Best Ice Axes Reviewed 2023 - Outdoors Magic

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Best Ice Axes Reviewed 2023

'An essential safety tool for travelling through winter mountains' - here are some of the best ice axes on the market, including options from Black Diamond, DMM, Salewa and more

Ice axes are an essential safety tool for travelling through winter mountains. They provide stability, enable you to cut steps in hard snow or test the depth of a snow drift. If you fall, you can (hopefully) use your ice axe to stop your slide to doom. And in steeper winter mountaineering routes, they become necessary tools to get you up your route. 

There are many types of ice axes for a whole spectrum of winter activities – from ski touring and glacier walking, to good old exploring UK mountains in snow. We’ve focused this guide on walking axes, with options to go a bit more technical later. If you’re primarily looking at one-axe routes in places like the Scottish Highlands, then you’re in the right place. Or if you’re not sure and just browsing for the best ice axe, then be our guest!

What To Look For When Buying an Ice Axe

Ice axes, sometimes called piolets for singles and ice tools for pairs, are a very personal purchase. We’ll take a look at fitting in the moment, to make sure you get the right size, but here are the main features to consider when you’re buying an ice axe.

Photo: iStock/ djedzura

Firstly, the rating will tell you how strong an ice axe is. There are two categories: basic (B) and technical (T). A T-rated ice axe means it has passed a higher strength test. That means that you can bury it in the snow and belay off it without the risk of snapping it. Although many will argue it’s perfectly possible to belay off a B-rated axe and the snow will give away first… Either way, the T-rating is probably an overkill for most winter walkers. Group leaders or winter mountaineers will probably be glad of this extra safety rating – just in case.

The next thought is how much curve there is in the ice axe. You will notice that the more technical the axe – i.e. the steeper the terrain it has been designed for, rather than the rating – the more curved the shaft and the more angled the pick. A classic walking axe has a very perpendicular form, with a long straight shaft and a pick at right angles to it. Venturing into grade 1 and 2 Scottish gullies, for instance, could benefit from a slightly curved shaft and slight incline in the pick. Anything more curved and acutely angled is for graded winter climbing routes or water ice. The adze is worth a thought too. If you could be cutting steps of digging snow holes on you adventure then look for a wide adze with a sharp edge to make your life easier.

Related: Winter Hiking Safety Advice

Finally, you might also consider the weight of the axe, how big the cut outs are and what material the axe is made from. It almost goes without saying that heavier axes will weigh down on you more if carried over long distances or for multiple days. On the flip side, a super lightweight axe probably has less momentum and may feel harder to dig with.

An Ice Axe Fitting Guide

When it comes to sizing an ice axe, the key metric is your height. Or better still, if you get the chance to try it out, the difference between your shoulder height and arm length. They say that, for a walking axe, the ideal length axe should brush your ankle when held with a straight arm. That means as you’re walking with it, it will easily be touching the ground – like a walking pole plus some sharp appendages.

Photo: iStock/ Solovyova

Axes come in set sizes, so you’re unlikely to be able to get this perfect, but it’s not a precise art really, and some people prefer a shorter axe relative to height. Especially if they’re usually on steeper ground. Definitely don’t go longer than ankle brushing. Also, be aware that longer ice axes are harder to stow safely on a rucksack – especially if you are tall. A shaft sticking out well above the top of your bag is a great way to impale your companions, or take your own eye out… It’s a compromise.

How to know how much shorter to go? The steeper the ground you’re aiming for, the shorter your axe length will likely get. This is mostly a practicality thing. If you’re using the picks to climb, for instance, it can be unwieldy to swing a longer axe. Similarly, if you’re using the tip of the axe as a walking pole, but the ground is steep, you will have a lot of excess shaft getting in the way as you move. Constantly having to raise your arm above shoulder height to get the tip of the shaft into the snow can quickly become exhausting. Like we said, it’s a compromise – if you’re starting out, use the ankle measure and you can adapt from there.

