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.
Black Diamond Raven Review
Compare prices at 4 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
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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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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