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Best Ice Axe: Piolet d’Or In Your Backpack

Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

If you’re planning a mountaineering trip or a ski trip, or if you just need a piolet for snow walking, you have to scour the market for the best ice axe available. And that’s why we’re here for. Choosing one isn’t a walk in the park, there are a number of characteristics you have to take into account.

That’s why we’ll start with an advice section regarding how to choose a reliable product. After that, we’ll give you our take on eight different products with extremely distinct features, so you can compare them and make an informed decision.

Product NameMaterials UsedShaftCEN RatingBuilt-in leashPrice
Black Diamond Raven MountaineeringAluminum and stainless steelStraightCEN-BNoCheck price on Amazon
Petzl Summit EvoAluminum and stainless steelCurvedCEN-BNoCheck price on Amazon
CAMP USA NeveChromoly steelStraightCEN-BYesCheck price on Amazon
Grivel G1 PlusHot-forged steelSlightly curvedCEN-BYesCheck price on Amazon
Petzl SummitHot-forged steelCurvedCEN-BNoCheck price on Amazon
GRIVEL Air Tech EvolutionHot-forged steel and Chromoly steelSlightly curvedCEN-TYesCheck price on Amazon
Black Diamond RavenAircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steelStraightCEN-BNoCheck price on Amazon
Camp USA Corsa NanotechAluminumSlightly curvedCEN-BNoCheck price on Amazon

Things To Consider Before Buying

The things you’ll have to take into account regard the design of the piolet, as well as your purposes. So consider the:

Adze

The adze is located on the head, and you should be able to use that when it comes to general mountaineering. Look out for a smaller adze, that means your piolet is better intended for ski mountaineering or climbing on steeper, icier grounds.

Ice Axe adze

That’s because the adze is a sort of shovel that can be employed to cut steps or making a tent platform, which most people don’t need for technical mountaineering.

Carabiner Hole

This is also located on the head, and even if all axes have it, you should look for a model that’s easy to clip. Also, make sure it supports different sort of carabiners in case you need to buy new ones.

Curvature Angle

If you’re looking at a bigger angle, of about 70°, that means your piolet can be better used for mountaineering. A smaller,  55° angle, shows you’re looking at a technical tool.

Shaft

The shafts are made from different materials. Carbon fiber is the lightest material on the market, and also the strongest and most expensive. A steel shaft is strong and cheap, but it’s really heavy. The usual choice is the aluminum shaft, which is in the middle on all three features.

aluminium ice axe

You’ll also have to choose between a straight and curved shaft. The straight ones are better for anchoring and self-belaying, which are things you’ll do in general mountaineering. Curved shafts are better for penetrating through the ice, which is why they’re better for ski mountaineering or ice climbing.

Length

You can choose the right length by considering how tall you are. So in a normal, upright position, with your hands by your sides, the spike should reach the ground, but not rest on it.

Plus, shorter axes are for technical mountaineering because they offer a lot of penetration force. Longer piolets are better for snow walking on less steep terrain but don’t choose one that’s too long for you. That will decrease the self-arresting performance and make it less safe.

Weight

If you’re looking for something to assist you on an inclined terrain and in technical activities where you need to climb up pretty fast, get a light piolet. These are great for ski mountaineering, and they’re generally made from aluminum.

ice axe in the snow

If you’re getting a heavier, stainless steel axe, you’ll probably be using that for general mountaineering and snow walking purposes. This sort of axe is really long-lasting, and you can even use them for mountain rescuing.

CEN Rating

There are two ratings, each indicating what the piolet does. The CEN-B means it’s a basic axe that’s used for general mountaineering. It’s a light and conveniently priced piolet, that can’t withstand huge impacts though.

The CEN-T regards axes that are specifically made for technical mountaineering. So while they are better durability-wise, they’re also heavier and cost quite a bit more than the basic option.

With all that in mind, let’s see which are the highest quality products to choose from.

Best Products On Today’s Market

The items we love most are:

Black Diamond Raven Mountaineering

Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

Price: Approximately $80

Weight: 1 pound

Dimensions: 1 x 11 x 26 inches

Specific features: Aluminum shaft; investment-cast head made from stainless steel; large carabiner hole; self-arresting teeth and curve; CEN-B certification; Envy Green color

Best use: ice climbing

The Black Diamond Raven Mountaineering is a well-crafted piolet that’s perfect for ice climbing. The shaft is really resistant since it’s manufactured from aircraft-grade aluminum, which also accounts for its low weight. The head is investment-cast, and it’s made from stainless steel. This is another reliable material, especially since you’ll be using it for climbing.

We also like that the head is one-piece, so the chances of it getting unscrewed are minimal. Plus, you can add a carabiner there, and the hole for that is large enough not to cause you any trouble when time is of the essence.

