2020 Best Ice Mountain Climbing Gear

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Welcome to ThinkVail – we hope you find this article about the best ice mountain climbing gear helpful.

Below are 10 essential tools that you need to be safe(ish) and warm(ish) while ice climbing. These items are high-quality, brand name pieces of equipment that have withstood the test of time. In this type of extreme sport, quality and durability matter, you want the best equipment when the route turns tough.

Winter climbing in Vail Colorado, like in many alpine locations, is a combination of ice climbing, rock climbing and mountain climbing. You need technical, versatile equipment that can handle the nuances and demand of each discipline.

Ice climbing is extreme, you need knowledge, experience and the right equipment.  If you are ever in doubt, hire a local guide or go with an experienced climber, never go ice climbing or mixed climbing alone.

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See Also: Winter Hiking Essentials


Best Ice Mountain Climbing Gear


Black Diamond Cobra Ice Tool

Ice tools evolved from the traditional mountaineering ice ax, but is more specialized for the technical demands of ice climbing. An ice tool must be heavy enough to penetrate hard packed snow and ice but light enough that the climber can swing it for hours without tiring.

If you plan to climb ice falls, look for an ice tool with a length of 50 centimeters. If you are a larger climber, look for a larger tool of 55 centimeters. Women and smaller climbers will be more comfortable at 45 centimeters.

Waterfall and mixed ice climbing demand an ice tool with a modular design, so you can easily change the pick, hammer, and adzes when they wear out or if you need to change an attachment.

  • Tapered pick allows for easy penetration in ice and stable hooking on both ice and rock.
  • Made of Carbon Fiber material so its lightweight but very strong for precise, technical swings.
  • Pick that is included is for natural ice.
  • Replaceable pick makes it easy to change out when pick gets worn out. Additional picks for Alpine, Ice & Alpine and Mixed are available.
  • The serrated blade offers a secure hold and more stability on steep sections in hard snow or ice.
  • Sold as Hammer or Adze.
  • Ice tools are sold individually, so you can customize the shaft ends with adz or hammer
  • Length is 50 centimeters
  • Fixed grip
  • Weight Adze: 617 grams/ Hammer 588 grams
  • Very customizable, you can swap out leashes, picks, hammers, adze, and the strike and fang, for the perfect dry tooling, mixed climbing, technical alpine, or blue water ice tool that you need.
  • Great tool for ice and mixed climbing
  • CEN-B Rating means its perfect for mountaineering but NOT for technical climbing
  • Winner of Climbing Magazine’s 2008 Best New Gear Award and Rock & Ice Magazine’s 2008 Best in Gear Award.

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Petzl Ergo Dry Tooling & Ice Climbing Axe

Outdoor dry tooling involves the use of ice tools to climb rock faces and typically takes place in caves and overhanging rock surfaces that aren’t great for rock climbing. The routes are generally half natural holds and half man-made holds, which are drilled holes that climbers use to place the pick of their axes into.

Because you are using these tools on rock instead of ice, your blades and picks will get worn out sooner. So dry tooling requires FAT picks that won’t wear out as quickly and a head that allows for interchangeable or modular picks so you can easily replace them.

  • Perfect for the most difficult dry tooling pitches and technical ice columns.
  • 3mm Dry Pick
  • Tapered pick allows easy penetration while the hooking serrated teeth help stabilize on steep sections of hard packed snow or ice.
  • Ultra-curved shaft provides improved clearance and makes less accessible placements (such as in overhangs) easier and more comfortable with less loss of power
  • Very versatile tool. Add the Masselotte weights to add heft for precise, efficient purchase into ice. Remove the weights for lighter dry tooling routes.
  • Equipped with a Marteau(hammer) for pounding in pitons.
  • Ergonomic handle is adjustable and offers multiple grip options and adjusts in length to fit different hand and glove sizes. GRIPTAPE on upper handle provides better grip and additional insulation.

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Black Diamond Raven Mountaineering Ice Axe

The ice axe, or mountaineering axe is traditionally used for alpine and mountaineering, and is indispensable when traveling across ice, glacier or snowfields. It assists with the assent, helps to grab rock edges, cracks, ledges and stops a slide or a fall, especially down an icy glissade.

  • A modern version of the traditional curved-pick mountaineering axe.
  • Engineered for secure self-arresting on snow and icy descents with unique pick curve and aggressive teeth
  • Stainless steel head and spike ads weight and purchase into hard packed snow and ice
  • Durable, aircraft-grade aluminum shaft keeps the overall weight down
  • CEN-B certified. This means the axe is not strong enough for technical climbing but is great for traditional mountaineering
  • Weight: 15.9oz (452g) 60cm
  • Available lengths 55cm-90 cm

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PETZL Dart Modular Crampons

These modular crampons allow you to cross glaciers, ascend snow slopes, climb frozen ice pillars and scale ice-smeared rock faces, safely and securely. They are essential for technical, steep and icy terrain. They are a great choice for technical ice and mix climbing and mountaineering. They need a stiff boot with a heel groove or welt.

