Grivel Air Tech Evolution Review
Cons: Expensive, slightly on the heavier side, like its slider pummel but wished it could be placed in more positions along the shaft
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Grivel Air Tech Evolution is one of the best mountaineering axes currently available. The Air Tech Evo excels at nearly every mountaineering activity and will stand up to even the most demanding users. In fact, in the United States and Canada, this is one of only three ice axes that you'll see 90+ percent of mountain guides use.
This is one of the best all-around performance mountain axes. While it's overkill for someone who is going to just use it for simple snow climbs, basic glacier mountaineering routes, or early season alpine rock climbs, it still isn't totally unreasonable, though these users could certainly get away with a lighter option.
The Air Tech Evo is best for all-around alpine climbing where users may be faced with steeper sections of snow, challenging glacial conditions, or other problems where its elevated performance is worth its additional cost and slightly heavier-than-average weight. As it is on the heavier side, it isn't an ideal choice for ski mountaineers, early season backpackers, or alpine rock climbers but will totally work and isn't MUCH heavier. It is a fantastic choice for 40-50 degree routes by itself or for 55 degrees or steeper routes when paired with a second ice tool. Since it offers exceptional durability, it is a fantastic choice for mountain guides and outdoor educators who will use the full gambit of its features and will benefit from its toughness during many seasons of use and abuse.
The Air Tech Evo boasts incredible power and smoothness when self-arresting. Its hot-forged, aggressive, positive curve pick offers near unequaled prowess. The shaft has a gentle curve, which is focused just below the head, gave greater self-arresting power over non-curved shaft models. The Air Tech, along with the Petzl Summit Evo, Grivel Air Tech Racing SA, and Petzl Summit offered by far the best self-arresting performance in our review.
Digging and Step Chopping
The Air Tech Evowas one of the best step choppers, T-slot makers, and icy tent platform creators, no matter how hard the ice was. In all our digging tests, this model, which featured an identical adze, performed the best.
Use as an Improvised Anchor
Tester Ian Nicholson, an IFMGA mountain guide, has personally pounded over a thousand pickets with his Air Tech Evo and compared to various other models, it has shown very little wear. The hot-forged chromoly steel head holds up well, and the flat area on the head of the axe is well-suited for pounding pickets. It offered comparable performance to the Petzl Sum'tec Evo.
The hole in the middle of the head easily accepts a carabiner, and the spike helps facilitate a vertical anchor exceptionally well. The new version of this axe only receives a CEN "B" Rating (Type 1), whereas the old version was a CEN "T" Rating (Type 2). The new version's shafts 2.5KN strength rating is plenty compared to the "T's" 4 KN. The only two axes we tested that have a CEN-T rating are the Petzl Sum'tec and the Black Diamond Swift.
Steep Ice and Snow
The Air Tech Evo is one of the best steep snow climbing axes you can buy. It does not feature a reverse curved pick and scores similarly to our Editors' Choice, Petzl Summit Evo. Even when compared to models with modular, reverse curved picks, the Air Tech Evo performs nearly as well on steep snow.
The Air Tech Evo's pick is hot forged Chromoly steel, meaning it can be thinner than a laser-cut or stamped model; this allows the Air Tech Evo to penetrate snow or ice better, while still being stronger. Besides being thinner, the Air Tech Evo's pick is still stronger than models that feature the previously mentioned construction methods.
The Air Tech Evo's pick is a positive curve but is slightly more aggressive than average; it has larger teeth, allowing it to excel when driven into snow or ice. Grivel also heavily tapers their pick so that it has the best chance to penetrate the snow or ice with its thin pick but is thicker closer to the shaft, which provides more support in softer conditions.
The Air Tech Evo's shaft has a fairly significant bend for a traditional axe, allowing for more clearance for your hand when in the mid-dagger positon (piolet appui). This clearance gives you more leverage on the pick, enabling you to drive it deeper; it's more comfortable overall and keeps your hand slightly warmer and drier. Compared to other models with bent shafts, the Air Tech Evo has more clearance.
The Air Tech Evo has a rubber-grip at the lowest portion of its shaft for grip when swinging the tool, but it's also excellent for chopping with the adze.
Its pommel has the option to be used with an included removable, stretchy, umbilical-cord style leash. Unlike the Petzl Sum'tec, which has a slider pummel that can be positioned anywhere along the shaft, this model doesn't lock into place and can only be used at the base of the haft for support while swinging or tucked out of the way below the spike.
Comfort to Carry
Like many European models, the Air Tech Evo likes to be carried in the self-belay position (pick-forward). However, it is still certainly above average when carried in the self-arrest position (pick backward). For self-belay/pick forwards, this model earns a perfect score. Our testers loved it for both all-day carrying comfort and driving the spike/ shaft of the axe deep into the snow while traveling in steeper terrain when in self-arrest/Piolet Canne or even belaying our short sections in Piolet Manche (both hands on the head in a "T" position).
Our entire testing team also particularly liked the curved shaft for steep ascents because it was easier to maintain our balance by using the spoke of the Air Tech Evo. All of our testers agreed that the curved shaft was nice for steep ascents while still holding the axe in the self-belay/piolet-canne position (not yet with the pick in the snow).
This axe is hardly heavy and compared to models of yesteryear; it is quite light. The Air Tech Evo weighs 15.2 ounces, with the only heavier non-modular model being the Black Diamond Swift. The Air Tech Evo is heavier than its closest competition the Petzl Summit Evo 14.1 ounces (so barely an ounce heavier) remains lighter than all the modular options we tested like the Petzl Sum'tec (17.1 ounces), or the Black Diamond Venom (18 ounces). For most people considering the Air Tech Evo, the extra couple ounces over a more basic all-around mountain axe will easily be worth its significant additional performance. For example, the Air Tech Evo outperforms more basic all-arounders like the Black Diamond Raven Pro (13 ounces) or the Petzl Glacier (12.3 ounces) in every possible way.
This axe is one of the more expensive models in our review but is line with other top-tier performance axes like the Petzl Summit Evo and BD Swift. It is less than several modular headed models and brings a lot to the table from a functionality standpoint. It's higher performing than many of the $100-$150 axes, at least for an all-around mountaineering and alpine climbing ice axe. Also, because of its impressive durability, it is the type of ice axe that can last you a lifetime if you are gentle on your gear or at least close to a decade if you are a mountain guide or put serious hurt on your equipment.
One of the best all-around mountaineering axes out there, the Air Tech Evolution does nearly everything well and was very nearly our Editors' Choice, only barely losing out to the Petzl Summit Evo. We liked the ergonomics on the shaft of the Summit Evo better for steep snow climbing, and it was slightly lighter; however the Air Tech Evo remains a very close second and a rad all-around option.If extreme toughness and top-notch steep snow performance are priorities, then this is a fantastic option. If you are looking for a simple ice axe for general mountaineering, you can save a few dollars and a few ounces with another model, but other than a little weight, this axe provides very few downsides. So if steep alpine faces or late season glaciated ascents are in your future, then Evo makes a great choice.
— Ian Nicholson