The Best Ice Axes For 2023

  • Black Diamond Raven with Grip
  • Black Diamond Raven Pro
  • DMM Spire
  • Grivel G Zero
  • CAMP Alpina
  • Salewa Alpine-X
  • Petzl Summit EVO


Black Diamond Raven with Grip

Price: £110.00
Weight: 486g at 55cm
Best for: Winter walking 

The Black Diamond Raven ice axe with Grip is an update on Black Diamond’s classic single axe for mountaineering. It has a straight shaft and head with a very sharp triangular point at the tip. The shaft is made of aircraft-grade aluminium and is ergonomically shaped to fit in your hand, tapered towards your knuckles when gripping. The head is made of investment-cast stainless steel and has been redesigned, again to make it a more comfortable fit in your hand whilst walking with it.

The axe comes with an easily adjustable and removable leash, as well as a dual-density rubber grip. The adze is a decent size, with no cut out and a slight curve in its profile. However, there is a hole in the top and bottom of the axe to allow easy carrying when not in immediate use. This ice axe is particularly nicely weighted too. 

If you’re not too fussed about the grip and the leash, it’s possible to buy the classic Black Diamond Raven without them for a slightly lower price.

Full Specifications

Lengths: 55cm, 60cm, 65cm, 70cm, 75cm / B-rated / Investment-Cast Stainless steel head and Aluminium shaft / slider leash included.



Black Diamond Raven Pro

Price: £120.00
Weight: 389g at 55cm
Best for: Classic mountaineering

The Black Diamond Raven Pro is similar to the plain Raven models, but with a slightly more technical upgrade. Physically it looks and performs very similarly. The shaft and head are aluminium and investment-cast, polished stainless-steel respectively. It shares the same acute triangular pointed tip and ergonomically designed shaft to help with grip – this is described as a ‘trapezoidal cross-section’, but basically it fits more naturally into your closed hand.

Without the grip or leash, it is a slightly lighter axe than the Black Diamond Raven with Grip. It does still take some gripping ability into account, with a series of horizontal grooves at the bottom end of the shaft. These improve grip without increasing the friction on the shaft when plunged into snow. The main difference is the shape: a gentle curve in the shaft and pick means better performance on steeper ground or in gullies. The adze is a medium size, with a cut-out, and a good sharp edge for cutting.  

Full Specifications

Sizes: 50cm, 55cm, 60cm, 65cm, 70cm, 75cm / B-rated / One-piece stainless-steel head with Aluminium shaft.



DMM Spire

Price: £69.99
Weight: 352g at 55cm
Best for: Winter walking and easy mountaineering

The DMM Spire is a lightweight ice axe that is well suited for winter walking and ski touring, with potential to branch into more demanding winter mountaineering days. It has a straight shaft, made of anodised aluminium tubing, and the slightest of curves in the head. The tip is teardrop shaped and very sharp, easily making purchase on icy slopes. It feels very light to hold, making it easy to carry for long days out without fatigue. 

The head is made of a high strength steel alloy, with cut outs in the adze and head to save even more weight. There are carry holes in the head and tip so it can be easily stowed on a rucksack or tethered. Despite how light it is, it still makes good connection with the snow and can be used to cut steps or climb steep snow slopes. This ice axe makes a great middle ground between lightweight travel and durability.

Full Specifications

Lengths: 55cm, 60, 65cm, 75cm / B-rated / Strong and light anodised aluminium shaft / High strength steel alloy pick and adze.



Grivel G Zero

Price: £69.95
Weight: 425g
Best for: Winter Walking

The Grivel G Zero axe is a classic shaped ice axe with some modern additions. With a simple steel steel head and aluminium shaft, both straight without and curve, it is ideal for winter walking. This could extend to walking on glaciers or easy angled climbs. The head has a plastic blade cover that makes it easier to hold in less dextrous winter gloves and takes away the bite of cold metal through gloves. The cover does provide extra comfort while holding but is removable too. The adze is broad but rounded, so not best suited to a lot of digging nor for cutting steps. The point is equally rounded, which doesn’t impede its use as a walking axe on snow.

The axe comes with an adjustable leash, including a rubber tip cover which was particularly great for storage and carrying. This is a B-rated/Type 1 axe that would make a great first ice axe for someone venturing into their first winter adventures.

