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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Saturday, December 21, 2013

How do I choose Ice Tools?

Jack and his famous Zebra taped Nomics

There seem to be a gazillion modern ice tools available today.  And all of them will climb ice to good effect.  Some might even climb ice or rock better than others.  Usually not both rock and ice better at the same time how ever.

So how might you choose a ice tool?  Or specifically how do I choose an ice tool.  Is it just a fashion statement?   For various reasons I am not so sure there isn't some truth to that at some point if you climb long enough.

Today a good many of the better climbers are "sponsored".  Certainly 99% of the ones teaching ice climbing.  Sponsored can mean anything from a salary and airfare plus all the play things required to be involved.  Or it may mean just a free set of tools.  Or it may just mean a significant discount on those same tools.  Either way typically what you get, buys some loyalty to the manufacture.  Which makes perfect sense.  Nothing is actually free .  Not should it be.

I get tools any number of ways.  I buy them at full retail, I buy at a discount, or they are given to me for a review here.  Only "free" tools,  as in no strings attached, "free"  are the ones I buy at full retail.

How all that works or doesn't depending on your position in the Industries supply/food chain.   I was being given tools and also buying at retail the tools I actually choose to climb with.

Ya just gotta ask, "why",  don't ya :-)

I mean after all the guys with sponsorships "love" their tools and never miss a chance at endorsing them.  My answer to that is.  Most love what they are climbing with in "right now", today.

Look around  at your particular ice hero and check out his photo resume.  Is the tool he is using now the same tool he climbed hard enough with early on to deserve sponsorship in the first place?  If not it might pay you to realise that he first spent his own money on the tools he thought were the best from the get go.  Trust your gut on that one.

Some sponsorships and pro deals are much, much harder to get involved with than others.  Big bank rolls make a difference.  Some simply value their own brands and don't "give a lot way".   Imagine the confusion when I made no secret of being given tools that I didn't use!   Not a marriage made in heaven...."Ya, think?!"    I test and write about gear.  That doesn't mean I don't have personal favorites.   I don't/haven't/didn't accept or ask for sponsorships.

OK if money doesn't matter how do you choose?  In the grand scheme of things for most of us $1400. is going to be  hard pill to swallow for a pair of tools.  So money does matter, even if the tool might be exceptional.  Most of us will never be able to appreciate a set of $1400 tools.   I'm not sure any tool available is worth double what others are at retail.  I know would not be to me.

That was easy.  Now we are at $700 max for a set of tools.  Fair enough.  At $700 and under it leaves pretty much anything up for grabs, right?

Besides the color I do have a few priorities.  My first is pick durability and reliability.  Two different requirements in a pick.  I want it to last long enough to get me up and down more than a few days climbing with out pick issues.   I don't want to be replacing picks from breakage.   Beat them up on rock and I expect some wear and eventual replacement .   To date the most reliable and the most durable  picks  by a fair margin have been forged.   Picks are also cut from plate.  They  have gotten better every year.   Some picks have a reputation of  never breaking.  Although I have seen bent ones on occasion.  I have not seen the current production forged picks break.  Others production methods have been slow to develop that same reputation..   The Internet is an easy reference for failures. 

For my own tools I prefer a forged pick.  It is one of the few features that define my own ice tool choices.  I don't care how good the tool climbs rock or ice, the fancy shaft materials,  price or much of anything else if you aren't using reliable forged picks.  My wife gets pissy when I get all dandered up like that and "decide" that is the way it is.

Only the color might sway me :)   OK, seriously...nope....not really.... I want forged picks.
I'm picky that way.

Next up is I want a full strength attachment point for a umbilical to a T rated shaft.    The tool needs to be specifically designed for leashless climbing.  Not much of an issue there these days as most technical tools are leashless by design and T rated shafts. 

I'd like the tool to be balanced.  Heavy or light doesn't matter within reason,  the weight needs to be forward of the shaft and perfectly balanced on the swing.

Those are all easily attained attributed these days on most of the better tools.

Past that, the handle required is dependant on the terrain.  Good clearance on the shaft is nice but not a deal breaker.    A good size bend in the shaft is all that is required for that.  One grip or two is fine.  Nice to have a small quiver of tools for a specific style of climb if you can afford it.   May be better yet  the ability to significantly change the tool so it  is adaptable to different sorts of terrain.  Alpine climbing as opposed to water falls for example.   I would typically use a different tool on each given a choice.  But that too is going to depend on the difficulty of the alpine climbing as well.

