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Black Diamond Raven Review

Excellent price for a solid all-around mountaineering axe for use on moderate snow climbs and basic glacier routes.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $85 List | $84.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Comfortable to carry, great price, decent adze performance, head is easy to clip in several fashions
Cons:  Doesn't penetrate firm snow or ice well, below average steep snow performance
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 21, 2019
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#12 of 15
  • Self-arresting - 22% 8
  • Digging & Step chopping - 17% 7
  • Use as improvised Anchor - 8% 9
  • Steep ice and snow - 22% 6
  • Comfort to carry - 11% 10
  • Weight - 20% 5

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond Raven is one of the most popular models on the market today. It's a solid all-around mountaineering axe that functions well enough for most applications; while you can certainly buy a lighter model or one that performs better for steep or complex routes, it's hard to find one at a better price. That is the biggest reason the Raven won our Best Buy Award; it's simply one of the best overall ice axes for money. It excels in general mountaineering objectives, basic snow climbs, and moderate glacier routes. It works okay for steeper snow climbs, but several other options will serve you better. Every year it faces tighter competition for our Best Buy; most notably the CAMP Neve, which is very near in overall performance.


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Pros Comfortable to carry, great price, decent adze performance, head is easy to clip in several fashionsHot-forged pick, excellent self-arrest performance, fantastic adze design, below average weight particularly for an all-mountain option, solid steep snow climbing abilityHot-forged pick penetrates snow and ice extremely well, no-teeth on gripping area of pick, curved shaft and teardrop/oval shaped shaft excel in steeper terrain, exceptional self-arrest performance, one of the best overall adze designsBest steep snow climbing performance, durable, penetrates hard ice well, excellent self-arrest and steep snow climbing performanceLightest weight mountain axe with a spike, great price, very comfortable, solid self-arrest performance
Cons Doesn't penetrate firm snow or ice well, below average steep snow performanceSlightly more expensive side, not the best ice performanceA little on the heavier sideExpensive, slightly on the heavier side, like its slider pummel but wished it could be placed in more positions along the shaftOnly comes in one size, just okay steep snow performance
Bottom Line Excellent price for a solid all-around mountaineering axe for use on moderate snow climbs and basic glacier routes.One of the most versatile models, the Summit excels in a wide-range of activities, from steep snow routes to alpine rock climbs.The best all-around ice axe; while other models might perform specific tasks better, there is no better do-everything model.Across-the-board high performance helps this axe excel at almost any application; from general glacier travel to steep snow routes to alpine rock climbs, this model is among the best.One of the most versatile axes for the weight, this model performs surprisingly well at a wide range of tasks while still weighing in less than several specialized options.
Rating Categories Black Diamond Raven Petzl Summit Petzl Summit Evo Grivel Air Tech Evolution Petzl Glacier Literide
Self Arresting (22%)
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
9
Digging & Step Chopping (17%)
10
0
7
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
9
Use As Improvised Anchor (8%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
Steep Ice And Snow (22%)
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
Comfort To Carry (11%)
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
Weight (20%)
10
0
5
10
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8
10
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6
10
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5
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9
Specs Black Diamond Raven Petzl Summit Petzl Summit Evo Grivel Air Tech... Petzl Glacier...
Weight (oz/gram) 16.1 oz/ 456g 13.4 oz/380g 14.8 oz/420g 17.6 oz 11.2 oz/320g
Size tested 60cm 59cm 59cm 58cm 50cm
Lengths availible 55-80, 90cm (every 5 cm) 52, 59, 66cm 52, 59, 66cm 48, 53, 58, 66cm 50cm
Rating CEN-B CEN-B CEN-B CEN-T CEN-B
Category General General

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond Raven is a solid all-around general mountaineering axe at a straight-up fantastic price. While you can certainly buy a higher performing model, we feel that the Raven offers the overall best option for the least money. While more than suitable for moderate snow climbs and basic glacier routes, we would recommend a more performance-oriented model if you see steep snow or complex glacier routes in your future.

Performance Comparison



Self-Arresting


The Raven performed slightly below average in our side-by-side self-arrest comparison. In softer snow, its wider pick provides better bite or purchase, which helps to effectively slow us down; however, when in firm conditions, the Raven struggled to "bite" as well as many of the other ice axes we tested. It features a straight shaft, which is decent for self-arresting, though all of our testers preferred the additional leverage that a slightly curved shaft provides.


