Petzl NOMIC and ERGONOMIC Review

We first got to handle Petzl's new top-end ice tools at the ISPO show in January 2018. They looked exciting; but there's only so much you can tell in an exhibition hall, and to really judge an axe you have to climb with it - a lot. Well as winters go, this one has not been the best to test ice axes, with conditions coming and going all season. Having the new NOMICS and ERGONOMICS sitting near my desk has been a frustrating business; however we've managed to get out enough to have a good idea of how they climb.

Will they notice if we nick a new NOMIC and ERGONOMIC?  © UKC Gear
The new NOMIC and ERGONOMIC caught our interest last year...

The new NOMIC (Petzl insist on shoutily capitalising their names) is of course an update of the previous version, a model that will be familiar to many. It's an axe that has always pushed the definition of lightweight-and-technical. Couple this with its nice balance and a satisfying swing, and it's no wonder many people swear by it. But has the new version ironed out the infamous head wobble issue? And what of rumours concerning the weakness of the new grip rest clip-in point?

The ERGONOMIC, meanwhile, is an all-new axe that sits somewhere between the NOMIC and the old ERGO (which has now been discontinued). This new axe is not as aggressive as the ERGO, and thus feels more applicable to steep traditional mixed climbing.


NOMIC - £240

Weight and Balance

When it comes to the weight and balance it's definitely a case of don't change what isn't broken. The old NOMICs were among the most balanced and satisfying axes to swing, and this is also the case with the updated version. Holding the bottom handle, there is very little forward or backward weight imbalance, and this translates to an axe that feels very precise to use and reduces fatigue when held above your head for a few hours climbing a pitch. It's always hard to articulate elements such as balance through a review, so if you get a chance then pick them up and have a feel for yourself. If you liked the feel of the old NOMICS then expect the same with this updated version.

According to Petzl, this latest iteration has managed to shave an extra 20g or so in weight. I make them 608g per axe, with mixed picks, pick weights and mini hammer (basically a mixed climbing setup); this really is pretty light. It has always been one of the lightest of the comparable axes on the market, so any weight reduction was going to be hard to find. Some clear weight savings can be seen on the new handle, where Petzl have managed to remove a sizeable amount of material. More on this below.

photo
Calum with the NOMICs on The Genie

photo
NOMICs on early season Scottish mixed
© Calum Hicks

Handle and Shaft

This new version of the NOMIC has seen some refinements to the shape of the shaft. The angle of attack has stayed the same, which has contributed to the similar feel of the swing, however the radial shape has been adjusted in order to better suit the hand when used high on the shaft. At the bend on the shaft the width narrows into a V shape where the fingers naturally rest, slightly improving the feel when used in this position, typically when moving up easier angled snow. To the user the improvement is small but noticeable, feeling slightly less slippery when used in this position, and with a more natural grip.

Tim Miller gives them a bash on Hoarmaster  © Calum Hicks
Tim Miller gives them a bash on Hoarmaster
© Calum Hicks

Another important change is the way the head is connected to the shaft. A new plastic insert now sits inside the shaft and the head slots into this insert. This can be seen between the shaft and the head as a small strip of white. Petzl say this will improve the durability of the NOMIC, and stop the head wobble the older version often suffered from after heavy use. If this does solve this issue then it's obviously a great plus point for the new NOMIC, however in this test we've simply not had enough time yet to determine if this is the case so we'll have to report back in the future. My old NOMICs certainly suffered from head wobble, although it took five seasons of reasonably heavy use to get them started, so I'd suspect it might be a while before we know for sure if the issue is now fixed.

They're a fantastic all-round technical tool  © Calum Hicks
They're a fantastic all-round technical tool
© Calum Hicks

The new handle is essentially a complete redesign, and feels much better in the hand. It's overall slightly larger but still has the adjustable bottom grip rest if you want to tweak the size to fit your hand or if you're using big gloves. The lower and upper grip rest have been slightly widened and feel more comfortable in the hand. The bottom grip rest now comes in two different options, with a spike or without. The older NOMICs had a small nobbly section to provide some traction when walking up snow. The new model comes with a spike attachment at the bottom of the rest which can be removed or replaced. Although you'd have to buy the non-spike attachment separately, it's good to have that option (think drytooling).

The upper grip also now has moulded rubber surrounding the shaft, so no more having to tape up and replace tape that has worn off. This is a huge improvement and feels like it gives more friction over tape.

The pros and cons of the grip rest and attachment system merit their own section...

Nomics

Nomics

Leash Attachment

I've given this it's own section because I want to make people aware of the serious limitations to the attachment system for leashes on the new NOMIC and ERGONOMIC.

