The New Venom Ice Axe vs. the Older Model
Black Diamond dropped the new Venom ice axe on the market this Spring. It has several updates. Here's a quote from Black Diamond on the new tool:
The new Venom will feature a fully interchangeable pick, sliding FlickLock® pommel and an ergonomically shaped, angled shaft.
Check out this side-by-side comparison, with the newest version on the left and the older version we reviewed on the right.
Summary of the key differences:
- Interchangeable Picks — The new Venom is compatible with all picks in the Black Diamond lineup.
- FlickLock Pommel — The pommel is adjustable to slide up and down the shaft before locking into place.
- New Shaft Design — Black Diamond redesigned the shaft at an asymmetrical angle in an attempt to provide more ergonomic handling.
Our expert testers are currently climbing ice walls with the latest iteration of the Venom. Until the review of the new model is complete, the analysis below continues to reflect the older version.
Hands-On Review of the Previous Venom
The Black Diamond Venom is available with two pick options: a reverse curve pick or a classic pick. Depending on which pick option you use it has a noticeable effect on the Venom's self-arrest performance primarily in how "bumpy" it feels in firmer snow. The Reverse curve pick, which while better for steeper snow, self arrested a little below average among axes we tested and scored about the same as the similarly designed Petzl Sum'tec. When we tested the Venom's classic pick we thought it self arrested a little above average and better than the more classic Black Diamond axes: The Black Diamond Raven, Raven Pro, and Raven Ultra and scored around the same as the Grivel Evolution and Petzl Summit. Does that mean you need the Classic pick for all your general mountaineering routes? No, the Reverse curve pick was still effective at stopping the user, it just wasn't quite as smooth to stop when the snow was firm and there was little difference in soft snow.
Steep Ice and Snow Climbing Performance
The Venom with its curved shaft and reverse curve pick is among the best steep snow and ice climbing axes in our review. Like the Sum'tec, our users feel good about using the Venom on even moderate ice and feel many users will feel good climbing up to WI4 with these tools. Our testers appreciated the Venom's curved shaft which not only provided users with more clearance while swinging above their head, but also while in the mid-dagger position (Piolet Manche) where the clearance made it more comfortable for our hands and kept them warmer and drier. We thought the Venom performed nearly as well as the Sum'tec, but our testers liked the Sum'tec just a little better because of its higher performing pick and slider pommel, which Petzl calls the Trigrest. The Venom still climbed steeper ground better than the Grivel Evolution. One small downside of the Venom's rubber grips on the lower shaft is that they get beat up quickly which was not a result of clearing snow from our crampons, though it was never a real problem.
Use As Improvised Anchor
Despite being a more technical tool and on the heavier side, the Venom is still only CEN-B rated. This means it is suitable for normal use as an anchor during moderate loads or while in use as a "T-Slot" or dead man during a crevasse rescue or snow belay, but not for heavier duty use. The Venom features a well-designed spike that helped facilitate our testers to drive it in vertically for a backup while belaying or to anchor the user. The hole in the head of the Venom is one of the biggest and easiest to clip among ice axes in our review further improving its ability to be used as an improvised anchor.
Adze Performance: Chopping Steps, Anchors and Tent Platforms
The Venom had one of the best performing and best-designed adzes in our review and chopped away ice far better than most of the models in our review. Our testers felt the Venom moved snow noticeably easier than the Black Diamond Raven or Raven Pro and about the same as the Petzl Sum'tec or Petzl Summit.
Comfort to Carry
The Black Diamond Venom was among the most comfortable ice axes to carry in either self-arrest position (pick backwards) or self belay position (pick forward or Piolet Canne). Our testers thought it was more comfortable to carry than the Petzl Sum'tec or the Grivel Evolution.
At nearly 19 ounces the Venom is the heaviest model we tested and the picks are less durable than a few others tested that had hot-forged picks. With that said, it's not much heavier than the Sum'tec which is the only other modular ice axe in our review and the Venom is "light" compared to most ice tools which have a bulk of weigh in around 4-9 ounces heavier.
The Venom is more at home in steeper terrain. It climbs ice well on its own, paired with an ice tool, or paired with an ice axe. It is for steeper routes where you need to penetrate hard ice well and for climbers who don't mind a couple extra ounces in weight. Being on the heavier side, it isn't ideal for ski mountaineers, early season backpackers or alpine rock climbers. With its classic pick, it can be a great ice axe for general mountaineering applications and for more challenging snow and ice routes.
For those on a budget, it is $40 less expensive than the similar Petzl Sum'tec and only one ounce heavier. It also is available with a classic pick, which many similar axes do not offer. It is also the least expensive of all the products tested to sport a curved shaft. This makes it a great option for climbers on a budget looking for a more aggressive product that could also be considered a cheap ice tool for moderate waterfall and alpine ice.