As there are a number of different types of mountaineering there are a number of different types of axes to meet each need.
Each one provides different benefits that will really help with your chosen activity but could hinder you at others. You will need to be clear in your own mind what type of mountaineering you will be doing in order to find the right axe for you.
If your route is a non-technical snow and ice route with your axe serving as a walking pole and as a way to self-arrest then a lightweight and straight shafted axe is going to help you the most. These will always have a spike at the bottom of the shaft with the length depending on your height- more on this later.
Winter Fell walking in the English Lakes, Munro bagging, Welsh winter routes and Alpine glacier crossing are where this type of axe serves you best.
If you want to take an ice axe on ski touring routes or ski mountaineering races, you might choose a lightweight ice axe. These are made of aluminium or lightweight alloys. They can be used as a backup safety ice axe.
If you want to do more technical snow and ice routes then an all round axe is the best choice. It won’t excel at any one thing compared to other axe types but will give the versatility to engage in any type of mountaineering
This is heavier and more robust than a walking axe to penetrate the ice better while also being more durable. The shaft normally has a slight curve to it, helping with your swing whilst also being bit shorter than a walking axe.
Scottish grade I-III along with some more challenging Alpine routes are where these axes shine.
If you are a frozen waterfall or North Face enthusiast, you need a technical ice tool. The terrain will be near vertical and so these axes have a very curved shaft to assist your swing as much as possible. Used as a pair with removable picks and heavier and more durable than a walking axe. Almost unusable as a walking axe when on low angled terrain.
These axes will be best used on Scottish Grade IV and above as well a major alpine climbing routes like the Eiger’s North Face
The length of the axe you need depends on you height and activity.
Height is the main factor when choosing a walking axe. When holding it with your arm straight and pointed downwards, the spike should be level with your ankle. It is possible that two people of the same overall height might need different length axes due to the length of their arms.
If you activity is more technical and on steeper angled terrain than a shorter axe will be needed. The shorter, and more curved, shaft will give you an optimal swing but won’t provide the leverage needed for a self-arrest.
If you want to find out more about the different components of Ice Axes check out this guide below:
Written by Joe