The Great Outdoors (UK)
Get ready for the arrival of winter conditions with Lucy Wallace’s review of ice axes suitable for mountain walking
IIT’S SOMETIMES SAID that there is no such thing as winter mountain ‘walking’, because in heavy winter conditions – even on built paths – the presence of ice or deep snow means that some element of mountaineering skill will be required. A single ice axe helps to manage these hazards – it provides a third point of contact on ice, or with the shaft plunged into deep snow for anchoring and stability, whilst the adze can be used to cut steps into firm snow or ice. With these skills, the ice axe also allows you to journey into steeper terrain and can even be deployed as an emergency brake to prevent or halt a slide. Part walking stick, part handy cutting tool, part life-saving emergency device, the trusty walking axe is a key piece of equipment for winter walking.
Choosing a walking axe may seem daunting at first, but it’s relatively simple. Most, if not all, will do the job. However, it is good to be aware of the different types and their optimum uses. The shape and length of the shaft will have an impact on an ice axe’s effectiveness in ‘walking stick’ mode. Weight and durability are also a consideration. There’s no point in carrying something heavier than necessary, so it’s a good idea to reflect on the type of usage and terrain that it will see.
All the axes reviewed here have picks in the ‘Alpine’ style – gently curved and well suited to walking terrain and ice axe arrest. They are designed to be used singly rather than as a pair.
These ice axes were all tested during the winter 2020/21 season, for work (as a Winter Mountain Leader) and play (when I was locked down on the Isle of Arran). Weights were recorded without leashes on my digital scales.