Axe length vs weight savings
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Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Axe length vs weight savings on 10/09/2007 05:51:09 MDT Print View

I purchased a new ice axe about a month ago and selected the length based on my experience last year with my old axe and some of the posts I searched for here on the forums. I was using an older BD 75 and replaced it with a Camp Corsa Nanotech 50cm. I am 6’2” and the axe feels very small compared to the rest of my body. Now, I am not a mountaineer…I use it when climbing small steep sections (not fatal if I fall) to reduce slipping. My question is, was it worth the weight savings to go for a shorter axe, or is there a chance it is actually too small – such that I could hurt myself with it, or render it useless when I really need it.
I read a post of Doug J (BPL staff) routinely bringing his wifes 55cm axe as it was lighter and easier to handle – and I believe he is the same height as I am. I also recall Kevin D telling someone to use the shortest axe you can get away with….
yeah, yeah, i know the general hand to ground rule.....that would mean I need a 85 cm axe - but thats why I carry hiking poles.

Edited by Steve_Evans on 10/09/2007 05:55:38 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Axe length vs weight savings on 10/09/2007 07:55:02 MDT Print View

Steven, I enjoy these types of discussions because every mountaineer has an opinion, yet no one is truly right or wrong. Endless arguments over beers at the lodge..
Take my words with a grain of salt because I've been studying mountaineering for exactly two winters, mainly by the books and balls method; no one-on-one instruction..
Anyway, my short answer is 50cm is fine for what I think you describe; piolet ancre and piloet asis on short class 4 or 5 where loosing your balance means a short bumpy ride for just a few meters. I assume you are not roped to anyone, so your short axe used in self-belay could reduce the chance of a slide, or in self-arrest reduce the length of that slide. I've tried short axes in belay and arrest positions, and they work fine. Where a long axe is more useful is in piolet canne, and you said you don't do that.
I'm old school in my choices, and tend to go with what Chouinard says in "Climbing Ice"* Paraphrasing, 'an axe becomes essential when it becomes useful". It becomes useful depending on what you want to do; if I need to do a boot belay, 55 or shorter is fine; chop steps 70, screw in a piton 50, cows tail anchor 50, piolet canne 75 or 80!, etc..
As Choinard says, a 70cm is a good compromise when carrying only one tool.

More important than length of the tool is the motion in the ocean.. oh wait, crossing my metaphors.. I mean knowing how to use it. Choosing a classically shaped steel head with the biner hole directly over the shaft, neutral tip, no leash rings, etc..

I have a BD 65 for when I expect to need an axe, a Camp XLA 210 when I don't (and a 1972 bamboo handled Chouinard 60 when I want to look like a crusty mountaineer who advises people on internet forums)

If you haven't read Climbing Ice; I highly recommend it; along with Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills, and the Mountaineering Handbook. (forgive me if I am lecturing to someone more experienced than me; maybe the lurking newbies will take my advice :)

*ISBN 0 340 23283 8

Christopher Plesko
(Pivvay) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
axe length on 10/09/2007 08:02:11 MDT Print View

5'11" here and I'm using a 70cm axe when I know I will have to use it in a mountaineering sense. The small amount of weight saved over a 50 or 60cm axe isn't really all that great compared to messing around with an axe that I feel is too short for me.

Would you get a regular length sleeping bag if you were 6'6" just to save weight? :) (not totally the same but similar theme).

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re. axe length on 10/09/2007 08:35:55 MDT Print View

Brett, thanks for the input - and yes this topic is good fun. Even the salesperson at my local MEC was pushing me to go for the longer one - while my friend was whispering in my ear for the shorter. I posted this because I was interested in the views of lightweight backpackers/climbers on this subject, as their opinion tends to be different then the average person. I didn't throw my 75 away, so if I ever do require an axe for "general mountaineering" I can always go back. Just seemed for what I use it for I could get away with shorter (I was even considering the Helix)....I'll let some others speak up as I know this could get good.
Chris, you are very correct and it did make me think, but I had to chuckle at that post...knowing that you and I both own the Arc AT ;)

Christopher Plesko
(Pivvay) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
axe length on 10/09/2007 08:57:21 MDT Print View

If you're going to own multiple axes then you can always push it with different lengths. I too will be picking up a helix at some point and will size it to my wife's length leaving it a bit short on me but passable for the use it will get. My wife will 99% just be in snow and I'll take it along for when I'm really pushing it and the aluminum head will still bite. I'm sure my raven pro will get more use overall though and it's a better "foundation" axe if you only own one.

