Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Climbs steep ice extremely well, sweet slider pommel, one of the best self-arrest performing adzes in the review, chops ice like a champion
Cons: Self-arrest performance is good but not great, heavy for basic mountaineering, expensive
Best Uses: General mountaineering as well as steeper snow and ice routes, great choice to pair with an more traditional ice tool
The Petzl Sum'tec is a true hybird ice axe of a traditional ice axe and an ice tool. The Sum'tec features a modular (read interchangeable and replaceable) durable hot forged pick with a fixed adze and a bent shaft for added clearance. One of our testers favorite features is a sliding pommel which Petzl calls a Trigrest that provides support for our hand and increased the accuracy of our swing. As a result the Sum'Tec climbs ice better than any other axe in this review and is easily compared with basic (less dramatically curved) alpine ice tools. You can carry two of them easily too climb more difficult water or alpine ice. It is durable and it's only drawback is the fact it is on the heavier side for ice axes (but lighter than other modular tools). The slider pommel is cool; it turned nearly everyone's head.
This is one of the heavier ice axes we tested and a little overkill for many moderate routes. But if you climb a lot of steeper terrain, this ice axe is tough to beat. Along with the Petzl Summit and the Grivel Evolution, it is the best step chopping and platform digging axe we tested. Compared to the Black Diamond Venom, it was more expensive but lighter and easier to climb leashless.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Petzl Sum'tec stood out and was a top performer in nearly every category except it was just okay at self-arresting. The Sum'tec could easily self-arrest in even the firmest of snow but the reverse curve pick made it less smooth and our testers felt the Sum'tec self-arrested more "jerky" or bumpy". Of course with that said, the reverse curve pick is what makes the Sum'tec a better steep snow climber, so you can't have everything. We felt the Sum'tec self arrested similarly to the Black Diamond Venom but not near as good as the Grivel Evolution or the Petzl Summit Evo. Our testers did think the Sum'tec's bent shaft did help to get more leverage on the axe while battling to stop.
Steep Ice and Snow Climbing Performance
Steep ice and snow climbing performance is where the Sum'tec truly excels and was the top scorer in this category in our review. Our testers used the Sum'tec for over two dozen days in the Cascades and in the Alaska Range on routes up to WI 4 in difficulty and the Sum'tec performed fantastically. The Sum'tec features a reverse curve pick (just like the picks of nearly all ice tools) that is hot forged and provided excellent purchase in nearly all conditions. A small feature that really set the Sum'tec apart from the Black Diamond Venom and most of the other modular ice axes on the market was its straight up awesome slider pommel. This slider pommel provided enough support and increased accuracy for our hand while swinging the axe into steeper ice, but also easily moved out of the way while plunging the axe or simply walking on glaciers. The Sum'tec's bent shaft kept our hands drier and out of the snow while climbing in low and mid dagger position but also provided more than enough clearance on moderate to steeper ice.
Use As Improvised Anchor
The Petzl Sum'tec is one of the best axes we tested to be used as an improvised anchor. For "T'-slot" or Deadman style anchors, the Sum'tec features a CEN-T rated shaft, meaning it can hold 400 Kg of weight compared with most other axes we tested that have a CEN-B rating that can only hold 280Kg. The hole in the head of the axe is one of the easiest to clip and will load carabiners in one of the better orientations among axes we tested. The Sum'tec's spike is also extremely well designed and helps facilitate driving the axe to the hilt to assist in providing a quick anchor.
Digging Step Chopping
The Sum'tec digs anchors, hacks tent platforms and chops steps like a champion and was among the best performing ice axes in our review in this category. It performs as well as any axe can and features one of the best designed adzes on the market.
Comfort to Carry
The Sum'tec is above average overall in our comfort to carry catagory. In self-belay position (pick forward) it lives up to its European routes and is very comfortable. In self-arrest position (pick backward) it's good, but not excellent, and wasn't quite as comfortable as the Black Diamond Venom and is on par with the Petzl Summit or Grivel Evolution.
At 16.9 ounces the Petzl Sum'tec is about 2-4 ounces heavier than most other general mountaineering axes but remains lighter than the Black Diamond Venom and most other modular axes on the market. So while it isn't super light, for having an interchangeable reverse curve pick, a CEN-T rated shaft and a slider pommel, it is light for what it is.
The Sum'tec is a solid choice for general mountaineering routes and excels when the terrain gets steep and complex. Its only small drawback for moderate mountaineering routes is that it only has a reverse curve pick and also just the fact that it is a little overkill and is a few ounces heavier. The reverse curve is not as useful as a classic positive pick on mellow routes with no steep terrain. It is a steep snow and ice-crushing machine that also works sensationally as a leashless ice tool.
At $175 it is more expensive than the similarly designed Black Diamond Venom. But for that extra $33 you get better performing hot forged pick, half an ounce of weight savings and a super sick slider pommel instead of a more traditional leash.
The Sum'tec is a stellar ice axe for moderate to difficult mountaineering and alpine routes that blurs the line between an ice axe and an ice tool. It's weight and price mean it might be a little heavier or a little on the expensive side for climbers who tend to stick only to easier or moderate mountaineering routes, but the Sum'tec remains a viable options for even those routes.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: May 18, 2015
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