  • Hybrid Crampon with Leverlock universal bindings for ice or mixed climbing
  • 12 points
  • Longer, more aggressive front points (forward-facing points) that can be easily adjusted, replaced or reconfigured for any type of adventure.
  • Adjustable front points – The front points can be switched out to a long mono point for dry tooling, long dual points for mixed climbing, or short dual points for ice climbing. Super versatile!
  • Anti-balling plates help prevent snow from sticking to the bottom of the crampon. It is an important feature that keeps you from losing traction. Anti-balling systems are highly recommended by the UIAA (the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation)
  • Weight 1lbs 8oz

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Black Diamond Dry Core Climbing Rope

When ice or mixed climbing, it’s best to have two ropes to help reduce drag, for rappelling and to better protect your route. The best type of rope for this type of climbing is a dry core rope, it is more expensive because both the sheath and the core fibers are dry treated. But it keeps your rope protected from water from getting into your rope and freezing, making it unusable. In cold, wet, icy, winter conditions it is imperative that your rope remains dry.

  • Dry Core Rope means both the core and sheath are dry treated, and protected against the weather from the inside out. Meets UIAA water repellent requirement
  • The 2X2 Woven Sheath is constructed to withstand everyday use
  • These ropes are not too stiff and not too soft, the rope knots easily, feeds through your belay device with ease, but is very lightweight and durable
  • Weight: 58 g/m
  • Number of UIAA falls: 5-7. So, after 5-7 falls it is time to retire this rope.

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Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet

It is essential to wear a helmet and protect your head. Helmets offer protection against falling rocks, gear or ice particles falling from above while climbing or belaying.

  • Hybrid design with molded EPS foam. This type of foam is very hard and serves to absorb the shock. Under stress, (or a big chunk of ice) it cracks and fractures, so these climbing helmets are single impact only.
  • An all-purpose helmet that is perfect for all types of climbing.
  • A wheel adjuster for quick, secure and precise fit adjustments allows you to add a thermal layer underneath or take it off quickly and easily while making sure your helmet fits perfectly regardless.
  • Cooling slits help with ventilation
  • Headlamp clips on helmet
  • Helmet is not ANSI rated.
  • This is the most durable helmet Black Diamond makes.

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Scarpa Men’s Mont Blanc Pro GTX Boot

Leather and synthetic are the best materials for an ice climbing boot. Synthetic boots are lighter, more comfortable, break in quicker and dry faster than all-leather footwear. But you need them to be stiff so they can support you on the ice. These synthetic boots smartly blend stiff plastics with softer fabric for support and comfort

  • The Mont Blancs area 100% Synthetic boot that is more comfortable and pretty darn stiff but not as stiff as plastic boots
  • Constructed of 3mm Perwanger leather that is impregnated with silicone for extremely effective waterproofing
  • Gore-Tex insulated comfort linings insure waterproofing and insulating warmth.
  • Heel measures approximately 2″
  • Hybrid or Step-In crampon-compatible
  • Injected polyurethane ribbing on the tongue provides stability and evenly distributes lace pressure across the foot to eliminate chafing and hot spots
  • Micro pulley hardware provides an effortless closure
  • Integrated double gaiter with double snap closure is perfect for extreme high-altitude conditions and gives the boot more structure
  • Total traction rubber sole offers tons of support and torsion stability so you don’t slip
  • Toe and heel welts

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Black Diamond Aspect Harness

Ice and mixed harnesses are similar to trad harnesses but specially designed and constructed to cope with winter conditions.

  • 4-season harness that is perfect for ice and mixed climbing
  • Pre-threaded Forged Speed Adjust waist belt and leg loop buckles means it is fully adjustable to fit over winter clothing
  • Bullhorn-shaped waist belt and leg loops helps stabilize the lower back and offers lumbar padding and protection
  • Four pressure-molded gear loops designed to hold winter gear
  • Four ice clipper slots hold screws and tools and makes organizing winter essentials easy
  • 12 kN-rated haul loop, is great when you need to carry two ropes, like you do for winter climbing
  • Bombshell abrasion patches are 20x more durable than standard nylon fabric and will last a long time.

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Black Diamond Express Ice Screws

Threaded ice screws are used as a running belay or anchor by climbers on steep alpine ice to hold the climber in the event of a fall. They are essential for a safe climb.

