Black Diamond Venom Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Modular head works with all of BD's ice tool picks, climbs steep snow and ice well, comfortable to carry in any position, great value, sweet FlickLock style slider pommel, grip, big spike, can clip two carabiners to the hole in its head
Cons: Heavy, rubber grips get torn up quickly, pick isn't as durable as other models
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond Venom is geared towards steep snow, moderate ice, and complex glacier climbs. Our review team appreciated many of its designs characteristics, which are built for these types of climbs. From its shaft-design to its sweet slider pommel and interchangeable design for picks, the Venom is built for a wide range of challenging ascents. Of course it's still fully functional for moderate routes, but it's a touch overkill and on the heavy side. However, the Venom is only slightly heavier and is also less expensive than many higher-end models; it also gives little up in overall performance, other than a few ounces of weight.
The Venom is at home in steeper terrain and complex glacier routes. While it does perform well in basic snow climbs, it's simply more than most people need, as it's more expensive and heavier than necessary for such routes. For sustained and steep snow climbs, moderate water ice, or complex glacier routes, the Venom truly shines, and its performance characteristics are completely worth the small weight penalty. The Venom climbs moderate ice well and can be used in a pair for ice routes or mated with a single ice tool for moderately steep snow climbs.
We tested the adze version of the Venom, which features their mountain classic pick. The Venom self-arrests impeccably; the pick bites into the snow smoothly and its curved shaft gave us more leverage, which allowed us to drive the pick into the snow better than straight-shafted models. Both of the Venom's picks aren't mega aggressive compared to a traditional ice tool, making this one of the biggest reasons the Venom self-arrests better than the Petzl Sum'Tec.
The Venom's pick is heavily tapered, widening significantly closer to the shaft. This allows the tool to provide better purchase as it's driven deeper into the snow, even in softer conditions. In our side-by-side tests, the Venom finished toward the top of the pack, providing exceptional self-arresting capabilities.
Digging and Step Chopping
The Venom has one of the best performing and designed adzes in our review. During extensive real-world and direct side-by-side testing, it chopped away ice, constructed tent platforms, and dugout T-trenches far better than many of the models in our review. The Venom also moved snow far easier than the Black Diamond Raven or Raven Pro.
The Venom's heaviest-in-review head weight helped it penetrate firm snow and ice. However, its adze wasn't nearly as wide as comparable models and features more curvature; neither design was an advantage. The narrow and curved adze also required more precision when chopping steps, digging out "T-slots" for snow anchors, or constructing a tent platform. In very firm snow or ice, we could clear ice with every chop simply due to the Venom's head weight.
Use As Improvised Anchor
The Venom has several design aspects that make it easy to use as an improvised anchor. One thing of note is the Venom only has a CEN-B/UIAA Type 1 rating; there is certainly nothing wrong with having a CEN-B rating, and it means it's still suitable for use as an improvised anchor for crevasse rescue or to belay off of in snowy terrain. This rating involves various strength tests on the shaft as well as the pick.
Our review team appreciated a few design features that made the Venom easier to use as an improvised anchor. Not only does the Venom feature an oversized spike, which makes it easier to plunge vertically into the snow. This, of course, has numerous advantages, whether used to quickly back up a seated belay or a standing ice axe belay. It can also be beneficial in beefing up an existing picket anchor by placing it vertically in front of a deadman's snow picket (Saxon's Cross Technique).
Our review team liked the large-sized hole in the Venom's head, which was one of only two models large enough to accommodate two carabiners (the BD Swift also shares this design). While our reviewers appreciate this feature, we must admit that it's pretty rare that we need to be able to clip two carabiners to an ice axe.
Steep Ice and Snow
The Venom features a curved shaft and aggressive pick options, which make it one of the best steep snow and ice climbing axes in our review. Like the Sum'Tec, we feel good about using the Venom on moderate ice (WI 3) and okay on WI 4. When using on WI 5 or 6, we found leading to be a fairly challenging task.
The Venom is compatible with all of Black Diamond's technical picks, a design feature we appreciated, as it allowed us to make the most out of its modular head. BD took this modularity one step further and included their mountain tech pick on the hammer option, with the adze model sporting their mountain classic pick. It's worth noting that its closest competition, the Petzl Sum'Tec, is compatible with all of Petzl's ice tool picks.
The Venom features an identical shaft to the Black Diamond Swift; all of our testers welcomed the curved and ergonomically shaped design which not only provided users with more clearance while swinging above their head (piolet traction) but also kept our hands warmer and drier while using it in mid-dagger position (piolet appui). Besides the nice bend of the shaft for clearance, the shape of the shaft itself is teardrop shaped, providing exceptional comfort for long sections of steep snow, as it was wider than a traditional oval. In addition to comfort, the shape also provided better leverage; this allowed for the pick to drive into the snow easier. We also experienced less fatigue overall while ascending sustained slopes in the 40-50 degree range.
We also absolutely loved this model's adjustable slider pommel, which locked into place similarly to BD's FlickLock Poles, and proved to be very secure. The pommel located lower down on the shaft provided support, which allowed us to use the Venom more like a traditional ice tool. It could also be placed just below the head to further protect our hand (and keep it drier) while ascending slopes with mid-dagger technique.
The Venom is one of the very best steep snow climbing options in the review, blowing many of the models out of the water; one exception is the Petzl Sum'Tec, which is similarly designed. Even other solid steep snow performers like the Petzl Summit, Black Diamond Swift, and the Grivel Evolution don't offer up as near solid performance. It was a tough call between the Sum'tec and the Venom for our review team's choice for the best overall modular axe for steep snow climbing. In the end, the Sum'Tec won our award because it was slightly lighter, and we liked the picks slightly better, though the Venom remains an extremely capable axe.
Comfort to Carry
The Venom is one of the most comfortable axes to carry, regardless of the position. In self-arrest/pick-backward position, the Venom, along with the others in the Black Diamond line, top the rest when it comes to comfort in this position. In self-belay/piolet canne (pick forward position), we still see a great deal of comfort, though it faces stiffer competition.
At 18 ounces, the new Venom is slightly lighter than the previous model, but it remains one of the heaviest models we tested. It's only one ounce heavier than Black Diamond's similarly designed Swift (17 oz) or the similar performing Petzl Sum'Tec (17 ounces), which also features a modular head. While it tends to be around 3-5 ounces heavier than many higher performing non-modular axes, the Venom is more versatile, and its extra weight does directly translate into performance in steeper terrain and burly glacier travel.
While slightly on the heavier side for an ice axe, it is lighter than most ice tools, which it is comparable to its performance. If you don't need the modular head or steep snow performance, you can easily save the weight. However, if you think it will come in handy for complex glacier climbs, steep snow, and moderate ice routes, it is only a few extra ounces, and you'll receive a great deal in return.
The Venom's overall performance and the price tag equate to a straight up screaming good deal. It's basically an ice tool for moderate ice that is half of what most traditional ice tools cost. When compared to its most direct competition, the Petzl Sum'Tec, you'll find it's a fair amount cheaper. It's less expensive than several high-end non-modular axes like the Petzl Summit Evo, the Black Diamond Swift, and the Grivel Air Tech Evolution - all of which offer comparable performance.
The Black Diamond Venom is a capable model that excels at a broad spectrum of mountaineering objectives. This high-performing all-arounder is most at home on moderate waterfall ice, steep snow routes, and complex glacier climbs, where most of its design will truly shine. It will still perform well for moderate routes but is a bit on the heavy side. It's also friendly on the wallet, and provides similar performance to our favorite modular tool, the Petzl Sum'tec, but for a lower price (and is only one ounce heavier).
— Ian Nicholson