The Black Diamond Raven Ultra is an average ice axe that is exceptionally comfortable to carry for long periods of time. The Raven Ultra used to be one of our award winners, and we still think it's a pretty sweet axe. However, it hasn't been updated in several years; other ice axes like the Petzl Glacier Literide or CAMP Corsa Nanotech are lighter, feature a steel spike, and perform better in nearly every category (and in the case of the Literide, is also less expensive).
Black Diamond Raven Ultra Review
Cons: Sliced shaft shaft style spike isn't as effective and wears out quickly, poor steep snow climbing performance
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
While the Raven Ultra was once one of the lightest models on the market over a decade ago, it not sits close to the middle of the pack. Other similarly designed ultralight spikeless designs are now significantly lighter, leaving the Ultra behind. From a performance perspective, the Raven Ultra isn't nearly as versatile as other models in the 11-14 ounce range, and no longer offers the weight-saving benefits of other spikeless ultralight models.
The Raven Ultra is best used for early season backpacking, moderate mountaineering routes, alpine rock climbs, and ski mountaineering. It isn't as ideal for steep snow and ice routes, nor would we recommend it for complex glacier climbs due to its poor steep snow climbing performance. If you're after something that weighs even less, make sure to check out the 100% aluminum 7.5 ounce CAMP Corsa or the 8.5 ounce 100% aluminum CAMP Corsa Nanotech (with a plus a riveted on steel pick).
During our side-by-side self-arrest tests, the Raven Ultra scored average to slightly below average. In softer snow, we found it to be effective at slowing us down; however, when we tested the Ultra in icy conditions, it struggled to obtain a decent purchase. The Raven Ultra is designed with a straight shaft, which is good for self-arresting, though we prefer the additional leverage that a slightly curved shaft provides. All of the ice axes in the Raven family, including the Raven Pro and base model Raven, performed similarly in our side-by-side self-arrest comparison.
Digging and Step Chopping
The Raven Ultra's adze is okay for hacking out icy tent platforms and chopping steps but didn't penetrate firm conditions as well as most other ice axes we tested, including the similarly priced Petzl Glacier Literide or Grivel G1. When the conditions were super firm during our side-by-side tests, we had to work noticeably harder to chop the same amount of ice away. In softer circumstances, like while digging T-slots for crevasse rescue, the Raven Ultra performed average and did get the job done.
Use As Improvised Anchor
The Raven Ultra is CEN-B rated, performing in a "T-slot" or deadman set-up for crevasse rescue, or anchoring while belaying. The hole in the top of its head is a great size and easily accommodates most carabiners. The Raven Ultra lacks a spike, which makes the Ultra harder to drive vertically when attempting to use for self-anchoring, or as a back up while belaying on snow.
Steep Ice and Snow
Steep snow and ice are where the Raven Ultra didn't score as well compared to other ultralight models on the market. The Raven Ultra's pick, like the rest of the Raven family, is a little wider and less aggressive than many others in our review. Our testers thought the Raven Ultra was fine when the snow was soft, but when swinging or daggering into firm snow or ice, the Raven Ultra was noticeably less secure.
Compared to the similarly priced and weighted Petzl Glacier Literide, the Raven Ultra didn't offer up the same high performance. It also didn't climb steep snow nearly as well as the much lighter weight CAMP Corsa Nanotech. The Ultra's lack of a real spike also makes it slightly less secure while ascending or descending while used in a canne style position. Its sideways cut also allowed the Ultra to unexpectedly "slip-out" from under us, which was unnerving at times.
Comfort to Carry
The comfort to carry category is where the Raven shines, as it was the most comfortable ice axe to carry in either the self-arrest (pick backward) or the self-belay position (pick forward). While other ice axes weren't necessarily uncomfortable, we found the Raven to provide maximum comfort when carrying. The Raven line of ice axes, along with the Petzl Glacier and Glacier Literide, were the most comfortable to carry for folks with smaller hands.
At 12.5 ounces, the Raven Ultra is decently lightweight, yet remains heavier than its closest competition, the Petzl Literide. The Literide is not only a little over an ounce lighter, but also has a better performing pick, an actual steel spike, and is less expensive. The Raven Ultra is the heaviest ultralight model, meaning it doesn't have a true spike and is far heavier than most other models.
The Ultra used to be one of our favorite axes, but it hasn't been updated in a few years. For less money, you can get the Petzl Glacier Literide which is lighter, climbs steep snow better, and can self-arrest better; tough to argue with that.
While the Raven Ultra is hardly poor-performing, it's no longer the trimmed down superlight model it once was. It is now similar in weight to several others that offer greater versatility and is similar in design to significantly lighter models.
— Ian Nicholson