Close banner

Support Outside Online

Love Outside?

Help fund our award-winning journalism with a contribution today.

Contribute to Outside

How do I choose an ice axe?

I’ve done a small amount of mountaineering and have been trained on how to use an ice axe. But now I’m getting more into the sport and would like to buy my own equipment. How do I pick out an ice axe?

(Photo: Bork via Shutterstock)

The short answer is this: For all-around mountaineering, you choose the length of the ice axe simply by grasping its head (adze end) as if you were about to go for a hike with it, and hold it, relaxed, at your side. The pointy end should be about at your ankle. It isn t a walking stick you ll be using it mainly when ascending moderately steep, or steep, snow and ice, and you want it short enough so that you can reach up-slope and plant it without having to reach over your head to do so. Similarly, the correct length facilitates using the ice axe in self-arrest, or as a swing tool on steeper slopes, or when chopping hard snow and ice to create a tent or resting platform.

Black Diamond Raven ice axe

Raven ice axe

So that's a pretty easy decision. And, realistically, so is picking a specific model of axe. They need to have pointy ends and sturdy construction, otherwise, ice axes aren t especially techy pieces of gear. Black Diamond s Raven ($70; is a fine, all-purpose ice axe, with a strong but light aluminum shaft. REI s Brenva ($75; is worth a look. You know, the first item REI sold was an ice axe. They were $3.50 - big money in the 1930s. If you really intend to do some steep stuff, then Petzl's Cosmi tec ice axe ($140; has a curved shaft that gives a bit better clearance when swinging above your head. But really, that s probably more than you need.

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
Filed To: Ice ClimbingMountaineeringAxes
Lead Photo: Bork via Shutterstock