Full Specifications

Lengths: 58cm, 66cm, 74cm / B-rated / 4 colours: black, pink, blue, green / steel head and aluminium shaft / adjustable leash with a rubber tip / plastic blade cover.



CAMP Alpina

Price: £99.90
Weight: 470g
Best for: Classic Mountaineering

The CAMP Alpina ice axe is a reliable tool for classic mountaineering and all the situations you might find yourself in. One of only a couple in this guide that are T-rated, it has been tested to higher strengths (and passed!). Both the shaft and the pick are slightly curved and are both made out of high-strength forged steel. The adze is middling in width, but has a noticeably curved side profile compared to other axes. This shape, with sharp edges, has been optimised for chopping platforms and ledges. There are cut outs in the head and point for carrying and a bit of weight reduction, but none in the adze itself.

We particularly liked the grip on the shaft, so sleek it looks like it has been printed on. Minimal, yet very effective. The point has a teardrop shape and isn’t particularly sharp to touch, but performs well on snow and ice when walking. The axe comes with a leash that is easy to take on and off, plus has an adjustable toggle in the hand loop. 

Full Specifications

Lengths: 50cm, 57cm, 65cm, 73cm / T-rated / Head and shaft in high-strength forged steel / Alpina series wrist strap.



Salewa Alpine-X

Price: £105.00
Weight: 350g
Best for: Winter Mountaineering

The Salewa Alpine-X is a lightweight, hybrid ice axe designed with general mountaineering use in mind. It has a straight anodised and hardened aluminium shaft and reverse-curved pick, made out of steel. The axe is very comfortable to carry. Both the head and shaft have been ergonomically shaped to fit the hand well. The adze is broad with a slight curve, making it excellent for digging out snow. There are cut outs in the adze and head to reduce weight, plus provide an easy carrying point – there is a similar hole at the tip. The tip makes a good point but, unlike most axes, is 3D rather than a flat plane triangle. Instead of a sharp flat point, there is a small cylinder that provides good purchase with the snow but doesn’t snag on clothes or pose any risk to stabbing or scratching something. It’s smart and we’re surprised we haven’t seen it before.

The aggressive steel blade and sharpened shovel make it a great choice for cutting steps and chopping ledges or making anchors. The light shaft compared to a heavy head gives it good momentum when digging and the completely straight shafts makes it ideal for anchors. In fact, it’s a really shame that this isn’t a T-rated axe because it could easily become a favourite for Winter Mountain Leaders if it was, given all its other qualities. The carbide tip is replaceable and the axe is compatible with Salewa’s self-locking handrest and handloop (bought separately).

Full Specifications

Lengths: 53cm, 65cm / B-rated / Anodised and hardened high-tech aluminium 7075, T6 shaft / precision-cast steel head / carbide spike.



Petzl Summit EVO

Price: £140
Weight: 420g at 59cm
Best for: Winter Mountaineering

The Petzl Summit EVO is a T-rated winter mountaineering axe and a classic choice for Winter Mountain Leaders in the UK. It has the most aggressively curved shaft out of all the walking axes in this review, with a noticeable corner about a third of the way down the shaft. The shaft in this area also has a planed profile to help grip it easier. This half and half style of shaft gives you the best of both worlds: a straight part for plunging into snow and a curved part to give good hand clearance from the snow when climbing. A thick rubber grip at the bottom add friction with can be helpful when holding but does add a little resistance when pushing the axe deep into snow.

The head is made of hot-forged steel and feels very solid and dependable. The adze is wide with a fairly sharp edge, no cut out and a wave-like profile: the standard concave curve has been pushed back down in the centre of the adze. All these combine to make a great tool for cutting steps and holes. Compared to others in test, this feels like a real powerhouse of an ice axe that you can trust to deal with whatever winter throws at you. 

It is also compatible with Petzl’s Linkin leash.

Full Specifications

Lengths: 52cm, 59cm, 66cm / B-rated / high-quality aluminium shaft / Head and pick in hot-forged steel.



Main Photo: iStock/ Tina Zupancic


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