy. The shaft is usually made of steel which is heavier but more durable, or of aluminium which is lighter. There are shafts which are made of carbon fibres and are very light but expensive.
Shaft design – Traditionally, the mountaineering ice axes are with straight shaft. Modern ice axes have a little curved shaft which allows better damping in the snow or ice.
Pick design – Classical or positive curvature allows safe use on a steep snowy slopes and fast “self stopping”. The negative curvature of the pick is better for technical climbing on an icy surface and allows better damping and makes it easier to pull it off the the hard ice.
Adze or hammer design – It is used for digging holes for stepping, making of anchors, breaking ice, “self stopping”. During technical climb the adze should be in shape of hammer so you can nail pitons.
Ice axe length – Ice axes are with length between 55cm to 75cm. First way to determine the length of the mountaineering ice axe is to grab the head and the spike should reach somewhere between the ground and the upper edge of the boot.
Another way is to grab the head of the ice axe, extend the hand in front of you with the spike pointing towards you, under your armpit.
If you are buying one…
- Snowy hill walking axes
- Between snowy hill walking and technical climbing axes
- Technical climbing axes
- Highly technical climb and dry tooling axes