/ Two different ice tools
e.g. a quark and a matrix light. Even saw some radically different like a quark and a petzl nomic out the other day.
Is there a reason? Or do people just think they look cool?
In the old days it was because you used your general purpose axe, plus whatever else you could get your hands on. I guess people sometimes pick up bargains of individual axes, it probably makes little difference for most people, although I can't say I have ever really noticed it with modern tools.
Hedging bets, maybe, or lack of faith in their tools? Getting twisted knickers about Nomics' ability to plunge, say, so feeling a quark is necessary
Special offers and only a single available on that offer?
I used to own three Matrix Lights plus a cut-down MT walking axe (after cutting it down, it was the right length for climbing). The Matrix Lights had been stupidly cheap so I bought all three, I had the MT thing already and I thought two pairs would be handy if I wanted to take someone climbing who had no axes. It never came to that but if it had done, I might have taken the mismatch to lead something easy and let the beginner have the technical pair. That would not be me "thinking I look cool".
Sometimes I wear odd climbing shoes because they are the only intact "pair"
Borrowed a couple to see which they prefer Before buying?
Just the last few times I've been out every second team looks like they've come out with matched tools, then swapped one with each other. Just seemed really strange.
Why? It's always fun trying out other peoples tools. Whenever any of my mates get new ones everyone always wants to give them a go just to see what they're like, and you notice differences far more with one of each.
The big unspoken truth though, is of course that all modern tools are great and you can get used to pretty much any of them.
I have a range of tools, from 1960s hammer picks, a bamboo shafted Chouinard, various hammer picks, various length axes, curved and straight, walking axes, and only one matching pair of short axes. I rarely use two identical tools.
I choose the best combination for the particular trip and climb. Most alpine routes need just the one straight axe, (the Chouinard). Why take a hammer if you don't take pitons? In the sixties I usually climbed with one axe and a long ice peg/dagger.
You choose the most effective combination, not the prettiest.
The big unspoken truth though, is of course that pretty well all ice tools since the mid 1980s have been more than good enough for any climber.
It is nice to have the latest bit of kit but when a team takes as long, if not longer, to climb a route than when it was done back in the step cutting days you have to wonder if they paid a bit more attention to their technique then ...
To the OP: until the modern matched pairs of axes appeared it was the norm to have two different ice tools, perhaps the extreme example being Choe Brooks who climbed with one Terrordactyl and one 65cm axe.
This might be the case - I've done a couple of routes in recent years with my mid-90s vintage Pulsars and I can still use them fine, but straight shafts and no grip rests are rather noticeable. There isn't a huge change between my old Quarks (bought about 2001) and my new Vipers (got about 4 years ago), but both are noticeable more user friendly than the Pulsar - regardless of whether we're talking about using them leashed or leashless (I do both still).
I'm not saying modern axes aren't an improvement just that the upper end of the performance spectrum is overkill for the vast majority of climbers. I climbed Scottish grade V ice and Grade IV mixed with a Snowdon Mouldings Curver axe and a Camp Baltoro ice hammer. Add a grade to each for when I moved on to Simond Chacal and Barracuda. I don't think my experience was anything unusual in this respect.
I've had just seven ice tools in over thirty years of winter climbing, I only got the current pair because one tool was lost and I couldn't find replacement parts for the other. I'd had that pair for 26 years!
If axe X handles well in your hands and axe Y doesn't, then buy axe X plus a spare pick or two and you are good for many years.
I think you have fallen foul of the clever marketing ploys of tool manufacturers designed to make sure no one ever only buys one tool at a time.
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