Top Tips For Choosing An Ice Axe

Ideas by Chris, words by Anne

When I first started winter climbing, I bought technical ice axes because I aspired to climbing hard routes, and my budget was limited. Decide where your aspirations lie, and buy your tools accordingly. There are three main areas of use for ice axes:

  • winter walking/ski touring/occasional use
  • mountaineering
  • technical climbing

Winter Walking/Ski Touring/Occasional Use

In these situations you know it is wise to carry an axe, but you also know that you are not likely to need it much. If it is going to be carried on your back or in your hand most of the time, then lightweight is best, maybe with an alloy head. A straight shaft is good for plunging into the snow.

Recommendation: Petzl Ride - super-light, with a steel head


If you will be on more technical ground with some ice and hard snow, you want something with a bit more weight to help it penetrate rather than bounce off when you place it. A steel head and a short shaft works best. When you are holding your axe by the head with a straight arm, the point should come about halfway between your knee and your ankle. For me, at 5' 9" with long limbs, that is about 50cm.

Recommendation: Petzl Glacier Literide

Technical Climbing

For more technical climbing using two axes you will want something a bit more aggressive so that the pick can't pull out easily. Think steep ground, steep pick, with more bend in the shaft to give better clearance for your hands.

Recommendation: Petzl Quark or DMM Apex

If you'd like an intro to winter mountaineering, or you're keen to venture onto steeper, more serious terrain, send us an email or give us a ring to discuss how we can help with guided days in the Lake District.

If you're looking for a good stockist, I can recommend The Climber's Shop - online and in Ambleside.