I’ve researched ice axes for several months before I committed to buying one. I didn’t want to be the beginner who had to learn from his mistakes on this occasion. So far it seems I’ve made the right choice.
Out of all the candidates, Black Diamond had the best ergonomics by far. When I hold my axe, it is most comfortable for me to wrap at least my pinkie and ring finger around the pick. With every other brand of piolet, the “proper” name for a mountaineering axe to not be confused with ice tools- it’s French, the shape of the heads were deeper with no smooth contour, making it difficult to wrap fingers around them. This is just the way I prefer to hold my axe, but some people may prefer the deeper shaped picks.
I bet it’s getting hard to not ask aloud, “What about the Raven Pro?” Well I compared them hand in hand in my local REI, and I noticed something I never read about in my many hours of research. Both the pick and the adze on the Raven Pro are smaller. By memory I’d say about 15-20% smaller. That is considerable. So does that mean it will take 15-20% more chops to cut out a step or a snow bollard? (A snow bollard is a teardrop shaped trench in which one places a rope around for use as an anchor) I am not exactly sure, but it is possible. It takes quite a long time to move snow with the adze anyhow. I do know that the Raven leaves nothing to be desired. I encourage a more experienced mountaineer to comment on this size difference.
- Pros- has longer pick and adze; feels more heavy duty, but this could just be an illusion with the heavier weight; it’s cheaper too
- Cons- heavier weight, pro or con, we’re talking 452 g compared to the Raven Pro at 392 g with both at 60cm in length. That is about 13% difference.
- Pro- Lighter weight
- Pro?- uses a 7075-T6 aluminum shaft instead of the 7075 aluminum that the Raven uses. This is based off REI’s website which could have just left out the T6 part when they wrote the description of the Raven. Regardless, one could guess that the differences are minimal.
- Pro-If you are worried about the pick and adze grabbing trees and brush on the way up, you might consider the head size difference, but I had first hand experience on a very lush and narrow goat trail straight up the mountain. I assure you that you will be too worried about the spike and shaft catching branches to even notice what the head of the axe is doing if you use a 75cm like I do.
Now that I’ve eliminated the other candidates, I can tell you about the other features and qualities of the Raven that push it farther ahead. An all stainless steel head and spike. This makes a difference in a world of snow and ice. Some of the competition may boast that they use chromoly steel that doesn’t rust, but from coming from the gun world, I know that stainless steel is always better than any blend of chromoly a company can come up with when it comes to firearm barrels. Don’t settle for less than stainless steel when it comes to this. Even if the Raven is not for you, make sure you get one with a stainless head and spike.
The Raven features an aluminum shaft that feels light, but strong enough for anything you can put it through before T, standing for technical, ice climbing. This axe is rated B for Basic.
Some people have a tough time deciding to get a piolet with a rubber grip at the bottom for holding on steeper terrain where piolet traction, holding the shaft and using the pick to climb(similar to vertical ice) is necessary. I oppose this idea because on most expeditions one finds him or herself on will be using the shaft solely for plunging it into the snow, and it will have more resistance going in if it has a rubber grip around the bottom.
If one has found himself in very steep terrain, he needs a leash to ensure a safe climb anyways. And apart from that, if he is found wearing wet gloves with a rubber palm, the texture on the shaft has a way of still gripping the rubber. Light liner gloves do have a more difficult time getting a solid, friction grip, but it isn’t anything I would worry about because the leash that is mandatory for those situations. With ice tools having a palm shelf, a little stopper or hook on the bottom of the handle to keep the hands from slipping off, I am neutral about the leash and lanyard debates. That is another article in itself.
So far I have taken this axe on a few day hikes with moderate amounts of snow, and I had no complaints. This seems like a great axe. I would like to get on the mountain with one of the other axes that seems less comfortable in the store compared to the Raven. I won’t say that my opinion is the right one because we all have our own preferences. I will leave this review as is and assume that I won’t have any issues with it in the future. If I do though, I will definitely be making an update.