I repurchased the Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice axe after losing my old one. If that doesn’t tell you how great a value it is right away, I don’t know what will.
For the money, at about $100, this is one of the best standard piolet/mountaineering axes on the market. It’s not surprising it’s been one of the best selling tools out there, and every decent outdoor shop or online outlet will carry it in.
Black Diamond makes the Raven in both Pro and “non-pro”. The difference, aside from price, is in weight and material finish. I used the the non-pro axe for about 5 years, with zero signs of rust, finish break down, or cracking. I wound up losing it, somehow, two seasons ago. Maybe a friend borrowed it and it wandered off, but most likely I left it in a parking lot. Woe is me. But fortunately, it gave me the validation to get another one. This time, affirming my PRO status for the world to see.
The stainless steel polished head is blindingly fancy.
The shaft is a hard coated aluminum with a rough texture that gives the grippiness approximate to 320 grit sandpaper. Not much but not too much to wear away the leather of your gloves .
Bottom of the axe ends in a polished spike. Pretty simple. Won’t stay that shiny for long.
There’s not much else to say about it, since a piolet is a necessary and highly useful piece of equipment for winter hiking and mountaineering. The benefits of the pro versions weight cut is not really in its handling, as extra weight in a true ice tool helps generate power in your swing. The benefit in its lightweightyness is when you’re not using it for extended periods of time and have it lashed to your pack. Yes, on most trips here in New England, you will not need your axe for 75% of the day, or until you break tree line and the slab ice starts to build.
As with any tool used on a slope, it’s crucial to get a lanyard or leash. While the leash doesn’t really provide any leverage benefit, it’s added insurance for a careless drop or an intended glissade.
When it comes to axe length, it boils down to preference. The rule of thumb is generally that the axe, when gripped by the head, should reach the ankle bone when held from the side. I prefer the axe to be a bit shorter, just for compactness. I’m 5’8″ and have the 55″ version. If you’re buying online and can’t hold up different axes in person, go outside with a tape measure and find some sticks.
All in all, this axe ha been so popular and remained unchanged for quite some time. There’s not much in the way of competition but a few from Petzl and grivel. I’d recommend getting the Pro if you’re an avid winter hiker looking for a lighter weight option, but the standard version will suit the majority of beginners and frequent adventurers just the same.