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Black Diamond Raven Ultra Review

Decently lightweight and comfortable, but was generally outperformed in nearly every category
Black Diamond Raven Ultra
Photo: Steve
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Price:  $120 List | $97.46 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable to carry for long periods of time
Cons:  Sliced shaft shaft style spike isn't as effective and wears out quickly, poor steep snow climbing performance
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 22, 2019
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61
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 17
  • Self-Arresting - 15% 5
  • Digging & Step Chopping - 15% 7
  • Use as Improvised Anchor - 15% 7
  • Steep Ice & Snow - 25% 3
  • Comfort to Carry - 5% 10
  • Weight - 25% 8
RELATED: Best Ice Axe

Our Verdict

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).

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Pros Lightweight, comfortable to carry for long periods of timeHot-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 designsHot-forged pick, excellent self-arrest performance, fantastic adze design, below average weight particularly for an all-mountain option, solid steep snow climbing abilityGreat price, self-arrests very smoothly, adze is above-average for digging snow anchors or choping tent platforms wellComfortable to carry, great price, decent adze performance, head is easy to clip in several fashions
Cons Sliced shaft shaft style spike isn't as effective and wears out quickly, poor steep snow climbing performanceA little on the heavier sideSlightly more expensive side, not the best ice performanceLess comfortable to carry than other models, particularly in self-arrest positions; slightly heavier than averageDoesn't penetrate firm snow or ice well, below average steep snow performance
Bottom Line Decently lightweight and comfortable, but was generally outperformed in nearly every categoryWhile other models might perform specific tasks better, there is no better do-everything modelOne of the most versatile models, the Summit excels in a wide-range of activities, from steep snow routes to alpine rock climbsIf you are new to the sport or on a tight budget, this is adependable model that offers solid all-around performance for the priceExcellent price for a solid all-around mountaineering axe for use on moderate snow climbs and basic glacier routes
Rating Categories Black Diamond Raven... Petzl Summit Evo Petzl Summit CAMP Neve Black Diamond Raven
Self Arresting (15%)
5.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
5.0
Digging & Step Chopping (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Use As Improvised Anchor (15%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Steep Ice & Snow (25%)
3.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
3.0
Comfort To Carry (5%)
10.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
10.0
Weight (25%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
Specs Black Diamond Raven... Petzl Summit Evo Petzl Summit CAMP Neve Black Diamond Raven
Measured Weight 12 oz / 348g 14.1 oz / 400g 12.6 oz / 360g 15 oz / 425g 16 oz / 437g
Category Ultralight General General General General
Rating CEN-B CEN-B CEN-B CEN-B CEN-B
Pick Shape, Material, and Construction Laser cut, stainless steel, classic positive Hot-forged steel, Classic Positive curve Hot-forged steel, Classic Positive curve Forged chromoly steel pick, classic positive curve Laser cut, stainless steel, classic positive
Lengths Available 50, 55, 50 cm 52, 59, 66 cm 52, 59, 66 cm 50, 57, 65, 73, 80 cm 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 90 cm
Included Pommel or Leash? No Lower Rubber Grip No Slider leash No
Hammer Option No No No No No
Shaft Design Straight Bent Bent Straight Straight

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.

Performance Comparison


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).

Self-Arresting


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.

This model sports a wider-than-average pick that wasn't near as...
This model sports a wider-than-average pick that wasn't near as aggressive nor as downturned as many models in our review. This helped to it self-arrest smoothly in softer conditions but didn't bite as well in firmer ones.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

Black Diamond Raven Ultra
Black Diamond Raven Ultra
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

Showing the spike Raven Ultra. Its spike is simply a diagonally...
Showing the spike Raven Ultra. Its spike is simply a diagonally sawed off end of the shaft that performed poorly when conditions were firm.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

Black Diamond Raven Ultra
Black Diamond Raven Ultra
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

Weight


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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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

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