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Gear Guy

Are pole ends a safe alternative to an ice ax?

My primary winter sport here in the Northeast is snowshoeing in the Adirondacks and White Mountains. I carry a 34-ounce ice ax and 36-ounce crampons for insurance, but I'm thinking of replacing them with lighter versions. What's your take on the durability of light alloy crampons and featherweight axes? Any brand recommendations? Also, can I use Black Diond's Whippet pole ends in place of an ax for my stated use, and would one do the job? Mark Ellington, Connecticut

A: I think we can reduce your hardware load, Mark.

G10 Crampon

For crampons, I'd ditch the heavy stuff right now and go with something lighter. Not a "traction aid," but a true light crampon. An ideal model is Grivel's G10 ($98; These are ten-point crampons with relatively relaxed teeth angles and sharpness. They fit a wide variety of shoes, from trail runners to boots, go on easily, and offer enough grip for most moderate ice slopes. And, they're pretty light—about 26 ounces for a pair. As for a self-arrest device, I would favor an ice ax over pole ends because of the ax's heft and versatility. Certainly, a lightweight ice ax is more than adequate for most people. You don't even necessarily sacrifice strength. Case in point: Grivel's Air Tech Racing Axe ($119), which is rugged enough for serious alpine use but weighs a mere 14 ounces, or about half your current model. Black Diamond's Raven Pro ($100; weighs even less—about 13 ounces (in the 60-centimeter length).

Black Diamond's Whippet is an interesting gadget. It's basically an ice head that fits to the handle of Black Diamond trekking poles. I'm sure it works as advertised, but I should think it would take some practice to learn to self-arrest with a long trekking pole. I'd stick with one if you do favor this option. In case of a slip, having two pointy things flailing around may cause more problems than it solves. Moreover, the cost is $78 for one of these heads, and it weds you to BD poles—not necessarily a bad thing, but it does limit your options.

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Lead Photo: courtesy, Grivel