Of note, testing indicated that all of the ice axes in the BD's Raven line performed more-or-less the same in our side-by-side testing.

The Raven carries a CEN-B rating  which means it's suitable for use as an improvised anchor for crevasse rescue or to belay a second climber who is ascending steep snow. We appreciated several design features that make it easy to use as an improvised anchor  most notably its well-designed spike  easy-to-clip hole in the center of its head  and narrow shaft which is also a clipping option. Here  Michael Yarnall works on his crevasse rescue skills with a Raven on the Dana Glacier near Dome Peak.
The Raven carries a CEN-B rating, which means it's suitable for use as an improvised anchor for crevasse rescue or to belay a second climber who is ascending steep snow. We appreciated several design features that make it easy to use as an improvised anchor, most notably its well-designed spike, easy-to-clip hole in the center of its head, and narrow shaft which is also a clipping option. Here, Michael Yarnall works on his crevasse rescue skills with a Raven on the Dana Glacier near Dome Peak.

Digging and Step Chopping


The Raven's adze was okay for hacking out icy tent platforms and chopping steps, as it didn't penetrate firm snow or ice as well as most others we tested. When the snow or ice was super firm, we had to work noticeably harder to chop the same ice away with the Raven as opposed to several higher-end models like the Petzl Summit Evo, Black Diamond Swift, Petzl Summit, or Grivel Air Tech Racing. In softer snow, while digging T-slots for crevasse rescue, the Raven ranged somewhere between average to slightly above average and was able to get the job done. Of note, tester Ian Nicholson saw one of the adzes shear off on Denali, something he has never seen another ice axe do in 10 trips to the mountain.

The Raven  along with the rest of Black Diamond's ice axes  was the most comfortable in our review. While they faced a lot of close competition for comfort when carried in self-belay/piolet canne (pick-forward position)  they were a cut above the rest when carried in self-belay (pick-backward) position.
The Raven, along with the rest of Black Diamond's ice axes, was the most comfortable in our review. While they faced a lot of close competition for comfort when carried in self-belay/piolet canne (pick-forward position), they were a cut above the rest when carried in self-belay (pick-backward) position.

Use As Improvised Anchor


The Raven is CEN-B/ UIAA Type 1 rated axe, which means it is suitable for use as an improvised anchor for crevasse rescue, or to belay a second climber off of who is ascending steep snow (a CEN-B rating is what the majority of climbers and mountaineers require). Several design characteristics help the Raven to be used as an improvised anchor. The hole in this model's head easily facilitates a carabiner, which makes backing-up a seated stance or utilizing a standing or sitting ice axe belay easy.

We also liked that the shaft/head connection is narrow enough that we could simply clip a larger locking carabiner around the whole head or drive the shaft through the carabiner into the snow. Its full-sized pick makes plunging the length of the shaft easy, which is nice for a number of anchors mentioned previously (or to be driven in front of a deadman picket as a Saxon's cross).

John and Michael Yarnall appreciating several design characteristics that make the Raven easy to use as an improvised anchor while practicing crevasse rescue.
John and Michael Yarnall appreciating several design characteristics that make the Raven easy to use as an improvised anchor while practicing crevasse rescue.

Steep Ice and Snow


The Raven has several things going for it, but this is one particular category where it struggled. It features a wider-than-average pick that is not particularly aggressive, meaning better options exist for climbing steep snow, as the Raven was noticeably less secure in such conditions.

The Raven has several advantages  but steep snow climbing prowess isn't one of them. Its wider-than-average pick worked okay when conditions were soft but didn't penetrate firmer snow or ice nearly as well as most other models in our review.
The Raven has several advantages, but steep snow climbing prowess isn't one of them. Its wider-than-average pick worked okay when conditions were soft but didn't penetrate firmer snow or ice nearly as well as most other models in our review.

Its straight shaft offered minimal clearance; even compared to most models in its price range, none of which feature curved shafts, it was below the competition. This is mostly due to its pick, which was decent for basic snow climbs or simple glacier routes; however, we wouldn't want it on anything more challenging. We found this true among Black Diamond's entire Raven line, which all feature an identically designed pick and straight shaft.

Top view of the Raven. You can see how heavily tapered the pick is  which helps it to provide better support and purchase in softer conditions.
Top view of the Raven. You can see how heavily tapered the pick is, which helps it to provide better support and purchase in softer conditions.