All that is just what I do and how I make  a decision on my own ice tools.  It does not need to be how you make a decision.  Some will just walk in and plop down the cash and walk out.  I would encourage you to at least know the history of the brand you choose and the manufacturing process  used to produce your tools.

There are entire store walls filled with tools, many of them fully capable of climbing the hardest ice and mixed yet done.  Just takes the right climber behind them    There is no right tool, no right pick and  no "right" shaft shape.  I have climbed on most of them and they all work well enough.

I use what I have,  because I trust it, and it works well for my own climbing objectives.   If either changed I would change tools.

So of all the tools I have climbed on recently what am I using this season?   I have three pair at the moment.   1st generation Nomics, Camp X Dream  and Camp X Mtn.  And that too will eventually change. 

I am always on the hunt for the next, "best" tool.  It should be obvious I don't care much about fashion statements :) 

Lots of good tools out there.  Don't over think the decision.  Just be sure to know something about what you are buying. 
Difference in how they climb by category? I've used/owned just over a dozen of those listed below,  Difference?   Not much really.   Pick the color combo you like. Hard to go wrong.
Below is a quick reference of the One handle and a trigger technical tools
Grivel Quantum Tech
Grivel Matrix Tech
Black Diamond Cobra
Black Diamond Viper
Camp X all mountain
Petzl Quark
DMM Apex
E-Climb Cryo (5 versions)

And the 2 handed grip tools (more technical tool)
Trango Raptor
Petzl Nomic
Petzl Ergo
Black Diamond Fusion
Black Diamond Fuel
Camp X Dream
DMM Switch
Grivel Monsters (2 versions)
Grivel Machine 3.0
Grivel Force (3 versions?)
E-Climb Cryo2

What to know more about any one tool?  Go to Google and type in "Black Diamond Fusion (or what ever you are interested in)  Ice tool" and hit enter.  "Grivel Force Ice tool"  or  "Petzl Nomic Ice tool" etc?


inferno said...

Do the CAMP (Cassin) X-tools have forged picks? They don't look like it in online photos, and the "specs" I find don't specify.

Dane said...

I am not sure if the Camp picks are cut or forged. Something I need to check on. My guess is cut. They usually brag about the extra effort andcost of forged. I couldn't find it on line either. But I am not 100% one way or the other. Usually I can tell by looking. In person it is a tough call. I'm just not sure on the Camps. But I will find out. The Camp tools are my "demos" for this season. No opinion on them yet. That should change in the next few weeks. But I thought it worth a look because of the rave reviews they seem to get. I should have the new BD Fuel out at some point as well.

Anonymous said...

According to the Camp USA website, looking at the specs for the replacement pick, they are hot forged. Seem like good tools, wonder how they stack up agains Quarks!?

Dane said...

Yep, thanks for the pointer >-)

• B-rated picks
Hot-forged picks optimized for the X-Tools. The X-All Mountain Pick is compatible with both the X-Dry and X-Ice shafts along with the X-All Mountain Tool and is the best choice for all-around technical climbing. The X-Dry and X-Ice picks are interchangeable on the X-Dry and X-Ice shafts, but are not optimized for the X-Alp. The X-Alp pick is not compatible with the X-All Mountain, X-Dry or X-Ice.
3050S: X-All Mountain Pick - $35.00 USD
3005: X-Dry Pick - $35.00 USD
3006: X-Ice Pick - $35.00 USD
3007: X-Alp Pick - $35.00 USD
3053: X-Dream Mixed Pick - $35.00 3052: X-Dream Comp Pick - $35.00
3053: X-Dream Ice Pick - $45.00"

Cale Hoopes said...

So, I own Cobras. They are a fine tool.

That being said, I spent my weekend in Bozeman sharing both the X-Dream's and the Nomics. I've used Nomics before. I had a spectacular day with them. I'd say the X-Dreams are pretty nice tools that are very similar to the Nomics. However, the X-Dreams were a little lighter and I never noticed a difference in the balance.

Ultimately, I would get either tool for hard vertical ice or mixed (I'm not a mixed climber.... yet...) I have tried mixed climbing but only with the Cobras and Nomics.

