Black Diamond Cobra Ice Axe

© Jonathan Griffith
When you walk past the winter section of a climbing shop you're guaranteed to see a couple of people standing, swinging an axe in to thin air imagining themselves on a brutal WI7 or torquing their way up a well-hoared Cairngorm crack.

Black Diamond Cobra Hammer and Adze
© Black Diamond

You'll also notice that the walking axes are left holstered on the wall and its the latest exotic, leashless axe such as Petzl's Nomics, Grivel's X-monsters or BD's Cobras that are being wielded. The mixture of weird and innovative designs coupled with extortionate price tags, attract bored shoppers like a Chamonix seasonaire to a half decent looking woman.

In my opinion the BD Cobra is the sexiest looking axe currently on the market. The simplistic leashless handle and shapely, cobra-esque shaft with its glossy black finish ooze class.

In my opinion the BD Cobra is the sexiest looking axe currently on the market.

Will Sim on the Colton Brooks, Droites north face. © Jonathan Griffith  ©  Jonathan Griffith
Will Sim on the Colton Brooks, Droites north face. © Jonathan Griffith
© Jonathan Griffith

For those familiar with the BD Vipers, the Cobra is a lighter and slightly more aggressively angled version, as well as being one of the few carbon fibre axes around. The Cobra has the same head, handle, pick and trigger as the Viper but at 588 grams weighs nearly 50 grams less and has (in my opinion) an improved, more stable swing.

On steep ice I've found the feel and accuracy of the swing to be excellent, and unlike some axes I've used it has the right balance between being "head-heavy" enough to deliver a powerful punch for little effort, without being so top heavy it compromises accuracy. I also found that with the Cobras you get deeper, more secure placements in black ice. Probably something to do with the carbon fibre absorbing the shock which would usually make the head of the axe rattle and not sit square in the ice.

On mixed ground I've found the Cobra doesn't excel to the point that it does on ice. Although the aggressive angled pick and shaft make best use of even the smallest of hooks I find the BD pick doesn't have the same purchase when torquing as other mixed picks I have used. The width of the shaft also proves to be quite annoying when trying to access hooks in the very back of cracks as the shaft is often wider than the crack. The racking holes on the head of the Cobras are a perfect size for racking together whether it be on a snap-link karabiner, screw-gate or screw holder. This is a significant advantage on moderate mixed ground when you want to climb without tools. One final positive is that the Cobras are completely compatible with spring leashes with a conveniently sized hole to clip in to at the base of the handle.

Spinner Leash  © Black Diamond
Black Diamond Spinner Leash

(Spring leashes, also known as tethers, are commonly used by climbers when going leashless on long routes when the effects of dropping a tool would be disastrous. They attach to the base of the axe shaft and are clipped to a central point on the climber's harness, thus freeing up the hands but meaning the axes are still attached securely to one's person.)

Will Sim on Dessous Choc WI6, © Jonathan Griffith  ©  Jonathan Griffith
Will Sim on Dessous Choc WI6, © Jonathan Griffith
© Jonathan Griffith

Another advantage of carbon fibre shafted tools is that they are a much better insulator of heat than ferrous shafted tools which zap the warmth straight from your hands and freeze your gloves solid. This is especially noticeable on big routes as you may only hold the rubber handle for 30% of the day, choosing to hold the head and shaft on moderate ground. Although the shaft of the Cobra does get cold it doesn't feel like you're holding liquid oxygen and decreases the frequency of the dreaded hot-aches!.

Unlike on most leashless axes, the trigger half way up the shaft on BD axes is quite small and not as comfortable to grip when wearing large gloves. Hence they don't provide quite as much purchase. Although not noticeable with thin gloves when ice climbing, I found this to be a problem when wearing big gloves on moderately angled winter routes where you'd prefer to swing from the trigger rather than the lower handle to save energy.

I've found that the Cobra is also suitable for easy routes, glacier travel and ski touring if you don't own a walking axe as unlike many leashless axes it still has a practical spike at the bottom of the handle and only weighs a little bit more than the average walking axe.

...the Cobra is a brilliant all round mountain axe!


The Cobras perform brilliantly on big routes and ice falls, with even better looks. The fact that they're the weapon of choice for the likes of Simon Anthamatten and Colin Haley speaks for itself. Are they worth €300? To be brutally honest, probably not. The Cobra is in essence, a slightly more snazzy version of the Viper with slight differences in performance, but not justifying the 100 quid price difference. However, for all you gear freaks with money lying around or for those who are good at seeking out discounts, the Cobra is a brilliant all round mountain axe!

Price: £250
Weight: 617 grams (each)

Stockists: Black Diamond UK Stockists


What Black Diamond say:

Black Diamond Cobra Hammer and Adze  © Black Diamond
Black Diamond Cobra Hammer and Adze
© Black Diamond

The ultimate carbon fibre tool for leashless mixed, ice and alpine climbing, the Cobra's lightweight shaft has the most clearance of any of our tools without sacrificing balance or axis of rotation.

  • Lightweight carbon fiber shaft with greatest clearance of any Black Diamond tool
  • Balanced with weight in head for damp, accurate strikes
  • Laser Pick, Cobra Strike and Fang included, modular head design
  • Shaft CEN-T certified, patented
  • Pick is CEN-B

For more information the Black Diamond site

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14 Sep, 2009
If I had a pair, they'd be in a glass case with a single spotlight on them, maybe a little dry ice. They're a work of art
14 Sep, 2009
I have the Cobra Mk Ones and have tried the Mark Twos at at The Ice Festival at Rjukan. If I had the spare dosh, I would sell my old ones and upgrade. These are things of beauty, true BUT more importantly they handle and perform better than any axe I have wielded.
14 Sep, 2009
-) I've climbed a few shorter routes with my friend's Cobras, but bought new Vipers myself last winter. In retrospect, I'm happy with my decision - from the perspective of a mid grade ice climber, I don't think the advantages of the Cobras outweigh for me the cost difference and also worries about longevity. Something else Will doesn't mention is they make really weird noises! The carbon fibre is very different in feel and sound - for me it was like going from a steel framed bike to an aluminium one - although in the case it should be the other way around.
15 Sep, 2009
I have a set of these and find them fantastic, once you get over the initial noise and understand how they sound.. there is no other ice axe on the market that I have used that comes close to these.
15 Sep, 2009
You really reckon? They may well be the best, but plenty of other designs come close.
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