Compared to the other price-pointed general mountaineering focused models, the CAMP Neve and the Petzl Glacier both ascended steep snow routes better both on their own or while mated with a more technical tool.

The Raven's spike is full-sized  which helps facilitates the shaft being driven in vertically. This is great for providing security while ascending steeper terrain in softer conditions  or to beef up anchors and back up belay stances.
The Raven's spike is full-sized, which helps facilitates the shaft being driven in vertically. This is great for providing security while ascending steeper terrain in softer conditions, or to beef up anchors and back up belay stances.

Comfort to Carry


The comfort to carry category is where the Raven really shines, along with the rest of Black Diamond's line of Raven axes. No other model was as comfortable to carry as the Raven in self-arrest (pick backward) position, and it was easily a cut above the rest. In self-belay/piolet canne position (pick forward), the Raven was top-tier for sure, earning one of the highest scores in the review.

At 16 oz   the Raven is one of the heavier ice axes in our review. While we found the Raven to be a great overall value  it is easy to save 3-5 oz by spending $20-30 more. How much those 3-5 ounces matter depends on the types of trips you typically embark on. Here John  Luke  and Michael Yarnall traverse toward the Cache Col on the first day of the Ptarmigan Traverse.
At 16 oz, the Raven is one of the heavier ice axes in our review. While we found the Raven to be a great overall value, it is easy to save 3-5 oz by spending $20-30 more. How much those 3-5 ounces matter depends on the types of trips you typically embark on. Here John, Luke, and Michael Yarnall traverse toward the Cache Col on the first day of the Ptarmigan Traverse.

Weight


At 16 ounces, the Raven is on the heavier side of ice axes we tested, though not by much. Weight is the primary difference between the Raven and its more expensive counterparts, the Raven Pro (14 ounces), or the Raven Ultra (12 ounces but no spike). The Raven is our Best Buy because we feel it is the best ice axe you can buy for the price; if you are willing to spend $20-$30 more, you can easily save a few ounces by buying the Glacier, Haute Route, or Raven Pro.

The Raven is an excellent option for general mountaineering  basic snow climbs  and simple glacier ascents. It works okay for steep snow routes  but there are certainly options that perform better and are more geared toward these types of routes. Pictured here is the Yarnall family crossing the Cache Glacier.
The Raven is an excellent option for general mountaineering, basic snow climbs, and simple glacier ascents. It works okay for steep snow routes, but there are certainly options that perform better and are more geared toward these types of routes. Pictured here is the Yarnall family crossing the Cache Glacier.

Best Applications


The Raven is best for general mountaineering, basic snow climbs, and simple glacier ascents. It works okay for steep snow routes, but there are several better options out there; if it's steep and icy, the Raven is a straight-up poor choice. Conversely, it will work for ski-mountaineering or alpine rock routes, but there are far lighter options available that will serve users better. If you are getting into the sport and don't plan on anything too burly early on in your mountaineering career, the Raven is an excellent option for you.

We feel the Raven is the best ice axe you can buy for the least amount of money. At $80  it's half the price of a majority of ice axes we tested.
We feel the Raven is the best ice axe you can buy for the least amount of money. At $80, it's half the price of a majority of ice axes we tested.

Value


The Raven is a straight-up fantastic value. At such a great price, it is half that of a majority of ice axes. While there are surely better overall performers, not many exist as far as general mountaineering models go. The Raven did face stiff competition from the CAMP Neve, which very nearly pulled the Best Buy Award rug right out from under the Raven. The Raven is more than suitable for a majority of general mountaineering users, and its price remains undeniably excellent.

This is a solid general mountain axe for a great price. The Raven works well for the types of trips that most people embark on  and costs only half the price of a majority of models. Photo: Putting the Raven to good use on day 5 of the Ptarmigan Traverse in the North Cascades.
This is a solid general mountain axe for a great price. The Raven works well for the types of trips that most people embark on, and costs only half the price of a majority of models. Photo: Putting the Raven to good use on day 5 of the Ptarmigan Traverse in the North Cascades.

Conclusion


The Black Diamond Raven is a solid general mountaineering axe for an amazing price. While better models exist, the Raven will provide for the majority of general mountaineering users, and it's nearly half the price of many others in our fleet, which leaves you with more money in your bank account.


Ian Nicholson