In our Technical Ice Axes Group Test last year, which included seven different axes, the only model not to include a clippable eye at the base of the handle was the old NOMIC. Users had to DIY their own clip-in loop. For the new NOMIC and ERGONOMIC Petzl have made good on this omission with the option of the GRIPREST NOMIC, which is sold with the axe as standard. Like many other axes on the market, this clippable spike can be used as a "loss-prevention" system, using a lanyard.

Except, it isn't actually like other axes at all. With models from some manufacturers this point is rated to the sort of force you might expect to generate in a fall; other brands may not officially rate the clip-in point that high, but they do still make it pretty strong. Well by comparison the attachment point on the GRIPREST NOMIC is considerably weaker. Weaker than the breaking point of many leashes, which tend to be rated around 2KN. Herein lies a major problem.

Leashes attached to the GRIPREST NOMIC. Cord could be threaded through the handle holes for a stronger attachment  © Martin McKenna
Leashes attached to the GRIPREST NOMIC. Cord could be threaded through the handle holes for a stronger attachment
© Martin McKenna

We'll all have seen reports in the last few weeks of people breaking their new Petzl axes by falling while attached with leashes to the GRIPREST NOMIC; a heavy user might even break them on a static load. Reportedly, the griprest attachment has been the point of failure, snapping to leave leashes intact but the bottom of the handle pretty much useless.

Petzl state in their documentation that this attachment point is only for loss prevention, and that it is not rated to hold a fall. We all know we ought to read the instructions, but personally I binned them straight away. After all, how complicated is an ice axe? This one essentially looks much like any other, and the nature of most technical axes is that you would clip in here without hesitation. So I had no idea that this bottom griprest could break so easily, and did several routes with them before discovering.

Everyone knows leashes can break, and that you really don't want to make a habit of falling on them. But mishaps do happen. At least if you do snap a leash and the axe is still stuck in the route, you have the option of recovering it and climbing on. You could even improvise new leashes with something like a sling, although we don't recommend this. An axe breaking, though, is another matter. If you're half way up a big alpine route or even a big route in the UK, a broken axe is no joke. It might mean you need to retreat, and on some routes this could prove difficult. At the very least you'll be climbing out using only the upper griprest. And then, of course, having to shell out cash for replacement parts.

And imagine mistakenly clipping in here as part of your belay!

Officially, any issue arising from weighting the clip-in point would be user error; but I think the fact that Petzl have introduced a weakness at a point on an axe that isn't normally this flimsy also has to be considered a design flaw.

The bottom line is, it's not clear from the design alone that the GRIPREST NOMIC is so weak, while the standard practise among climbers is to put a lot of faith in the strength of this point on an axe. Petzl may have stated this in the documentation, but documentation is no substitute for design that accords with intuitive practise. There isn't really any excuse for building this important part of an axe handle so flimsily.

It's worth noting that if you do want a stronger attachment point then it would be possible to thread the new NOMIC griprest with cord and attach in there. It's messy but it will mean your axes won't be left broken if you do slip off. For the ERGONOMIC, though, you're going to have to climb with them untethered or with the GRIPREST NOMIC, since there's no space in the handle for threading (more on the ERGONOMIC below).

Picks and extras

On a more positive note, the old pick weights have seen a bit of a redesign and are now much more tapered, similar to a flat sided nut, perfect for slotting into narrow cracks.

The new PUR'DRY picks are excellent, but add to the overall angle between handle and pick, increasing how aggressive the axe is. Petzl do say they are intended purely for dry tooling and as a result they won't be for everyone. I've used them on the NOMIC and the difference in angle is major. Stuff like trying to retrieve deeply placed nuts with your tool was much harder using the dry picks, so take that into account if you decide on using them. They are 4mm through their entire length however and wear noticeably slower. After a few routes on Cairngorm granite this season they're still sharp and look remarkably new. Torqued in a horizontal crack there is almost no bend in the pick, which is very reassuring. Personally I quite like them on the NOMICS and can see myself using them and the normal DRY picks primarily unless I'm climbing ice. For ice the PUR'ICE picks will undoubtedly make a difference for reducing dinner plating and getting better first time placements. They taper to 3mm at the tip and have a reduced pick height, so have much less ice to displace when swung. We've not had a chance to test them on ice (thanks to this awful season) but we're confident they will be a great addition alongside the standard ice pick when climbing hard water ice.

Overall

Overall the new NOMIC improves in many respects on what was already a great axe, but it has introduced a new issue of its own too. The updated handle is probably the most distinctive change and the new material for the upper grip is a significant improvement, bringing the new version in line in this area with the best of the current generation of technical axes. If you liked how the old NOMICs climbed then you're almost certainly going to like this new version. The big question of whether the infamous head wobble has been fixed still remains - we'll know sooner or later if the plastic sleeve inserted into the shaft to hold the head has done its job, but it is too soon to give a verdict on that. Here's hoping! On the other hand I think we can be unequivocal right away that the new grip rest attachment system is a major gaffe by Petzl. It may not be a deal breaker for all users (or an axe breaker) but it's certainly something to be very aware of when using the latest NOMIC. Until now the old NOMICS were the best axes I'd used - and if used according to guidlines, the new version is better still. But do read and abide by the instructions!

