Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightweight, comfortable to hold, curable head.
Cons: Spike isn't as effective and wears out quickly.
Best Uses: Through-hiking, ski mountaineering, adventure racing, moderate snow and glacier climbs.
This lightweight ice axe is extremely versatile; it offers all the benefits of a steel head with much less weight than traditional axes. It is tough enough to hammer pickets and chop steps as well as do most of the general mountaineering axes I tested. It self-arrested smoothly and was extremely pleasant to carry. Like many ultralight axes it lacks a true spike, which provides slightly less security while walking. It does have a steel insert, which is an improvement over the rest of the ultralight axes in this review. Black Diamond updated the pick design of this axe for 2009 and slightly improved its steep snow and ice climbing ability. Also, in 2009 they started anodizing the shaft before painting it, which saved a few grams. The Raven Ultra is an excellent choice for ski mountaineering, basic snow routes and early season backpacking. It is a possible choice for other other mountaineering applications.
For ski mountaineering and more moderate snow climbing, this is a great selection. The Raven's steel pick is fantastic at self-arresting and it has one of the best performing adzes. It was the most comfortable axe to hold and comes in multiple sizes. For adventure racing and backpackers who carry an ice axe "just in case," you could get a lighter ice axe with the CAMP Corsa. The Petzl Snowracer is also worth considering because it scored almost as well but costs $30 less than the Raven Ultra. But any climber who wants to save weight without sacrificing versatility and a well-performing adze, the Raven Ultra is hard to beat.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This is the lightest ice axe tested with a steel head. The only lighter axes were the Petzl Snow Walker and the CAMP Corsa, which have less durable aluminum heads. It is more versatile than many of the other ultralight models. The adze moved firm snow and ice with astonishing ease, especially for such a light axe, and was the best performer in the ultralight category. The adze dug T-slots and chopped steps sensationally and performed similarly to the Petzl Snow Racer and far better than the CAMP Corsa. The holes in the middle of the head and in the adze made for great snow anchor building options. The newly designed pick made the Raven Ultra slightly above average in steeper snow and ice situations. It far out performed the CAMP Corsa and handled nearly as well as the Petzl Snowracer. The holes in the head of the Raven Ultra where some of the easiest and best to clip; they fit nearly any size carabiner. Along with the rest of Black Diamond Raven family, I loved the comfort of the head for holding in any position. It was the most comfortable axe tested.
Unlike many other semi-spikeless models, the Raven Ultra has an angled steel spike, which is actually integrated into the bottom of the aluminum shaft. This does a lot more than similar models, which just have a diagonally cut bottom. I did notice that after a season of heavy use the steel spike was worn to half its original height. However, it was much more durable that an aluminum shaft axe without this feature. Also, during tests I regularly felt this axe "slipped back" while walking in cane position as I charged my way up steeper terrain.
This is one of the best options for ski mountaineers who need more toughness than the CAMP Corsa offers. It excels for basic snow climbers and early season backpackers who want more than a typical ultralight ice axe with an aluminum head. Any climber looking for a general mountaineering axe should consider to the Raven Ultra.
The Raven Ultra is more versatile, durable and $10 less than the CAMP Corsa. In general the two have slightly different audiences and we thought the $10 price difference wasn't that big a deal and people would choose between the two out of functionality. So if you want weight savings without giving up a steel head, the Raven Ultra is the way to go.
— Ian Nicholson
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 16, 2010
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