Mountaineering ice axes

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How to choose the right ice axe?

Ice axes are subject to strict manufacturing standards. Standards EN 13089 and UIAA 152 establish classifications for ice axes:

Type B (Basic) ice axes: These ice axes have a thin blade and are primarily intended for ice climbing and snow. They are generally not recommended for use as anchor points in belays. The shaft of these ice axes must withstand a minimum load of 2.5 kilonewtons (kN) for a length of 50 cm.

Type T (Technical) ice axes: These ice axes feature a thicker blade, suitable for mixed terrain including ice. They are designed to be used as a belay anchor in addition to their climbing function. The handle of these ice axes must withstand a minimum load of 3.5 kN for a length of 50 cm.

Some features

The axe head is made up of interchangeable parts held in place by a fixing screw. These include a blade, a bit or a hammer.

When mountaineering on a glacier, the ice axe is held by the head. In the event of a slide, this enables him to exert considerable pressure on the axe to stop himself. The pick's head has a hole for a carabiner.

The blade is a crucial part of the ice axe, as it's what enables you to climb steep slopes. Blades can be made of aluminum or steel.

Aluminum blades are mainly used in ski-mountaineering because of their lightness, but they are also more fragile.

Steel blades are heavier, but also more resistant. The same dilemma applies to mountaineering crampons.

For glacier trekking and ski-mountaineering, the blade may be less aggressive, but it's still good enough for hard snow.

More technical ice axes feature thinner blades, especially for ice climbing. This makes it easier to anchor and unanchor the ice axe.

It's perfectly possible to change the blade on an ice axe, but it's important to make sure it's compatible. You can also have your blades sharpened for a better grip.

The purlin is the element generally found on most ice axes. It enables you to dig or carve steps in the snow. On the most technical ice axes, the purlin can be replaced by a hammer.

The hammer is used to drive pitons into rock crevices. It's a tool commonly used in the high mountains for mixed mountaineering. In ice climbing, pins are used on the way up and abalakovs on the way down, so the hammer is not essential for this activity.

Ice axe shafts are generally made of aluminum, which offers a good balance between lightness and strength, as well as good value for money. Some models combine aluminum and carbon for added rigidity. Full-carbon shafts are light and stiff, but also more expensive.

More technical ice axes are often fitted with a handle for a better grip during technical movements. The tip, known as the pick, is present on most ice axe models. It is generally made of steel for strength and long life. However, some lighter ice axes may not have a pick, making them more fragile.

Some ice axes can be fitted with an extendable strap or a leash. These safety features hold the ice axe in place in the event of a fall. The strap is attached to the head of the ice axe and linked to the wrist by a wrist strap. The leash is located on the side of the ice axe and attached to a pin that can be positioned anywhere on the shaft for optimum adaptation. On the climber's side, the leash is attached to the harness with a carabiner.

Depending on practice

Glacier and non-technical hiking

Ice axes designed for glacier hiking and non-technical snow courses are specially designed to help you stop a fall in the event of a slide, and to overcome obstacles such as snow bridges and crevasses. They can also be used to carve steps in the snow and act as anchors in case of rescue.

These ice axes generally have a straight handle and a longer length than other models, enabling you to hold it like a walking stick by gripping it at head level. They are often fitted with a pick and a steel blade, whose teeth are not too aggressive to avoid injury during handling.

Ice axes of this type are generally between 50 and 80 cm long. To determine the right size for you, it's a good idea to hold the ice axe by the head, with your arm outstretched, so that the tip reaches about the height of your ankle.


If you're a ski-tourer or ski-mountaineer, you'll often need to use an ice axe on occasion during difficult passages on steep snow slopes.

Usually stowed away in your backpack, the ski-mountaineering ice axe is lightweight and has a relatively short handle so as not to take up too much space.

It is often made from aluminum or light alloys.

The handle can be straight or slightly angled. Sizes generally vary between 50 and 60 cm, and weight around 350 g.

Classic mountaineering

Perfect for medium-difficulty routes on various types of terrain, with the exception of ice climbing.

Its sturdy handle is slightly curved, and its forged head provides excellent anchoring points.

These high-performance ice axes are suited to the many different types of terrain encountered in the high mountains.

Sizes generally range from 50 to 65 cm, with a weight of around 500 g.

Technical mountaineering
These ice axes offer the perfect combination of versatility and performance. You can use them on demanding snow routes, icefalls and mixed routes.

Their sturdy, high-performance blade is specially designed for ice climbing. An integrated handle provides a firm grip, and the curved shaft makes for easy handling on steep slopes and waterfalls.

These technical ice axes are available in sizes ranging from 50 to 70 cm. Handles are often made of aluminum, while the head is made of steel. As a result, they weigh slightly more, around 600 g.

They are generally used in pairs for optimum performance.

Ice climbing
These ice axes represent the pinnacle of technical expertise. Climbers work on extremely steep icy slopes of up to 90 degrees.

For this purpose, the blade is designed to offer excellent anchoring and unanchoring capabilities. The handle, with its ergonomic grip, is strongly curved for ideal striking in ice.

To adapt to different conditions and wear, the blades are interchangeable.

Ice climbing ice axes are used in pairs. Their standard length is 50 cm, with a weight of around 500 g.

They can also be used for technical or even classic mountaineering.

Additional tips

It's crucial to check your ice axe after every outing, as with all other mountaineering or climbing equipment. If, for example, your blade is bent, it's important not to straighten it, as this would reduce its strength and could lead to breakage. You will then have to replace it, as well as the pick head if necessary. When replacing any part, make sure it is compatible with your ice axe.

If you regularly practice technical mountaineering or ice climbing, an even more careful check is required. This is because your equipment will be put under even greater stress than it would be on a glacier tour. In the event of a crack in the blade or shaft, it's best not to take any risks and to replace your equipment.

The better you maintain your ice axe, the longer you'll be able to use it. You can sharpen the blade with a soft file to maintain good anchoring ability. After use, it's important to carefully wipe your equipment with a cloth and store it in a clean, dry place to avoid corrosion.
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