How to Buy an Ice Axe

How to Buy an Ice Axe
Though ice axes for mountaineering are relatively simple tools, they can be used for many things. There are also several ice axe designs, so choosing the right one naturally corresponds to what you will use it for and your height. When looking to buy an ice axe, also called a piolet, keep the following in mind.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Step 1
Select a longer ice axe if you will be doing a lot of cross country travel and scrambling on low-angle features. Having a longer axe, which can be used as a walking aid, is ideal for these situations.
Step 2
Select a shorter ice ax if you know you will be on steep, high-angle terrain much of the time. Having a shorter shaft allows you to keep balance on steeper slopes where a longer axe would not allow you to lean into the slope, causing you to become off-balance. Axes with the shortest shafts are called ice tools and are used for vertical ice climbing. These have different shaped picks and adze placement and though these can be used for some mountaineering, they are not "mountaineering axes."
Step 3
Figure your average axe size for your height by choosing one that comes to about where your ankles are when holding the axe head in your hand with your arm relaxed at your side. The right height really depends more on your intended use. Axes range in length from 40 cm to 90 cm. Most climbers find that a 70-cm axe is fine for the majority of their uses. Ice tools are less than 60 cm and are used for technical climbing.
Step 4
Consider the weight of an ice axe before buying. Most axe shafts are now made from aluminum or composite consisting of carbon filament, Kevlar or fiberglass instead of heavy wood. What makes a significant difference in axe weight is what the head (consisting of the pick and adze). Many are made of a steel alloy, but some are made of aluminum and these are much lighter but also more expensive.
Step 5
Compare prices at different outdoor shops you may visit locally with online stores such as or Consider buying a used ice axe from an online seller once you know the height you need, but remember to be sure of the use it has previously been through and how much wear the pick and adze have seen.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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