Everything about this product screams safety, including its teeth and curve. These are manufactured specifically for a safe self-arresting, so it won’t fall out of your hands. All these features make it really trustworthy for basic mountaineering, which is why it has a CEN-B certification too.

The one possible downside of this item is its weight. 15 ounces isn’t the heaviest on the market, but it’s not the lowest either. So even if it has an ergonomic grip, it might still become a bit wearisome to use for longer. Also, it only comes in one color pattern, Envy Green, so you can’t choose another design if you don’t like this one.

PROS:

  • Reliable.
  • Safe.
  • Large carabiner hole.

CONS:

  • Could be lighter.
  • One color option.

Related: If you’re ice climbing, consider getting this Black Diamond Neve Strap. They’re very light and sturdy because they’re also made from aluminum, and the spring in the center is made from steel. The strap on these crampons is quite soft, so you can use if comfortably for both trekking and trail running.

Check the price on Amazon

Petzl Summit Evo Axe

Petzl Summit Evo Axe 

Price: Approximately $180

Weight: 1.8 pounds

Dimensions: 21 x 10 x 2 inches

Specific features: Heavier head; hydroformed handle; 7075 aluminum shaft; steel head; thin steel pick; strong teeth; steel adze

Best use: classic mountaineering

The Petzl Summit Evo Axe is more than twice as expensive as the Black Diamond ice axe, and it’s heavier too. However, all this weight can be useful since a lot of it is positioned in the head area, which gives you more anchoring power. The handle is quite remarkable too since it’s hydroformed so you’ll get a good grip near the curve portion.

This technical design can be noticed near the top of the 7075 aluminum shaft that’s also curved, so you’ll get good clearance during your climb. On the other hand, the lower part of this piolet isn’t curved which means you can be more efficient when navigating through bigger amounts of snow.

The head is made of steel, just like the previous product, to make sure you’re getting the best anchoring power. The pick is made from hot-forged steel too, and it’s very thin, reaching only 3 mm.

However, you can rest assured that it’s durable enough and that it can be used for anchoring without any problems, whether in snow or on ice because its middle is thicker and it has strong teeth. These teeth are especially useful in piolet-ramp mode.

The spike is made from stainless steel, which is amazing for getting by when there’s hard snow or when you’re using the piolet-cane mode. The adze is made from steel too, and you’re getting a reliable support surface thanks to that. Plus it’s tilted, so you can stick the ax easily is snow when you’re using the piolet-cane.

PROS:

  • High anchoring power.
  • Thicker pick in the middle.
  • Can be used in piolet-ramp and piolet-cane

CONS:

  • More expensive.
  • Heavier
  • One color option.

Related: Get the Petzl Pick and Spike Protection that can be used on this ice axe to protect it better. Their orange color renders them impossible to get lost, and they fit on different Petzl-made piolets.  They’re amazing for keeping your other equipment safe from all sorts of punctures, and it’s a great addition for storing purposes.

Check the price on Amazon

CAMP USA Neve Ice Axe

Camp USA Neve Axe

Price: Approximately $80

Weight: 0.93 pounds

Dimensions: 22.44 – 31.49 inches

Specific features: Forged Chromoly steel pick; curved forged steel adze; steel spike; two carabiner holes; 6082-T6 aluminum shaft; CC4U indicator; Tour Shaft sliding leash

Best use: Mountaineering

The CAMP USA Neve Ice Axe costs less than the Petzel piolet, and it’s a reliable piece of equipment too. That’s because it’s manufactured from sturdy materials: both the pick and the adze are made from forged Chromoly steel, while the spike is steel too. That accounts for good resistance to impacts and a 15 ounces weight.

We love that the adze is curved because that will give you an ergonomic grip for additional comfort as well as extra efficiency when chopping. And since we’re talking about efficiency and user experience, you should know this axe has carabiner holes in two places: both at the head and on the spike.

This spike can be used for smooth plunging without any issues, and this strength is also courtesy of the 6082-T6 aluminum shaft.

And you don’t have to be worried that the pick will become too dull for you, thanks to the CC4U indicator that tells you when it’s become unsafe to use it. There’s also a Tour Shaft sliding leash for safety purposes, which is another great feat because you can easily remove it and replace it with your harness.

The only downside apart from the medium-weight that can become wearisome for longer uses is the fact that the shaft is white. That makes it easy to lose in the snow, therefore not the most inspired choice.

PROS:

  • Reliable.
  • Indicates dulling.
  • Removable leash.

CONS:

  • Medium weight.
  • White shaft.

Related: There are three sizes to choose from 57, 65 and 80 cm, each with different advantages. The longer the shaft is, the bigger the penetration force, but a smaller shaft can be more easily gripped and used for snow.

