Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightweight, comfortable to carry for long periods of time
Cons: Spike isn't as effective and wears out quickly, poor steep snow climbing performance, slightly below average self arrest performance
Best Uses: Through-hiking, ski mountaineering, adventure racing, moderate snow and glacier climbs.
The Black Diamond Raven Ultra is a lighter than average ice axe that is extremely comfortable to carry for long periods of time. The Raven Ultra used to be one of our award winners and we still think it's a pretty sweet axe. However it hasn't been updated in a while and now there are other ice axes like the Petzl Glacier Literide which are lighter, actually feature a steel spike, less expensive, and perform better in nearly every category.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
During our side-by-side self-arrest testing the Black Diamond Raven Ultra scored average to slightly below average. In softer snow our testers thought the Raven Ultra was pretty effective at slowing us down; however, when we tested the Ultra in icier conditions it struggled to get a good purchase compared to many of the other ice axes in our review. The Raven Ultra is designed with a straight shaft which is pretty good for self arresting but all of our testers preferred the additional leverage that a slightly curved shaft provides. We thought the Raven Ultra did not self-arrest as nicely as the Petzl Summit, Petzl Glacier, or the Grivel Evolution but did perform better than the all-aluminum CAMP Corsa. We did think all of the ice axes in the Raven family including the Raven Pro and base model Raven performed the same in our side-by-side self-arrest comparison.
Steep Ice and Snow Climbing Performance
Steep snow and ice is where the Raven ultra didn't score as well compared to most other ice axes on the market even many of the "ultra light" models. The Raven Ultra's pick, like the rest of the Raven family is a little wider and less aggressive than many other ice axes in our review. Out testers thought the Raven Ultra was fine when the snow was soft, but when either swinging or daggering it into firm snow or ice the Raven Ultra was noticeably less secure. Compared to the similarly priced and similarly weight Petzl Glacier Literide the Raven Ultra was below average. It also didn't climb steep snow near as well as the much lighter weight CAMP Corsa Nanotech. The Ultra's lack of a real spike also makes it slightly less secure while ascending or descending while use in a cane style position. Its side-ways cut would also lead the Ultra to unexpectedly "slip-out" from under us which was also unnerving.
Use As Improvised Anchor
The Black Diamond Raven Ultra is CEN-B rated and works well in a "T-Slot or deadman set-up for crevasse rescue or anchoring while belaying. The hole in the top of its head is a great size and easily accommodates most carabiners. The Raven Ultra lacks a spike and this made the Ultra harder to drive vertically when attempting to use it for self anchoring or as a back up while belaying on snow.
The Raven Ultra's adze is okay for hacking out icy tent platforms and chopping steps but didn't penetrating in firmer conditions as well as most other ice axes we tested including the similarly priced Petzl Glacier Literide or Grivel G1. When it was super firm during our side-by-side tests we felt we had to work noticeably harder to chop the same about of ice away. In softer conditions while digging T-slots for crevasse rescue the Raven Ultra preformed average to above average and could get the job done.
Comfort to Carry
The comfort to carry category is where the Raven really shines and it was the most comfortable ice axe to carry in either the self-arrest (pick backward) or the self belay position (pick forward). While other ice axes were hardly uncomfortable the Raven was easily the best. We also felt that the Raven line of ice axes along with the Petzl Glacier and Glacier Litride were the most comfortable to carry for folks with smaller hands.
At 12.5 ounces the Black Diamond Raven Ultra is lighter than average but remains heavier than its closest competition the Petzl Literide which is not only a little over an ounce heavier, but also has a better performing pick, an actual steel spike and is less expensive.
Best Applications, Value and the Bottom Line
The Raven Ultra is best used for early season backpacks, moderate mountaineering routes, alpine rock climbs and ski mountaineering. It isn't as good for steeper snow and ice route nor complex glacier climbs because of its poor steep snow climbing performance.
The Black Diamond Ultra used to be one of our favorite axes, but it hasn't been updated in a while. Now for less money, you can get buy the Petzl Glacier Literide which is lighter, climbs steep snow better, and self-arrest better. Tough to argue with that. If you like those axes but want something even lighter weight make sure to check out the 100% aluminum 7.5 ounce CAMP Corsa and the 8.5 ounce 100% aluminum plus a riveted on steel pick CAMP Corsa Nanotech.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Black Diamond Raven is 4 ounces heavier base-design model that features a spike and the same head.
The Black Diamond Raven Pro is two ounces heavier than the Raven Ultra, features the same pick and adze but also features a spike where the Ultra does not.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: May 18, 2015
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