  • These screws are quick to bite and easy to screw in. They are an easy and fast-placing ice screw.
  • Tapered tube with teeth that cut a hole just larger than the tube itself, means less friction during placement
  • A large, color-coded crank knob makes for easy size identification and uninterrupted 360-degree motion
  • The colors and lengths are as follows:
    • Orange: 10mm
    • Yellow: 13mm
    • Blue: 16mm
    • Silver: 19mm
    • Green: 22mm

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Black Diamond Apex Gaiters

Look for gaiters made specifically for ice climbing because they feature waterproof fabric and durable reinforcements to keep crampon points away from ripping pant legs. They also keep out snow, rocks, block the wind and keep your legs warm. If your boots don’t have built in gaiters definitely go this route and buy them separately, you’ll be gld you did.

  • Made of waterproof, durable Gore Tex material
  • High calf design
  • Velcro clasp keeps gaiter securely on
  • Neoprene coated nylon foot straps
  • Webbed closure at top with slide release buckle

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See Also: Where to Ice Climb in Vail, Colorado


Comments

What are your thought on the year’s Best Ice Mountain Climbing Gear? What are your favorite ice climbing or mixed climbing brands and equipment?  Has any piece of climbing gear ever saved your life or saved you from serious injury? We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on the subject.



Related Articles: Best Over-The-Boot Ice Cleats


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  • Great writeup, I recently bought the Black diamond dry core climbing rope and it's awesome. Like most dry ropes, the 9.4 mm Dry from Black Diamond comes out of the packaging with a slightly steeper hand. The rope softens beautifully to what I found to be a good middle ground between smooth and rigid with a little use. It's not at all like the old 9.4 feeling of soft and spongy. The BD 9.4 is not stacking as nicely or flat as a stiffer rope as more soft ropes thought it was also less likely to tangle. How it feeds through a belay device is one of the really nice aspects of the rope. Smooth and easy to handle, it can be easily belayed and lowered.

    • Hi Ayodeji,  thank you for telling us your thoughts about the Black Diamond dry core climbing rope. I really like all of  Black Diamond products and their climbing ropes are no exception so  am so happy you agree it's a great rope and it sounds like you know stuff! Have fun climbing!

  • Thanks for this review on best Ice mountain climbing gear. The one thing you do not want to skimp on is ice climbing tools.  Your life literally hangs from them. The Petzl Ergo is a name brand ice tool that is great for both ice and rock and has pretty thick picks.  This is a great tool to invest in. Petzl is a brand that I trust and I have alot of their products

    • Yes Ajibola thank you for your comment about Best Ice Mountain Climbing Tools.  You are right, buy high quality ice tools and always inspect them before and after your climb to make sure all connections are tight, that there are no breaks or cracks and look for metal fatigue. Check to see if the pick is dull or bent.  A dull pick can be sharpened but do not resharpen beyond the first bottom tooth . You can usually get 20 - 50 days out of a pick.  Both Petzl and Black Diamond make great ice tools.  The Petzl Ergo Dry Tooling and Ice Climbing Axe is a great high quality tool that is super versatile.

  • I do a lot of mountaineering, not so much vertical ice climbing, but more hiking up the mountains in the winter.  I love this activity, it is still quite technical and the views are spectacular.  I carry the Black Diamond Raven Ice Axeand use it A LOT!  It is the perfect tool for self arrests on glissades or slippery slopes, it is also great to use almost as a cane or walking stick to help keep your balance. I like a longer axe rather than shorter but it is indispensable on the winter trail

    • Hi Bern, so glad you are enjoying mountaineering and thank you for letting us know how much you like the Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe. It is an indispensable tool for what you love to do and I know, I feel more confidant whenever I have an Ice Axe in my hand! Thanks for leaving a comment.

  • Awesome post, bro! While I'm an avid climber and have been climbing in several different parts of Colorado, I cannot say I've been to Vail specifically! One day. As for stories, one time I was climbing and a giant rock fell on top of my head. When I say big, I mean it was like 40 lbs, and it fell about 15 feet. Luckily, it somewhat brushed against my helmet instead of hitting my FULL force, but it was enough to FREAKING HURT LIKE H*LL. If i had not been wearing that helmet, that small boulder really might have killed me. So that's my small story lol. After that, I would never climb without a helmet.

    That experience showed me that you need to buy gear that you FULLY HAVE 100% TRUST IN. Climbing is serious, and your life is on the line every time you get up there. You better have good boots, a good helmet, good rope and a good harness. As for axes and the extras, you can get by without state of the art lol but with the most crucial tools, don't risk it. Buy quality. Thanks for posting this article! You've got some quality gear on here, some of which I have already purchased myself! Have a great day, Koda : )

    • Wow, Koda, that is an amazing story.  I am so happy that your story turned out well.  Big loose rocks like that can be scary.  I am happy you were wearing your helmet.  Thank you so much for sharing your experience and to remind the rest of us to ALWAYS wear our helmets.

  • Interesting review! Adrenaline addicts love ice climbing, but its important to have the right tools for this adventure.  Don't make the mistake or forgetting important items like a helmet or having sub-par gear that may fail when you really need them. I really like the Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet and Black Diamond Aspect Harness.   They are high quality products that are awesome to use.

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