Petzl say:

The NOMIC ice axe sets the standard for ice climbing. Perfectly balanced, equipped with weights, it offers an exceptional swing. The PUR'ICE pick provides efficient placement in any type of ice. The shape of the ice axe and the double handle offer multiple grip modes, as well as stable hand switching. The grip is comfortable, thanks to the ergonomics of the handle and to the adjustable GRIPREST handrest. Featuring a minimalist hammer, the head is protected and allows the user to hammer a piton back in. Entirely modular, the ice axe can be optimized for the terrain.

NOMIC prod shot

  • Perfect shape and balance of the ice axe provide an exceptional swing
  • Facilitated hooking, thanks to the curve under the head
  • PUR'ICE pick is tapered at the tip (3mm), offering excellent penetration in any type of ice, including the very hardest. It is serrated on the upper side to offer a stable support when turned upside-down
  • Inertia and striking quality are optimized, thanks to the MASSELOTTE weights
  • Multiple grip modes and stable hand switching, thanks to the double handle (high and low)
  • Lower handle is offset to protect the hand from contact with the ice and to provide more comfort when suspended
  • Upper handle is over-molded and bi-material, offering excellent grip and insulation from the cold
  • Hydroformed shaft for optimal grip in the middle of the shaft
  • Entirely modular head allows the technical aspects of the ice axe to be adjusted
  • Compatible with Petzl accessories: ICE, DRY, PUR'DRY, PANNE, MARTEAU
  • Sold with MINI MARTEAU, to protect the head and allow the user to hammer a piton back in
  • GRIPREST NOMIC handrest is overmolded and adjustable to three positions, to adapt to all hand sizes, even while wearing gloves. The lower part has a serrated stainless steel point that improves support when used in piolet-canne mode
  • Connection hole is compatible with V-LINK elasticated loss-prevention webbing

ERGONOMIC - £280

The ERGONOMIC is an all-new axe that bridges the gap between the NOMIC and the old ERGO. This feels like a more appropriate tool for Scottish style hard mixed, without such an aggressive curve as the ERGO, but it's still at the top of of aggressiveness, at least for traditional mixed routes we have in the UK and even continental mixed climbing. There isn't much point comparing the new ERGONOMIC to the ERGO as they do feel drastically different. The old ERGO's primary focus was hard dry tooling or the very top end mixed routes that were severely overhanging. The curve was almost 90 degrees and really it was in a category of its own. Toning down the angles slightly makes the ERGONOMIC relevant in more settings.

Plunging them using top pick spikes for some stability  © Brian Pollock
Plunging them using top pick spikes for some stability
© Brian Pollock

photo
The handle angle is more radical than the NOMIC's
© Martin McKenna

Weight and Balance

The swing feels a bit more forward heavy, and in general the axe feels heavier than the NOMIC, although for a more aggressive axe whose primary focus is harder mixed climbing this is something you'd expect. For a top end axe though it's still very light, which is definitely going to help keep your arms going longer on crux pitches.

I make them a very bearable 619g per axe, with mixed picks, pick weights and mini hammer (basically a mixed climbing setup - the identical configuration in which I weighed the NOMIC).

On The Genie  © Halum Cicks
On The Genie
© Halum Cicks

Handle and Shaft

The shaft has the same new design as the NOMIC and although it looks like it's slightly more curved it seems to me this extra aggressive angle is down to the dropped handle on the ERGONOMIC, which unlike the NOMIC, doesn't quite run as parallel to the shaft. As with the NOMIC, where the shaft curves Petzl have shaped its cross-section so it fits more comfortably in the hand - useful when moving quickly over steep snow and keeping the hands elevated.

Enjoying how they climb, on The Migrant  © Brian Pollock
Enjoying how they climb, on The Migrant
© Brian Pollock

The new attachment system for the head into the shaft is also used on the ERGONOMIC, so assuming the plastic insert works as intended this should hopefully prevent any head wobble after it's been bashed thousands of times up umpteen mixed routes. Again, this test hasn't been long enough to show if this is going to be effective, so only time will tell.

The handle on the ERGONOMIC is where the axe gets its more aggressive feel. The bottom handle is dropped and angled slightly more towards to horizontal. Many modern aggressive axes use this kind of orientation, as it allows the user to relax their grip slightly. If the user wants to use leashes with these tools they will need to purchase the GRIPREST NOMIC to attach to the bottom of the handle. This attachment point is not rated to hold a fall though, and may result in your griprest breaking before your leashes snap - see the relevant section in the NOMIC review above.

