Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Climbs steep ice well, very comfortable, multiple pick options, great value.
Cons: Heavy, rubber grips get torn up quickly, pick isn't as durable as other models.
Best Uses: General mountaineering as well as steeper snow and ice routes, great choice to pair with an more traditional ice tool.
The Black Diamond Venom is a modular ice axe that excels in more complex terrain and on steeper routes and blurs the lines between an ice axe and ice tool. The Venom has two pick options: The Classic for more general mountaineering and a reverse curve pick that excels on steeper terrain. The Venom either in a pair or mated with an ice tool will climb pure waterfall ice surprisingly well and we like the fact that it is available in either a hammer or an adze. The Venom is certainly capable of more basic and moderate mountaineering routes but is a little overkill and is heavier and more expensive than most folks will need for those types of routes. However if you enjoy steeper and more challenging routes the Venom is an excellent performance oriented ice axe that crushes steep snow, has a well designed adze and is more comfortable to carry than most.
See how the Venom compared to all of the contenders in the Best Ice Axe review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Black Diamond Venom is available with two pick options: a reverse curve pick or a classic pick. Depending on which pick option you use it has a noticeable effect on the Venom's self-arrest performance primarily in how "bumpy" it feels in firmer snow. The Reverse curve pick, which while better for steeper snow, self arrested a little below average among axes we tested and scored about the same as the similarly designed Petzl Sum'tec. When we tested the Venom's classic pick we thought it self arrested a little above average and better than the more classic Black Diamond axes: The Black Diamond Raven, Raven Pro, and Raven Ultra and scored around the same as the Grivel Evolution and Petzl Summit. Does that mean you need the Classic pick for all your general mountaineering routes? No, the Reverse curve pick was still effective at stopping the user, it just wasn't quite as smooth to stop when the snow was firm and there was little difference in soft snow.
Steep Ice and Snow Climbing Performance
The Venom with its curved shaft and reverse curve pick is among the best steep snow and ice climbing axes in our review. Like the Sum'tec, our users feel good about using the Venom on even moderate ice and feel many users will feel good climbing up to WI4 with these tools. Our testers appreciated the Venom's curved shaft which not only provided users with more clearance while swinging above their head, but also while in the mid-dagger position (Piolet Manche) where the clearance made it more comfortable for our hands and kept them warmer and drier. We thought the Venom performed nearly as well as the Sum'tec, but our testers liked the Sum'tec just a little better because of its higher performing pick and slider pommel, which Petzl calls the Trigrest. The Venom still climbed steeper ground better than the Grivel Evolution. One small downside of the Venom's rubber grips on the lower shaft is that they get beat up quickly which was not a result of clearing snow from our crampons, though it was never a real problem.
Use As Improvised Anchor
Despite being a more technical tool and on the heavier side, the Venom is still only CEN-B rated. This means it is suitable for normal use as an anchor during moderate loads or while in use as a "T-Slot" or dead man during a crevasse rescue or snow belay, but not for heavier duty use. The Venom features a well designed spike that helped facilitate our testers to drive it in vertically for a backup while belaying or to anchor the user. The hole in the head of the Venom is one of the biggest and easiest to clip among ice axes in our review further improving its ability to be used as an improvised anchor.
Adze Performance: Chopping Steps, Anchors and Tent Platforms
The Venom had one of the best performing and best designed adzes in our review and chopped away ice far better than most of the models in our review. Our testers felt the Venom moved snow noticeably easier than the Black Diamond Raven or Raven Pro and about the same as the Petzl Sum'tec or Petzl Summit.
Comfort to Carry
The Black Diamond Venom was among the most comfortable ice axes to carry in either self arrest position (pick backwards) or self belay position (pick forward or Piolet Canne). Our testers thought it was more comfortable to carry than the Petzl Sum'tec or the Grivel Evolution.
At nearly 19 ounces the Venom is the heaviest model we tested and the picks are less durable than a few others tested that had hot-forged picks. With that said, it's not much heavier than the Sum'tec which is the only other modular ice axe in our review and the Venom is "light" compared to most ice tools which have a bulk of weigh in around 4-9 ounces heavier.
The Venom is more at home in steeper terrain. It climbs ice well on its own, paired with an ice tool, or paired with an ice axe. It is for steeper routes where you need to penetrate hard ice well and for climbers who don't mind a couple extra ounces in weight. Being on the heavier side, it isn't ideal for ski mountaineers, early season backpackers or alpine rock climbers. With its classic pick, it can be a great ice axe for general mountaineering applications and for more challenging snow and ice routes.
For those on a budget, it is $33 less expensive than the similar Petzl Sum'tec and only one ounce heavier. It also is available with a classic pick, which many similar axes do not offer. It is also the least expensive of all the products tested to sport a curved shaft. This makes it a great option for climbers on a budget looking for a more aggressive product that could also be considered a cheap ice tool for moderate waterfall and alpine ice.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Venom is available in a hammer or an adze version and there are two pick options available. A "Classic" pick that features a positive curve that is better for self arresting and more general mountaineering and a reverse curved pick that is better for steeper climbing where you may be swinging your ice axe in above your head.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: May 18, 2015
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