Anyhow... my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

I use & like the x-mountain a lot. Dane, before you start demoing those tools, consider scraping off some of the textured surface from the side of the picks. Those picks stick really nicely in all sorts of ice, but they stick a little too well sometimes. Only fault I've found (others say the same), but its an easy fix. Any final thoughts on the ergo? Or did the nomic just win out as an all arounder?

Unknown said...

Do you know of any metallurgical reason that the forged picks seem to be performing better than those cut from forged bars? It's my understanding that for flat parts there is no difference in strength given the same alloy and heat treatment schedule. Perhaps the companies forging their picks are able to use a better alloy because they waste less material?

I know for sure that most high performance specialty steels don't take well to secondary forging. They exhibit their best grain structure from a single sintering and compaction process in a vacuum environment. Subsequent heatings to forging temps compromise the particle metallurgy structure.

I really wish companies would just advertise their alloys and let us make informed decisions. This transparency has only helped the knife industry with better products and smarter consumers.

Dane said...

Ergo? When I got sick, not knowing the eventual out come, I sold off all my tools but a last pair of Nomics. Newest stuff (Ergo included) was simply easier to sell. And I had a lot of it. Only tool I'll eventually buy again that I know of at the moment, will be a pair of Ergos.

Forged or plate steel? Yes, very specific metallurgical advantages to true hammer forged to shape pick/parts. They can be much stronger and more durable than a plate cut steel part/pick. Hot, hammer forged to shape isn't anywhere close to rolled plate steel for cost, durability or wear if it is heat treated correctly. Sure, you can call rolled plate, "forged" steel. But to anyone knowledgeable about metal won't be fooled that it is a "forged steel part". The gun industry likes to play word games as well about "forged" steel which doesn't mean you get a forged part. Hammer forging to shape hot metal aligns the grain structure. Plate steel, even the best plate steels, heat treated to spec (which I have done) are not forged steel parts.

You are using forging in a very generic sense. I am using the term "forging" as a very specific technique. Difference in a Randal and a Cold Steel knife. Randal is forged to shape with a hammer and final shaped by grinding. Cold Steel is generally cut out to shape then then ground to a finished product. Difference in strength and edge hold is dramatic. Colt uses a forged steel frame. LB uses forged bar stock to machine cut frames from. The results are obvious.

Good look at forging here:

Doesn't take much knowledge once you are actually aware of the advantages to true hot forging of parts or knives to start questioning how crampons and picks are made. The reason everyone doesn't forge? Cost...simple as that, cost.

"As the metal is shaped during the forging process, its internal grain deforms to follow the general shape of the part. As a result, the grain is continuous throughout the part, giving rise to a piece with improved strength characteristics.[4]"

Alloys used? Easier way to tell and it doesn;t take much of a formal education to make a good decision. Ask yourself and your partners. "do they break in use?" The best these days simply don't break picks. Everyone playing the game should already know the asnwer. At that point pick the color you like if reliability isn't a priority for you.

inferno said...

I demoed some X-drys a few winters ago and thought they were equal to the nomic for steep featured stuff. But at that time they were barely available and cost more than Nomics. Now at MEC in Canada the X-All Mountains are $75 less PER TOOL compared to Nomics. But if that price differential is offset by needing to replace picks more often ... well ...
Something to be said for climbing with tools where the picks interchange with your partners' gear - Petzl gets the nod here.
So Dane I hope you can smash and torque the crap out of those Cassin picks, see how they stand up. I am interested if and how much they take a permanent bend if torqued hard, and also how badly they mushroom if contacting rock under disguise.

Dane said...

You guys are brutal! I dont't intentionally torque picks to failure (one might fall off) and I don't smack rocks climbing ice if I can help it! I'd then want to change the pick out or take a file to it. I don't climb in ice parks or on a TR. Both great places to test such things how ever. I'll have to leave the testing to failure up to someone else with a deeper pocket book. I just climb on this stuff not destructive test it to failure! I learned a long time ago that I can break or bend almost anything if I put my mind to it. Not an attribute I encourage for ice and mixed.

Anonymous said...

can you already comment on the X-Dream (and maybe the X-all) , particular in comparison to the Nomic? I need to get some new tools and would welcome your opinion?

Anonymous said...

Definitely a contender for "worst dressed on the mountain" in that last pic there ;)

Good read though.