Overall

An axe for the hardest and most technical mixed climbing, the ERGONOMIC is a great addition to the Petzl axe lineup. The dropped handle is comfortable and angled well. The upper grip rest is great and it's good to see the new rubber finish on this, which beats user-applied grip tape. It would have been nice to have seen an attachment system for leashes other than having to use the GRIPREST NOMIC, but we assume engineering constraints meant that the handle couldn't be hollowed out like the new NOMIC's has been. You can argue that the old ERGO climbed fine on mixed ground; that's a personal opinion that will vary between people based on how aggressive they like their axes. We think this new ERGONOMIC is much better, especially for the traditional routes we have here in the UK.

Petzl say:

The ERGONOMIC is designed for steep ice and dry tooling. The sharp angle of the handle is ideal for prolonged hanging and increases power when pulling. The double handle offers multiple grip modes and stable hand switching. At home on rock or ice, the DRY pick optimizes inverted positions and the weights facilitate slotting of the pick in cracks. Featuring a minimalist hammer, the head is protected and allows the user to hammer a piton back in. It is entirely modular and can be configured for the requirements at hand.

ERGONOMIC prod shot

  • Multiple grip modes and stable hand switching, thanks to the double handle (high and low)
  • Lower handle is sharply angled for more comfort when hanging and more power for extremely difficult sections. The shape allows open-handed grip, limiting fatigue and optimizing rests
  • Upper handle is over-molded and bi-material, offering excellent grip and insulation from the cold
  • Hydroformed shaft for optimal grip in the middle of the shaft
  • Perfect shape and balance of the ice axe provide an exceptional swing
  • Facilitated hooking, thanks to the curve under the head
  • DRY pick is tapered at the tip (3.3 mm) and versatile across all terrain: rock, snow and ice. The 4 mm thickness of the pick makes it stronger when slotted and torqued. The serrated edge stabilizes inverted positions
  • Inertia and striking quality are improved, thanks to the MASSELOTTE weights
  • The shape of the weights is optimized for slotting the pick in cracks
  • Entirely modular head allows the technical aspects of the ice axe to be adjusted
  • Compatible with Petzl accessories: ICE, PUR'ICE, PUR'DRY, PANNE, MARTEAU
  • Sold with MINI MARTEAU, to protect the head and allow the user to hammer a piton back in
  • Without accessories, the ice axe is lighter, for dry tooling (only 550 g)
  • GRIPREST ERGONOMIC handrest is over-molded and adjustable to three positions, to adapt to all hand sizes, even while wearing gloves. The absence of a steel point on the lower part gives better protection if the axe comes out of position
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15 Mar

Having used the new Nomic's in La Grave with the new Pur'Ice Pick I can happily say the pick is excellent, a lot better than the standard Ice pick that comes standard on the Quarks that I was using last season.

Hi Joe, I was hoping to get out on some ice this year to test these new picks. As we said in the review, testing axes with the season we're currently having in Scotland has been challenging. There has been very little climbable ice. For the Pur'Ice pick I was hoping to try give these a test on water ice as I'm sure this is where they would really come into their own over something like Ben Nevis neve. They do look good though. Very narrow at the tip, I can imagine they will penetrate the ice well and reduce dinner plating. I actually really liked the new Pur'Dry picks also. They are very aggressive but bloody hell they've stayed sharp! Quite aggressive though. I found retrieving gear sometimes quite hard, but they climb well.

15 Mar

Having climbed a non-insurmountable amount of 'Scottish water ice' (if there is such a thing) with the Ice pick last season, then euro water ice this season with Pur'Ice I'd say the later is better in terms of climbing ability.

However, for Scotland I'd stick with the Ice pick as its a bit hardier. I think the Pur'Ice is a bit to fragile with its thin tip, i.e. if I hit rock under the ice I think the Ice pick would shrug it off better than the Pur'Ice.

I've stuck the Dry pick on for all mixed duties, the Pur'Dry looked a bit too extreme! However from talking to some friends last weekend I'm keen to try the Kuznia picks when my current Dry pick reaches end of life. That could be a good one to review here on UKC considering its cheaper price point, be interesting to see how they wear. Would be good to compare the hardness analytically!

15 Mar

The new nomic handle gives a nowhere near as good as a swing as the first generation. The hump gives the perfect wrist flick. Using the new ones you can definately feel the difference. Other than this and pommel fiasco it does still look like the winner tool in the market

Ramon, I actually can't tell any difference between them balance and swing wise, which is a good thing! I've just picked them up again and had a swing about. I would really struggle to identify one over there with my eyes closed if it wasn't for the slightly different feel of the handle. The handle for me feels nicer and just that wee bit more refined. I really am glad they also added the rubber to the upper grip. That was badly needed. Tape was a right faff. The pommel though... It's far from ideal. I'll not bother going into detail as I was very critical of this in the article and feel like I've covered what I wanted to say there.

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