Technical Ice Axes
Whether it's for Scottish mixed, Continental ice or drytooling, a pair of technical axes are your key weapons. In this comparison review seven models go head to head.
With the arrivals of the first snows in Scotland, minds once again are drawn towards thoughts of mixed routes in the corries, perfect neve on the Ben and if we're lucky, a good freeze and dusting of the white stuff in the Lakes and Wales. I could be considered an optimist for the latter but I'm sure it will happen at some point.
During the build up to the perfect winter season I also enjoy the time spent deciding what new kit I will need to give me that edge to complete my tick list for the season. For some people this year, this will involve upgrading from their old pterodactyls to a pair of the latest and greatest new ice tools available on the market. Having been lucky enough to use DMM's latest offering the Rebel last season, I hope this review will be of use to some people making this decision.
As we all know choice of ice tools is a very personal thing, the way a tool feels when you first pick it up is often the best way to choose. As we are all unique, what feels awesome for me would be awful for someone else so it is important that this review is taken as a personal opinion of someone who has used these tools for ice and mixed climbing for an entire season.
The first thing that struck me when I picked up the Rebel was the superb balance. They do not feel overly top heavy as some models do, but still retain a definite take off point when swinging the axe. My initial feelings were backed up when using the tool as I found getting accurate first time placements in out of reach turf blobs easy and noticed minimal shattering in ice. The lack of heaviness in the head also meant they are easy to use all day and it felt easy to maintain the accuracy of swing when getting tired.
The placement feedback when ice climbing took some getting used to, having a damper feel to other axes but this quickly became a feature I liked with the axe. The cascade pick entered the ice well again causing minimal shattering and aiding first time placements. It was also easy to remove, due to its streamline shape. The pick stood up well to the rigours of mixed climbing but the lack of back teeth meant that the pick was not the best I have used for hooking, needing a quick bit of modification with a file.
The adze functioned well when chopping, digging, clearing and also worked well when torqueing. The hammer is quite small and was not particularly useful when torqueing but its compact, clean shape meant the axe slotted well into deep horizontal breaks giving very secure placements for mantling etc.
I did not find the handle of the axe particularly comfortable to use due to its thinness and also its un-ergonomic shape. I couldn't really relax into the grip as the handle lacked curves to make this possible. The adjustable trigger was more of a nuisance than a help as it was too small to be of use when wearing a glove and again lacked shape to relax into. Although this problem could easily be sorted with an application of grip tape, this was my only real disappointment with the tools generally excellent design.
In conclusion I have to say the axes were a joy to use, the handle being my only gripe. They seemed to perform slightly better on ice then mixed but this is what the tool is aimed at. I also feel a little more could be done with the development of the axes picks, perhaps hot forging and a specific mixed pick with more aggressive teeth and a slightly different angle favouring hooking etc. The most exciting thing for me is what the development of hot forged ice axes means for the future of ice tools. They can only become lighter, stronger and better balanced and it will be interesting to see where DMM take their axe design next.
Manufacturer: DMM (DMM website)
Available in the UK.