The arc AT, well that's a system. At least that's what I tell myself. :) My skaha plus is sooo nice though. I reach for it over my cocoon hoody almost everytime so any justification for it's purchase seems worth it. Even with the pocket and overfill and resulting slightly heavier weight it's my favorite jacket I own and we own too many in my family.

Robert Mohid
(mohid) - F
Axe length on 10/09/2007 11:12:27 MDT Print View

If you're considering an axe longer than 60 cm, you might want to think about the option of ditching the longer axe for a hybrid axe/pole like the BD whippet.

If you're not expecting to need an axe for piolet traction or any kind of chopping, this may make sense.

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Axes on 10/09/2007 22:20:27 MDT Print View

In addition to the books previously mentioned, I really enjoy watching Jeff Lowe's video on Alpine Ice, and his 2-video set on Waterfall Ice. The WI set is way more advanced, however, than casual hiking.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Axe Length on 10/10/2007 05:46:04 MDT Print View

Robert wrote: If you're considering an axe longer than 60 cm, you might want to think about the option of ditching the longer axe for a hybrid axe/pole like the BD whippet.

Not sure if i am reading into this correctly...but does this mean (IYO) that a 60cm axe is as long as one should use before going to hiking poles?
This sorta goes along with my train of thought - in my circumstance of course - that a longer axe may not be benificial for my neck of the woods.
Although, after reading the thoughts from Brett (excellent personal experience on "axe lengths v.s. use") and Christopher (pushing the limits - safely - of the gear we have), I guess you need different tools for different jobs. For me, I'll stick with the 50 for now and see how it goes, and if it's not going to well...there's always the gear swap section.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Axe length vs weight savings on 10/10/2007 06:31:26 MDT Print View

Just to follow up; after an epic last summer(!) I will never go into the permanent snowpack alpine environment without an axe again. For belay/anchor purposes I think I'll cut my 210 down to 60cm, not so much to save weight, but to be about the same length as my alpine pack.

No one asked, but IMO some other light gear to never be without: a few biners, 30m of 6mm or so, and 4m of 1" for a swiss-seat and some 150 gram 4 spike instep crampons for each person.

Christopher Plesko
(Pivvay) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Re: Axe Length on 10/10/2007 07:47:23 MDT Print View

There are a million different views on the subject so you'll likely never find a unified answer.

Long and short axes have their benefits and are both touted in all kinds of texts, new and old. Luckily it usually doesn't come down to safety persay, just preference.

For the kind of stuff I do and am planning to do I don't know if I could trust owning just a short aluminum headed axe. For general hiking endevors where the axe is rarely used and you could almost make do without then that's a different story. For actual ice climbing you're probably going to want to add an actual ice tool or two depending on the grade of the slope.

Same argument goes for aluminum crampons. They're perfectly acceptable for most people on snow. But if you're going to tackle a ridge traverse in winter, do you want to take them off over every short rock section and put them back on again on the other side? I know I don't.

Pick the right tool for the job. Unfortunately the right tool is often learned by trial and error so pick one and get out and use it! :) Then you can give half baked advice like me instead of asking questions. Haha.

Robert Mohid
(mohid) - F
Long Ice axes on 10/15/2007 13:45:00 MDT Print View

Steven, the longer an ice axe gets, the less versatile it gets on steep terrain.

Unless you're a giant, an axe longer than 60cm is a real pain to use on ice and is difficult to use confortably on terrain that's more than ... 30 degreees , say. It's still too short to be use as a probe and isn't as comfortable as a pole. And if you got a light axe that's very long, it will just bounce off any ice you're trying to chop steps in/make a platform on.

Basically it's useless for anything else than self arrest, and that role can be done by a hybrid pole.

as soon as you say "Ice" you need a shorter axe/tool that's heavy enough to penetrate/chop which means something that's at least 500 grams.


Mind you people have climbed WI6 with straight shafted 60cm tools in the eighties, but those guys were really harcore and didn't mind a reasonable chance of dying in their attempts.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Long Ice Axes on 10/16/2007 06:29:00 MDT Print View

Robert,
Thanks for the follow up - very much appreciated. I'm going to stick with my short axe and if I find it a pain, well, like most things in life - live and learn.