Ice Axes for General Backpacking Use: Bent or Straight Shaft?

imageI don’t often hike or backpack in the winter, but, when I do, I like to have an ice axe with me as a precautionary measure… I like to be prepared, even though I was never a boy scout.

Now, Having done a lot of research into Ice Axes – the popular consensus is that bent-shaft ice axes are for vertical and ice climbing. And that straight-shaft ice axes are for general use. Mainly self-arresting.

Now, I’d like to open this to comments – as I want to hear feedback on this. I am not an ice climber… just your average hiker. I probably will not get into ice climbing either. Gravity, heights, and me don’t get along too well… they never have. I am constantly battling gravity every moment of every single day… and I will ultimately lose in the end.

I want to know, which do you prefer for general use? Bent or straight shaft ice axes? Leave your opinions in the comments!

While I know how to self-arrest, I have fortunately never have had a live scenario where I needed to save myself plummeting to an icy grave on a hillside in the winter*.

PROS for bent-shaft ice axes:

  • Leverage.
  • Additional power for gripping.
  • Better angle for digging in.

CONS for bent-shaft ice axes:

  • “They”say that straight is better.
  • Not as good for checking snow depth/safety.
    • I use trekking poles – not an issue.

Since I have a winter hiking trip coming up, the time is coming for a purchase of a new ice axe… I want to hear what the public thinks on this to help me decide!

If you have any interest, these are the two I am looking

Thank you and happy holidays! May the underside of your tree be loaded with backpacks and stuffsacks and little SOL gadgets!


* now that I said that… I just jinxed myself, and my wife will someday soon become bloody rich!


2 thoughts on “Ice Axes for General Backpacking Use: Bent or Straight Shaft?

  1. Update – I was actually in REI today, and ended up going wiht the Petzl Snowwalker 60: Same price range, but straight shaft. I’ll report back with a review on how it holds up. The best part – it was on sale, just at that store, for under $65!

    No grip on it however, so I fashioned one using Gorilla tape. It’s lightweight and solid. And, if you look closely, the way the axe is cut out, the larger one works great as a beer bottle opener 🙂

  2. You made a good choice, I’ve had a Petzl Snowwalker for a couple years. I generally recommend a Camp Corsa to my friends for backpacking use; it’s the lightest ice axe on the market. You wouldn’t want to use it to hammer pegs, but it passes all the same tests for self-arrest, and it’s just as good in terms of feeling like you have a chance when a mountain lion wanders by in the night.

    A month and a half ago, I took my lady friend on a hike to Cascade Pass. Toward the end of the hike, the trail levels out and traverses a moderately steep (45 degrees?) talus slope, much of it was covered in hard snow and pretty slippery. There were foot prints from previous hikers, but they were marginal and some were down-sloping. I was using the axe for self-belay, she wasn’t. On the way back, crossing the last patch of snow (30 to 40 feet wide), she slipped. She dropped her axe, and slid out of control for about 100 feet, hit a rock, spun out of control, and only stopped when she tumbled over a bunch of talus. Got a big gash down her leg, scraped up her arms, legs, and belly, and wound up with nightmares for about a week. I glissaded down using the axe as a brake and rudder, did a self-arrest, and helped her up the talus next to the snow, which we had to cross again. We took it slow, and I used both axes, one for self-belay and the other to chop big, wide, flat steps.

    I prefer straight-shaft ice axes, but I’m not a vertical ice climber. The straight shaft makes it a lot easier to probe for hidden crevasses on glaciers (I have a story about that, too, but this is too long already) and for self-belay. Much better not to fall in the first place than to fall and stop yourself, a self-arrest isn’t always possible.

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