Black Diamond Swift Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: CEN-T rating, rad FlickLock style slider pommel, curved shaft keeps hands warmer and drier during steep snow climbs, heavy tapered pick provides great support/purchase during normal conditions, huge spike
Cons: Heavy, expensive, wide pick is strong but doesn't penetrate ice as well as some
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond Swift is one of our favorite "T"-rated axes for general mountaineering. Its hot-forged pick, sweet adjustable pommel, and curved shaft help it shine when the going gets tough. While slightly overkill for the most basic of routes, the Swift excels on complex glacier routes and steep snow climbs, which a majority of its design-aspects are geared towards.
While not our first choice for ski mountaineering or approaching alpine rock climbs because of its weight, a shorter length would make these occasional trips possible. If you're after an axe for these types of trips, the Swift is not your best option; instead, there are several other capable options at half the weight.
The Swift's positive curved pick is one of our tester's favorite for self-arresting. Several design aspects help it perform well for steep snow climbing, allowing for confidence-inspiring self arrests.
Its heavily tapered hot-forged pick bites into firm slopes and soft snow, while its curved shaft gave testers more leverage while self-arresting and its narrow head was easy to hang on to.
Digging & Step Chopping
The head weight helps make this model exceptional for step chopping and tent platform carving. However, its adze isn't nearly as wide as comparable models, and it features more curvature; we felt neither design was an advantage. More precision was required to use the curved and narrow adze for t-slots for snow anchors, making a tent platform, or chopping steps. Its biggest saving grace was its performance in firm conditions or ice, as we could clear more ice with ever due to the head weight of this model.
Use As An Improvised Anchor
The Swift is one of only two models we tested to feature a CEN-T (UIAA Type 2) rating; the only other model carrying this rating was the Petzl Sum'tec. It's worth noting that the Black Diamond Venom does not carry the CEN-T designation, despite an identical shaft.
These ratings are based on a series of tests conducted on various parts of the axe and are designed to replicate some of the forces it might experience in the real world. For example, when weighted from mid-shaft, as if the axe were being T-slotted or as a Deadman, a CEN-B rated axe's shaft must withstand 2.5KN versus a CEN-T is 3.5KN. While both rating types are suitable for improvised crevasse rescue and belaying on snow, few will argue that stronger is better.
Besides overall strength (and subsequent UIAA ratings), our testers really liked several design aspects of the Swift, which helped make it easier to use as an improvised anchor. We liked the hole in the head of the axe, which could accommodate two carabiners. While it's neat, at least in theory, it's pretty rare to need to clip two carabiners to your axe. The Swift's burly oversized spike made it one of the easier models to plug vertically into the snow; this, of course, has numerous advantages, whether backing up a seated belay, using as a standing ice axe belay, or beefing up an existing picket anchor by placing your axe vertically in front of the Deadman (Saxon's Cross Technique).
Steep Ice and Snow
The Swift offers excellent steep snow performance. Its pick is hot-forged stainless steel, which allows for good purchase in firm snow or ice.
The pick is heavily tapered, widening as it gets closer to the shaft. This helps the Swift provide more security and better "purchase" while climbing routes that are moderately firm or soft, which is what most climbers are faced with a majority of the time. The pick itself is moderately aggressive, striking a nice balance between steep snow and self-arresting.
The Swift features a moderate amount of curvature in its shaft and has an identical shaft to the Black Diamond Venom. This curved design gives its user better leverage while driving the pick into the snow while in mid-dagger/piolet appui positions. The design also keeps its user's hand out of the snow and often results in warmer and drier hands. It's far more comfortable to apply pressure to while ascending sustained sections of steep snow. The Swift's shaft is teardrop-shaped and is comfortable for prolonged sections of mid-dagger style climbing.
We loved the Swift's secure and easy to adjust slider pommel. To secure the pommel, Black Diamond uses a locking mechanism that is remarkably similar to its award-winning FlickLock trekking poles. While most people think of sliding it to the base of the shaft near the spike, we commonly used it on steeper snow routes just above mid-shaft. This provides even more support for climbing in mid-dagger/piolet appui positions.
While we didn't swing this axe overhead like a traditional ice tool (piolet traxion), having the weight centered in the head was a benefit while climbing over short steep sections. Being able to position the pommel at the base of the shaft also provides support and security and minimizes the chance of our hand slipping off.
Comfort to Carry
Like the rest of Black Diamond's axes, the Swift was among the more comfortable models to carry. The Swift is decent to carry in self-belay/piolet canne (pick forward) position and a review favorite in self-arrest/pick backward position.
The Swift is comfortable to carry in self-arrest position, thanks to its general ergonomics. Its slender width at mid head adds to this comfort. Black Diamond also took the teeth away from the area on the pick that is most commonly gripped, replacing it with a nice smooth surface.
At 17 ounces, the Swift is the heaviest non-modular ice axe we tested, with only the Black Diamond Venom (18 ounces being heavier). The Swift boasts a heavier weight due to its CEN-T/UAAI Type 2 rating, as the shaft, pick, and connection points must be stronger than a CEN-B/UIAA Type 1 rated axe. The only other model in our review that carried the CEN-T/UAAI Type 2 rating is the Petzl Sum'tec (17.1 ounces). The Sum'tec is more or less the same weight as the Swift, but it climbs steep snow and ice far better and offers a modular head; however, it's less versatile overall and is less of a true all-arounder.
The Swift is heavier than its most direct competition, but only by a few ounces. While we love the Swift as a robust option, it's not a necessity if you're planning to travel on moderate snow or glacier climbs. If moderate snow or glacier climbs are your style, we'd recommend the Petzl Summit; both models provide solid, all-around performance but are noticeably lighter weight.
The Swift is one of the pricier options in our fleet, though the price is comparable to other higher-performing ice axes. However, we find value in this model, as it boasts incredible strength, a robust design, and steep climbing prowess. While you can buy other models for half the price, the Swift offers exceptional performance on various terrain.
The Black Diamond Swift is a stout ice axe that excels on complex glacier routes and steep snow climbs. It's burly, and its heft does have several benefits when it comes to digging snow anchors, pounding pickets, swinging it into firm snow, and inspiring confidence. With that said, it's not as versatile as other high scorers due to its weight. For those who have a lightweight axe in their quiver for alpine rock climbing or ski mountaineering, the Swift will complement it nicely; it's one of our favorites for technical or complex mountaineering objectives.
— Ian Nicholson