Check the price on Amazon

Grivel G1 Plus Axe

Grivel G1 Plus Axe

Price: Approximately $100

Weight: 0.7 pounds

Dimensions: 28 x 12 x 3 inches

Specific features: Hot-forged steel head; one-piece head; rubber grip; ergonomic design

Best use: Snow walking

The Grivel G1 Plus Axe isn’t white like the previous item, which is a definite plus. In fact, its shaft it has a classical, neutral gray color that looks quite stylish. The whole design is quite ergonomic, and it has the lowest weight from all the products we’ve reviewed so far. That makes it perfect for snow walking or ski touring hours at a time.

We love the rubber grip too because it’s really comfortable. And the piolet is quite strong since the blade, the adze and the spike are all made from hot-forged steel. We would have liked to see a curved shaft for a more aggressive pick, so this isn’t made for extremely steeper climbs. It can be safely used for descending steeper terrains though.

We like the 45° angle on the spike, as that means it has some penetration force when snow walking. Besides the small adze is a plus for this, as well as for storing purposes.

We like that it’s great safety-wise thanks to its proficient self-arresting, plus it’s CEN-B certified which means you can use it as an improvised anchor for medium weight loads.

There’s a hole in its head for adding a carabiner, but that’s not so easy to clip and it can’t be used with every carabiner on the market. Regardless, there’s an included, removable leash, which is another plus.

PROS:

  • Ergonomic.
  • Strong.
  • Great self-arrest.

CONS:

  • Not so aggressive.
  • Carabiner hole doesn’t clip well.

Related: The Grivel G1 Plus Axe comes in three different sizes: 58, 66 and 74 cm for different purposes and strength levels.

Check the price on Amazon

Petzl Summit Ice Axe

Petzl Summit Ice Axe 

Price: Approximately $180

Weight: 0.84 pounds

Dimensions: 20.47, 23.22 or 25.98 inches

Specific features: Hot-forged steel pick; curved pick; 7075 aluminum shaft; rubber grip; carabiner hole at the head; CEN-B certified

Best use: General mountaineering

The Petzl Summit Ice Axe is very smooth and high-performing when it comes to self-arresting, so that’s a definite benefit safety-wise. We like that the pick is made from hot forged steel, and it gradually becomes wider from the tip to the shaft, which makes it so great for self-arresting purposes.

\It’s also what renders it really efficient on soft snow. When it comes to its curved pick, you’ll remember that’s the same as with the Summit Evo we reviewed. That accounts for extra leverage, explaining its proficient self-arresting too.

The pick is sturdy and can go through harder snow really well, becoming an effective, yet smooth tool. The spike and shallow ripples make for a food grip when you’re climbing on a steeper terrain and using the pilot-traction mode.

We like how well it can be used on ice and snow thanks to its natural swing and comfortable curved shaft. That accounts for your hands not getting wet and cold in the snow. Plus, the 7075 aluminum shaft is user-friendly, with an ergonomic rubber grip that helps with the aggressive techniques.

The CEN-B certification makes it very reliable as a deadman, and the carabiner hole at the head can fit different carabiners, unlike the Grivel piolet.

PROS:

  • Ergonomic.
  • Really sturdy,
  • Used for aggressive techniques.
  • Amazing self-arrest.

CONS:

  • Expensive.
  • Not so comfortable in self-arrest mode.
  • No leash included.

Related: Get this Petzl Linkin Leash that comes in really handy when you’re snow climbing or mountaineering. Leashes are great helpers when it comes to arresting falls, maintaining a good grip when climbing up and if you happen to accidentally let go of your axe.

Check the price on Amazon

GRIVEL Air Tech Evolution

Grivel Air Tech Evolution Ice Axe

Price: Approximately $200

Weight: 1.12 pounds

Dimensions: 18.89, 20.86, 22.83 or 25.98 inches

Specific features: Hot-forged steel head; T-rated; curved shaft; carabiner hole on head; Chromoly steel shaft; shovel type

Best use: Skiing

The GRIVEL Air Tech Evolution  is great for activities that range from general mountaineering to skiing. We love that the head is made from hot-forged steel, rendering it really resistant. Plus it’s also thinner than other similar products, which makes it great for using on the ice.

The shaft is T-rated and can withstand a weight of up to 400kg, making it the most resistant and reliable piolet from all the axes we reviewed so far. There’s a slight curve on the shaft under the head, so you can use it confidingly on a steeper terrain with more clearance. That also accounts for a more efficient self-arrest, even on harder ice.

If you want to add a carabiner, there’s a specially designed hole for that on the head. The spikes are amazing for vertical anchoring, but it comes at the price of comfort. Also, it’s on the heavy side, especially for non-modular piolets.

PROS:

  • Efficient self-arresting.
  • High performance on the ice.
  • Reliable on steeper terrain.

CONS:

  • Expensive.
  • Heavy.
  • Not the most comfortable.

