Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Climbs steep ice well, very comfortable, multiple pick options, great value.
Best Uses: Steeper snow and ice routes.
The Black Diamond Venom is a hybrid ice axe/ice tool that received slight updates in 2009. The shaft is now anodized before it is painted, which saves weight and increases grip. This axe is available in both a hammer and an adze model as well as two different pick styles. The Venom follows in the footsteps of other tools in the the Black Diamond Raven family, sharing the similar adze and ergonomic-shaped head for increased comfort. The pick, however, is modular with the option for either a positive or a reverse curve. The positive pick is better for self-arresting and the reverse curve is better for ice climbing. This makes the Venom slightly more versatile than its chief competitor, the Petzl Sum'Tec. Like the rest of the more aggressive ice axes I tested, the Venom has a slight bend just below its head to help with clearance when swinging the tool. It also kept my hands drier when in Mid Dagger (Piolet Manche).
The Venom will serve everyone except the most weight conscious climbers and mountaineers. If you are looking for a light ice axe for ski mountaineering or early season backpacking, I wouldn't recommend this one. It shows its best colors on steeper terrain, alone or paired with another ice tool. With its classic pick it self-arrests well and pounds pickets great. So if you want one ice axe for some steeper routes and general mountaineering and don't mind the extra few ounces, then this is an awesome axe.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
I like that you can buy a Black Diamond Venom with an adze or hammer as well as with a classic pick or reverse curve tech pick. It also comes with a leash on all models. This axe is comfortable to hold no matter which way you carry it and second only to the Black Diamond Raven. The shaft is featured with a rubber grip on the lower section to provide better grip when swinging on steeper routes. The classic pick self-arrests promptly and the reverse curve pick climbed ice second best and only slightly behind the Petzl Sum'Tec. As with other ice axes with a slight bend, I enjoy the added "power" while self arresting. The reverse curve wasn't as dramatic as the Sum'Tec and thus self-arrested better. It is also the least expensive curved shaft axe I tested, cheaper than a Grivel Evolution or a Petzl Summit. The Venom's adze chopped steps and tent platforms a little better than a Snow Walker or a CAMP Neve and not quite as well as a Sum'Tec. It also has a very convenient hole in its head and the middle of its adze to help with making a snow anchors or standing ice axe belays. It was one of the most convenient ice axes to improvise an anchor with.
The Venom is the heaviest ice axe I tested and the picks are less durable than on a few other models tested that had hot-forged picks. The rubber on the lower shaft gets beat up quickly, although this was never a real problem.
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 penetrates 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 ice axes I tested to sport a curved shaft. This makes it a great option for climbers on a budget looking for a more aggressive ice axe that could also be considered a cheap ice tool for moderate waterfall and alpine ice.
If you have some extra money to spend, a set of the the Black Diamond Cobra ice tools can be purchased for $668 (more than three times as expensive as the Venom tools). These lightweight tools have carbon fiber shafts and are award winners on the Black Diamond website.
— Ian Nicholson
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: February 27, 2010
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