Having piolet FOMO (fear of missing out)? Tired of using your old-too long-battle-axe of a piolet?

These days there are many great options for the semi-technical do it all piolet that it is hard not to lust after the newest axe on the market. Over the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to use some of the more popular offerings: the Black Diamond Venom, the Grivel Air Tech Evolution, and the new Petzl Summit.

Choosing an appropriate alpine climbing arsenal is similar to arranging a quiver of skis. Just as with skis, there are specialized tools designed for very specific applications that often find themselves abandoned in your gear closet. The three axes compared here are what I consider to be the best “quiver of one” mountaineering axes, that also happen to be the top of the line axes in the category from each manufacturer. Additionally, there are some very fine axes excluded from this comparison, including the C.A.M.P Alpax among others, that are excellent axes in their own right- to be diplomatic about it.

Before I dive into the specifics of each axe, let me preface the test with some of my own preferences in a do-all mountaineering axe.

-It should be sturdy: all steel – both head and shaft. Aluminum axes are strictly for soft snow applications and are worthless in anything even remotely resembling ice.

-It should have an classic droop pick- reverse curve picks are best utilized in steep ice climbing and are less than optimal for self arrest and “rampe” type usage.

-The axe should be short. Fit inside your backpack if possible. An ice axe is best used to increase security in steep (>50 degree) terrain, so while a long axe may be more comfortable in low angle terrain; it will certainly be less secure in steep terrain. All of the axes tested were in the 52cm range- and all guides testing were taller than 5’10”. I understand that beginners will prefer a longer length, but as skills develop your axe should be shorter.

-The axe shall not have a leash. Because leashes are both dangerous and cumbersome.- just don’t drop it.

Black Diamond Venom

1lb 2oz 50cm Adze without leash. Lengths. 50cm, 57cm and 64cm

size tested: 50cm

Black Diamond Venom

Black Diamond Venom

PROS:

-Replaceable pick (available in both classic and re-curve)

-Sticks very well in hard ice (due to thin penetrating pick)

-rubber grip

-nice swing weight and overall geometry

-best adze for cutting steps*

CONS:

-rubber grip (yes this was a pro also)

-pick sticks too much (testers noted that this was hardest tool to clean)

-pick chopped steps poorly (stuck too much)

-no pinky rest option

One of the best tools out there. It chops steps nicely and climbed hard steep (80 degree) ice very well. I notice that this axe sticks almost too well when used for steeper ice climbing, making it hard to remove for the next placement. The adze on this thing is money! I thought that it chopped steps quite well in hard glacier ice, however this is necessary as the pick (as I mentioned) is far too sticky to do this efficiently.

Petzl Summit

495 grams, 5cm, 59cm, 66cm

size tested 52cm

Petzl Summit

Petzl Summit

PROS:

-Light weight

-all rubber coating – not a crappy rubber “tape”

-Pick chopped steps very nicely due to thicker pick and angle.

-nice overall finish and feel in hand

CONS:

– Adze was not quite as effective at chopping steps as the BD venom

– Pick not replaceable

-rubber coating will get torn up if using axe to clear snow from crampons (hopefully your anti-balling plates are good enough!)

The Petzl summit, a new axe likely not yet available in the U.S. is a fine entry for a great general mountaineering axe. It has a nicely finished head with a robust rubber coated shaft. Overall this axe is lightweight but stout enough to climb some ice and cleans quite nicely. I thought that the pick on this tool was much better at chopping ice than it’s adze. For a more aggressive version of this tool, have a look at the Petzl Sum’tec.

Grivel Air Tech Evolution

Grivel Air Tech Evolution

Grivel Air Tech Evolution

485 grams, 53cm, 58cm, 66cm

size tested 53cm

PROS:

– nice overall feel

– chopping steps was great when using either the pick or the adze.

– comfortable head for holding

– stuck and cleaned well in steep terrain.

– the best pinky rest available when used with the grivel slider

CONS:

– crappy griptape grip

– pick not interchangeable

– potentially difficult to obtain in the U.S. and Canada due to lack of distribution.

Of the three axes that were tested, the Grivel is the best all around tool. The tool felt solid and well built for both steeper ice climbing as well as a more traditional mountaineering application. Perhaps the best feature of the Grivel Air Tech Evolution is the available addition of the Slider pinky rest which is kept on the axe via a small screw that keeps it from sliding off of the bottom of the shaft.- super clever. The newest air tech evo, has an integrated rubber handle similar to the bd Venom.

Bottom Line- all three of these tools are excellent all mountain axes, with some minor differences in specific specialty. I’ll keep an eye out for some of the latest and greatest in modern mountain axe technology and keep you updated when I can.

** I decidedly ommitted any discussion of UIAA ratings of these axes. Click here for more information on UIAA Safety Label Standards**