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Best Ice Axes and Tools for Winter Climbing and Mountaineering

Whether you’re ice climbing or mountaineering, having the best tools for the job is necessary for your success and safety.

ice tools
Staff, Courtesy of Petzl

Ready to up your winter game? It’s time to get into ice climbing and mountaineering! For a unique and challenging adventure, ice climbing is the way to go. The thunk of an ice-pick as it cuts into the crystalline ice or plunging the spike of a mountaineering axe through packed snow while crossing snow and ice fields are satisfying and require specialized tools. Some of the tools already in your gear closet may transition over, like a climbing harness and dry rope or insulated boots, for instance. Others are more specific to the job, like crampons and ice axes, these are purpose-made for taking your adventures to new, extreme levels and different axes are designed for different functions.

What to Consider

Though it might seem confusing to some, ice tools and ice axes are both technically axes used for cold weather adventures. Beyond that, there are a lot of differences.

What to Look for in an Ice Axe

What’s commonly considered an ice axe is actually a mountaineering axe. It usually has a longer shaft and a spike on the bottom that’s used for plunging the tool into snow and ice to give you extra purchase while traversing difficult snow and ice terrains. The fixed head of the axe features a pick and a horizontal adze. These are used for climbing, digging snow anchors and glissading. Mountaineering axes are available in a variety of lengths (ideally the tip of the spike is at or just above your ankle when held at your side) and are generally used on the high side of a slope when mountaineering. They’re typically not meant to sustain your full weight while climbing more vertical surfaces, like a waterfall.

What to Look for in an Ice Tool

Ice tools are designed for more rigorous abuse and are used in pairs. They’re shorter, often more curved, the head of the shaft is reinforced, and the pick is made of stiffer, stronger steel. It’s designed to repeatedly be swung into ice and won’t be damaged when it strikes rock or other materials as well. They’re also designed to handle your bodyweight hanging from them, even when placed horizontally where a significant amount of torque is placed on both the head and shaft and could shatter a lesser axe. Some are designed for mixed climbing (rock and ice climbing), while others are designed more specifically for ice climbing.

Perhaps another way to think of the differences between the two types of axes is many ice tools have heads where the picks can be replaced and other items like hammers and adzes can be added to one side of the tool head, hence they are more multifunctional tools than mountaineering axes. You can also easily tell the difference between the two in terms of price. Decent mountaineering axes are available for under $100 while most ice tools cost more than $200—each.

How We Selected

Axes were chosen for their specific use and choices were based on personal experience, expert reviews and customer reviews. As both mountaineering and ice climbing are still more niche than many other outdoor activities having intimate knowledge of axes and their proper use is paramount. We looked at and selected products from leading brands, among them Black Diamond, CAMP US, Cassin, Grivel, Petzl that are widely used in their respective fields. We evaluated pick styles and the availability of additional options. In mountaineering axes this is chiefly around available shaft sizes. In ice tools, this includes the ability to change the handholds, pick heads and the ability to add hammers, adzes or weights to the head to adapt the tools to the users’ skills and needs.

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Technical Mountaineering Axe
Petzl Summit Evo Ice Axe

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 52 cm/400 g, 59 cm/420 g, 66 cm/450 g
  • Head type: Stainless steel fixed head, pick with adze

The Petzl Summit Evo is a versatile mountaineering axe for alpine climbing. Though designed primarily for technical mountaineering it also shines in hiking and glacial travel. 

The aluminum shaft is slightly angled making it easier to swing or place the pick of the fixed steel head over any rock or ice bulges when climbing gullies, while the spike easily penetrates ice-crusted snow while traversing snow and ice fields. The rubberized grip at the base of the shaft makes it easy to grasp with gloves of all sizes. 

Available in three lengths, the Summit Evo is an ideal, somewhat aggressive mountaineering axe.

Classic Mountaineering Axe
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe — Anodized Light Gray
Black Diamond

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 55 cm/428 g, 60 cm/445 g, 65 cm/462 g, 70 cm/478 g, 75 cm/495 g, 80 cm/512 g, 90 cm/528 g
  • Head type: Stainless steel fixed head, pick with adze

If you’re looking for a classic mountaineering axe, look no further than the Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe. Available in seven shaft lengths, the Raven can accommodate shorter folks and kids to those upwards of 7 feet tall. 

The Raven’s design is classic, reminiscent of the axes that grace the doors of every REI across the country, but upgraded with an aluminum shaft to reduce weight and increase durability. The Raven’s fixed head is stainless steel and its wider middle easily accommodates a gloved hand. 

Designed for mountaineering, glacial travel and alpine trekking, the Raven isn’t designed as a technical mountaineering axe for steep climbs. 

