Great for general mountaineering. Handles summit-climbing well. Head and spike are tightly secured to the shaft. Lightweight design. The flat head makes for a comfortable hand rest.
The aluminum shaft can get cold and slippery while you are climbing.
Durable, hot forged head. The weight is focused toward the top of the axe, making it easier to use. Lightweight and offers a comfortable head design.
Doesn't include a leash or grip.
The unique, angled spike does a superb job at penetrating hard snow. Durable, stainless steel head. Lightweight design makes it easy to carry with you in case you need it.
The angled spike is helpful, but some users didn't like the way they had to hold the axe to use it.
The removable rubber hiking grip is an added bonus for comfort and safety. Weighs less than 1.5 lbs. Sleek design. Includes a removable leash. Durable, 1-piece head stands up to tough situations.
You can't adjust the diameter of the wrist-loop on the leash.
Grooved lower handle provides superior grip. Weighs less than 1 lb. Works well as a walking stick for easier terrain or securing your next step on steeper terrain. Includes a leash. Both the head and spike are equipped with holes for carabiners.
The spike doesn't feel as durable as those on other models.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
When hiking across steep slopes covered in ice and snow, you will want to have an ice axe on hand. Like all tools, ice axes come in different designs for different uses. If you are a hiker who uses an ice axe only occasionally, your needs won’t be the same as someone who summits snow- and ice-covered peaks on a regular basis.
There are three primary uses for an ice axe when hiking. The first is security and balance. Used in this manner, an ice axe is vaguely similar to a hiking pole — though nothing can take the place of a quality hiking pole. The second use is for cutting steps. The third and most important function of an ice axe is to stop yourself from sliding down a slope.
Shaft: Consider the general shape of an ice axe to be a "T.” The shaft is the longer vertical portion of the letter.
Grip: This is the part on the shaft where you can hold the ice axe when cutting steps.
Spike: The spike is a sharp point at the bottom of the shaft. It can be used to plunge into the ice and snow for additional support when standing or hiking.
Head: The head is the top horizontal part of the ice axe.
Pick: On one end of the head, there is a sharp point used to dig into the ice for self-arrest (to stop yourself from sliding down a slope).
Adze: On the opposite side of the head is the adze. This is a wider, flatter structure that resembles a hoe. It is used for cutting steps in the ice and snow when hiking.
Leash: The leash tethers the ice axe to your wrist so it won't get lost if you drop it.
When not in use, your ice axe should be placed on the side (not the front) of your rucksack. In this position, it is easy to reach and will not pose a hazard for individuals who may be walking behind you.
This article focuses on ice axes, which are used when hiking. If you will be using your ice axe to climb up instead of across, or if the slope of the mountain is greater than 60 degrees, you will want a smaller climbing axe that features a curved shaft. These devices are called ice tools, and you would need two of them. Additionally, they are designed for climbers on belay.
The length of an ice axe is of primary importance.
Since you will be using your ice axe for support and stability, the main factor to consider is length. At the perfect length, when holding an ice axe at your side, the tip of the spike should be even with your ankle. To get this measurement, stand with good posture and let your hand hang comfortably at your side. Have someone measure from the crook of your thumb to your ankle. Since most ice axes have a length expressed in centimeters, take this measurement in centimeters.
If you will be doing a lot of hiking and using your ice axe only occasionally, to reduce weight, it is generally safe to purchase an ice axe that is up to 10 centimeters shorter than your ideal length. One stipulation: avoid purchasing an ice axe that is too short (less than 60 centimeters) because that may place the spike in the proximity of your vital organs when you are executing a self-arrest.
If you will only be trekking on low-angle snowfields where slipping isn't as much of a problem, it may be acceptable to get an ice axe that is slightly longer than ideal because it will be used more like a trekking pole. However, there is an upper limit on length. Unless you are exceptionally tall, do not purchase an ice axe with a shaft longer than 70 centimeters because it will make self-arrests much more difficult.
You can purchase an ice axe with a straight shaft or a curved shaft.
Straight shaft: A straight shaft ice axe is the best all-purpose tool. It can easily function as a cane when walking a low-angle slope, or it can be used to self-belay if you slip.
Curved shaft: As expected, curved-shaft ice axes feature a slight bend. The curve provides a little more clearance for the hand when the need arises to self-arrest. A curved shaft is best for steeper slopes.
A leash provides peace of mind because it helps ensure the adventurer will not lose their ice axe. While some models include a leash, it is often a separate purchase. Many instructors consider a leash mandatory, but the downside to using a leash is it can keep the ice axe hazardously close to you during a fall.
Trekking poles: LEKI Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
These durable trekking poles feature comfortable grips and adjustable locking height, making them ideal for a variety of outdoor adventures. If you'd like to use them during different seasons, the interchangeable basket system makes that possible.
Crampons: Sportneer Crampons
Manufactured using stainless steel and TPE rubber, these durable ice cleats quickly add traction to your boots, making them suitable for trekking across icy terrain. The heavy-duty cleats slip easily around your footwear for no-hassle installation.
Inexpensive: For less than $100, you can get a basic ice axe. In general, these models have a straight shaft, no grip, and no leash.
Mid-range: From $100 to $120, ice axes begin to change. You may find one with a grip or a leash, but there will still be a straight shaft. These models may be designed for heavy-duty use and boast better build quality.
High-end: If you spend more than $120, you’re moving into the zone of top-quality ice axes. While these will include all the desirable features, the main difference is that you will also start to see curved shafts.
If hiking conditions are exceptionally bad, consider holding an ice axe in your uphill hand while keeping a trekking pole in your downhill hand.
If you are considering an activity that requires an ice axe, we advise you to first get some professional training. The purpose of this section is to give you a general understanding of how an ice axe works. It is not meant to take the place of training.
Here are some key points to remember when holding your ice axe.
Here are the key points to remember when self-arresting with your ice axe.
A. If you are not wearing crampons (or your crampons have become damaged in any way), cutting steps is a way to get traction on an icy slope. Using the adze side of your ice axe head, swing the axe in a pendulum-like motion to cut slashes in the ice. The slashes, or steps, provide a more secure foothold. This can be done when ascending or descending treacherous terrain.
A. A leash prevents you from losing your ice axe when you fall. Since wearing the leash could become a hazard, using one is a balance of personal preference and weighing the dangers of the terrain. The leash should be worn on the wrist (never the harness), and it should be considered whenever you’re in a situation where losing the ice axe would prevent you from safely navigating the terrain.