Related: Get this Grivel Mega HMS Twin Gate Carabiner that’s really secure. It can be clipped easily and fast, and because it’s so large and shaped like a pear, you can use it for anchoring, rappelling or for belaying. It’s amazing for use with both single or double ropes, so that’s a definite plus.

Check the price on Amazon

Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe

Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe

Price: Approximately $80

Weight: 0.93 pounds

Dimensions: 21.65 – 35.43 inches

Specific features: Stainless steel head; one piece head; carabiner hole; stainless steel spike; slightly curved aluminum shaft

Best use: Snow walking

The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe comes in a plethora of sizes from 55 cm to 90 cm, so that’s really great because you can choose the length of the shaft that’s most convenient for you. That also renders it really good for various activities, starting with general mountaineering, ice climbing or snow walking.

Plus, the shaft will surely hold because it’s manufactured from aircraft-grade aluminum. Apart from its sturdiness, this also explains the medium 15 ounces weight. The head is made from stainless steel, so it’s reliable and easy to use. It’s investment-cast, just like the other Black Diamond piolet we’ve reviewed earlier.

And it’s one-piece too, for a safer use, especially when you want to aggressively penetrate ice or harder snow. There’s a pretty accommodating hole on this head where you can insert a carabiner. The good news is you can use different sizes or types of carabiners, which clip on readily.

We like that the spike is made from stainless steel too and that there’s a slight curve on the pick, for faster and safer self-arresting. The teeth are designed to facilitate this too, so you can use the piolet on steeper terrains. Plus, you can use it as both an anchor or a simple walking stick.

The downside is that this is a basic sort of piolet, which explains its reduced price. It’s not that recommended for beginners because it lacks in comfort. There aren’t any grips or straps on it, so you might find it difficult to use if you’re new to snow walking.

PROS:

  • Lots of sizes.
  • Reliable.
  • Good self-arrest.
  • Inexpensive.

CONS:

  • Basic.
  • No grips.
  • No straps.
  • Not for beginners.

Related: Get the Black Diamond Slider Leash that can be used with any ice axe on the market, including this one.

Check the price on Amazon

Camp USA Corsa Nanotech

Camp USA Corsa Nanotech

Price: Approximately $150

Weight: 0.55 pounds

Dimensions: 20 x 9 x 4 inches

Specific features: Curved shaft; steel spike and picks; nylon spike plug; small aluminum adze; CEN-B rated

Best use: Ski mountaineering

The Camp USA Corsa Nanotech  weighs just around 8 ounces, rendering it the lightest piolet from all the items we’ve reviewed so far. In fact, the official description states it’s the second lightest ever made, so that’s a plus for people who are interested in acquiring an axe that weighs very little.

That makes it great for activities like ski mountaineering and altitude climbing when you need an efficient, yet comfortable tool, so your hands won’t get tired. We like that the shaft is a bit curved near the head because it’s great for self-arresting purposes, although not extremely comfy in this position.

You can, therefore, rely on a sturdy piece of equipment that can withstand big weights and can securely hold you until you decide your next step. In fact, it’s so reliable that you can use it as an anchor in different situations, ranging from traversing cornices to glacier rescue.

The materials used are top notch, both of a resistance and a low weight point of view. The picks and spike are made from a registered sort of steel, called Sandvik Nanoflex®, explaining an increased price in comparison to other steel-made piolets. This material is amazing when it comes to durability and penetrating the ice.

Plus, there’s a spike plug made from nylon that doesn’t let ice get into the shaft. The downsides relate to the adze performance. There’s no way you can use it for step chopping, either in firm snow or on the ice.

And if you want to use it for platform hacking for your tent, you’re out of luck too. That’s because it’s really small and it’s made from aluminum, so it’s not that reliable and it can get damaged really fast.

PROS:

  • Super light.
  • Great self-arrest.
  • Sturdy.

CONS:

  • Uncomfortable in self-arrest,
  • Can’t use for platform hacking.
  • Can’t use for step chopping.

Related: Get this Camp USA Ice Axe Head Protector that’s made from rubber and that’s great for protecting your other gear from the sharp tip of the Nanotech ice axe. And it comes with a lifetime warranty, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Check the price on Amazon

The piolet of your dreams

After reading all these reviews, you can see the different types of axes the market has to offer you. Some have longer shafts, other are smaller. Some are great for self-arresting purposes, while others are better intended for more aggressive climbing.

mountaineering ice gear

Some axes have a really comfortable grip and don’t get your hands tired at all, even if they weigh more, while others offer a really low weight, to begin with. Some aren’t that comfy when using the self-arrest option as opposed to others because they’re intended for climbing, not for going downhill.

And lastly, you can use some of these axes for ski mountaineering, while others can’t perform on steeper terrain and just work for snow walking.

In the end, it’s all up to you. So consider the pros and cons of each model because there’s no right piolet for everyone. And let us know which model you ended up with, the comments are right here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

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