Ice Axes - advice needed

I’m after an ice axe, and wondered if anyone could offer any suggestions/advice about which ones to get.

I have not done any winter mountaineering yet, so very very beginner level. I know a technical ice axe would deffo not be needed, but wondered if it was worth skipping a walking one and getting an alpine axe? Can alpine ones be easily used for for very low-level stuff?

I was looking at the Black Diamond Venoms, as they come in both adze and hammer versions. But if I got one now, and then wanted another later, I guess they would need to be the same make and length?

Any advice on axes very welcome!


You can definitely use a mountaineering axe for walking (I do), but it won’t give the support in crud snow as it’ll be a bit short. Get an axe (not hammer) and preferably one with a decent adze so you can cut a few steps if needed - make sure you have a leash.
No the hammer doesn’t have to be the same brand or same length, e.g. you could go slightly longer on the axe for now and then short with the hammer.
The venom is ok, but there should be similar, e g. maybe also look at the Grivel ghost evo

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Thank you! Loads of very helpful info there, definitely making the decision process much easier :grin:

Just going to add that I have the (older version) Venoms and have found them excellent for most things, but (as Dave points out) I wish I had bought the adze slightly longer as 50cm is rather short (i.e. largely useless) for a walking axe! As Needlesports website says 57cm axe and 50cm hammer would work well and the new Venoms come with a pommel too. Having modular heads is useful as you can switch to tech picks for steeper stuff but always bring the allen key with you as the picks can become loose if you bash 'em enough. Grivel Airtech Evo is a really nice axe too and available in multiple lengths (e.g. 58cm axe/53cm hammer).

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I’d personally start with a mountaineering axe (Petzl Sumit, BD Raven pro, Grivel Airtech Evo, …). They’ll be much more comfortable for plunging compared to a technical tool like the Venom/Quark, weight a lot less, be a lot longer and are considerably cheaper. For alpine stuff to ~AD/D, it will be a much better choice generally.

When (if) you want to transition to climbing vertical stuff in winter, you can get a pair of technical axes. But even when you do, you’ll probably not want to get rid of your walking axe, as for some things it will just be the better tool to take.

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Personally, i’d go for the in betweeny axes like grivel airtech or petz evo, and one that is not too long so that it can be used like a technical axe on steeper stuff. The straight handled entry level ones (e.g. BD raven or DMM cirque) are better for walking but significatly less useful when the slope gets steeper.

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All good stuff, will add the obvious that length of axe that suits partly depends on how tall you are… ohm and shorter hammers are far easy to use!

Mixing and matching is often fine, but check the axes are all T rated if using them for anything like torquing (yeah, it’s an ‘advanced’ technique, but gets used on low grade routes) or using as a belay. Walking axes are only the lesser B rating. I climbed grade IIIs and short pitches of tech 4 fairly happily with a curved handle Cirque paired with a shorter Raptor hammer. Was fine although was far far easier with pair of tech axes. I could of course have just got a pair of tech axes after the Cirque, but was skint.

Another option is going for a very light mountaineering adze so that you can use that for winter walking/grade 1 gullies, and still take it as a 3rd tool when you’ve some tech axes but have a decent walk in or just don’t know what you may do on a day. Lot easier to use in many situations than a tech tool

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@LIon the best ice / winter equipment to get early on is always borrowed. Until you’ve tried a few things and know what you want, don’t buy if you can avoid it - mistakes are too expensive. See if you can get something from a friend. A setup like @chizharward described is where I end up - ski touring axe + technical axes - I take the ski touring axe amost whenever I do something where I don’t need the technical so almost nothing else gets used. Sure there are plenty of people in the club who would have something to lend. There are even two of my old alpine axes out in London somewhere.

Thanks for all the advice everyone! I have been doing lots of research based on the recommendations, and think I’ve narrowed it down, though will deffo wait until I can go and hold one before settling!

Hoping very much for some Alps action this year, COVID passport permitting!