The Lightest Rated Ice Axe
CAMP USA Corsa Race

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 50 cm/185 g
  • Head type: Fixed aluminum

This one’s for the gram counters. CAMP claims the Corsa Race is the lightest-rated ice axe out there. With a shaft just 50 centimeters long, it’s a shorter ice axe designed with ski mountaineering in mind. To reduce weight and increase grip CAMP machined holes in the shaft’s grip. 

CAMP also turned to 7075 aluminum for the pick material rather than steel. That means the pick and adzes aren’t as durable and don’t carry the same type of head weight and swinging weight that other mountaineering axes do. Still, it was an ISPO Gold Award Winner in 2020.

A Packable Ice Axe
Petzl Ride

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 45 cm/240 g
  • Head type: Stainless steel fixed head, pick with adze

This short, technical ice axe is ideal for ski mountaineering and alpine rock climbing adventures where stowing it inside a backpack rather than the outside can help keep it from snagging on rocks, trees, and other things when climbing couloirs and steep gullies. This is among the lightest ice axes and the lightest with a steel head and adze.

The Ride is compatible with Petzl’s adjustable Trigrest, which improves the grip and allows users to move the hand rest when not needed. The spike of the Ride is part of the aluminum shaft, rather than a steel spike.

Affordable Technical Ice Axe
Trango Raptor

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 49 cm/575 g
  • Head type: Interchangeable steel pick, accessories available

It might sound silly to call a $174 tool inexpensive—especially considering you need two, but the Trango Raptor punches above its weight and is the least expensive technical ice axe on our list. This ice tool is at home on steep ice climbs and can handle some moderate mixed climbing. 

The Raptor comes with removable pick weights and users can add adzes or hammers to the back of the tools for cleaning snow and debris, building a belay station or hammering in pitons or starting ice screws and pro. The handle has two rubberized grips for multiple hand positions and is thinner than many other ice tools, making it ideal for smaller hands.

A Customizable Pure Ice Tool
CAMP USA Cassin X-All

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 50 cm/575 g
  • Head type: Interchangeable steel pick, accessories available

The Cassin X-All is a capable ice climbing tool that cuts easily into pure ice and excels at low-angle ice. It has an adjustable grip and pommels allowing for multiple hand sizes and customization. The grip allows climbers to match or exchange hands, but doesn’t have a full double grip as other ice tools designed for mixed climbing do. Climbers can use the X-All without hammers or adzes or add them as needed.

A High-End Tool for All-Day Use
Black Diamond Reactor
Black Diamond

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 50 cm/610 g
  • Head type: Interchangeable steel pick, accessories available

Another fantastic all-ice tool, the Black Diamond Reactor comes with the Black Diamond Natural Ice Pick, but climbers can change it out for a number of other picks for ice and mixed climbing as well as alpine endeavors. They can also add hammers and adzes as needed. The short shaft length and aggressive curve of the handle make it more ideal for ice climbing than alpine days. 

With a slightly shorter and thinner pick than some other options, it slices in with splitting off less chunks. The double handle is well offset and can adjust for multiple hand sizes and allows for matching hands while climbing steep ice.

For Mixed Climbing and Dry Tooling
Petzl Ergonomic

Key Specs

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 50 cm/635 g
  • Head type: Interchangeable steel pick, accessories available

The Ergonomic is Petzl’s most aggressive tool intended for difficult ice climbing and dry tooling. The company introduced the tool to replace the Ergo in 2018, the same year it revamped the Nomic. Like the Nomic it’s part of the Alpen Adapt group, allowing climbers to change pics, hammers and adzes out. 

It comes with Petzl’s thicker dry tooling pick for hooking and slotting on rock, as well as a hammer and pick weights. The double handle has an adjustable pinkie rest to allow for multiple hand sizes. The handle is more offset than on the Nomic and Reactor for dry tooling as well.

The Lightweight Carbon-Fiber Tool
Grivel Dark Machine

Key Specs 

  • Size(s)/Weight(s): 48 cm/480 g
  • Head type: Interchangeable steel pick, accessories available

This is the only actual ice tool on the list that’s made primarily out of carbon composite and carbon fiber—as such it’s also the most expensive tool on the list at $420. It results in a lighter tool that’s still well-balanced and cuts into ice easily. The lighter weight means you may have to swing the axe a little harder to sink it into ice, but the weight of the head helps offset the need to swing it too hard. 

The Dark Machine and its cousin, the Dark Machine X (intended for mixed climbing and dry tooling) have carbon fiber handles that climbers have to wrap with tape for extra grip or handle customization. The tools are in Grivel’s Vario line, which allows climbers to switch picks out for different conditions and add hammers and adzes as needed.

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