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Help picking an Ice axe

I'm looking to buy an ice axe. I had no idea there were so many types & sizes. I want it to have for emergency/ self arrest while hopefully doing some thru hiking next year, no plans to use it for serious climbing. I'm a 5'6" average sized female. Where do I start/ what would you recommend ? Thanks!

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@kbethe01 Not an REI employee but I recent went through the same process.  If it is just for emergency use when hiking...basically self arrest...then the Petzl Glacier Literide is a good lightweight choice and is the one I went for  

https://www.rei.com/product/100938/petzl-glacier-literide-ice-axe

I haven't put it to use yet so these suggestions are just what I learned from my research.

It is shorter at 50cm which makes it easier to pack and it has a steel head that is apparently very effective, a decently sized adze and proper spike.  It might benefit from some grip tape on the handle. 

When you traverse a slope you carry the axe by the head on your up slope side.  The spike on the end of the handle helps you embed it in icy snow.

Opinions vary but shorter axes are generally preferred to longer ones.  Longer axes make better walking sticks but it depends on the steepness of the slope you are traversing. When hiking a traverse the axe is used on the upward side so you don't want it too long because the snow will be higher than your feet.  Self impalement with the handle spike is the concern for shorter axes but they are easier to wield in a self arrest situation of if you are moving up the slope.  In any case the axe should not be longer than the distance from your hand hanging at your side holding the axe head and your ankle.   Another guide is diagonally from shoulder to pelvis since this is how the axe is held during self arrest and as that length or greater should make self impalement less likely.  Fans of lightweight shorter axes point out that if it is easier to carry then you are more likely to take it and self impalement on the handle spike is not actually very likely.

Get the tip guards for when you are packing it.

https://www.rei.com/product/100952/petzl-pick-and-spike-protector-caps

and you probably will want a leash.  I haven't chosen one yet.  The longer versions of the Glacier axe come with a leash.

https://www.rei.com/product/100937/petzl-glacier-ice-axe

Even lighter and apparently better for self arrest due to its bent handle but more expensive is the Petzl Ride which REI do not currently sell.  I didn't go for it because at the time it was $50 more.

The lightest is the CAMP CORSA which suffers from a hollow spike.  This can get packed with snow/ice making the handle cold and it has an all aluminum head which is less effective.  It is very light though.

https://www.rei.com/product/751753/camp-usa-corsa-ice-axe

The bent handled CAMP Nanotech is also light and is a more effective choice than the Corsa.  It is available in various lengths but REI currently only have the 60cm in the outlet and you can currently get 20% off which is a good deal if 60cm is the length you need.

https://www.rei.com/rei-garage/product/184110/camp-usa-corsa-nanotech-ice-axe-60-cm

The only downside of all these light weight axes, and maybe particularly the CAMPs,  are that the heads are not the most comfortable design to hold in the hand but with thick gloves you probably won't notice.  The more traditional Black Diamond Raven and Raven Pro are better in that regard but are heavier and not as effective.

Get some training on how to self arrest or carrying an axe can be more dangerous than not carrying one.

@kbethe01 This video is a fairly good introduction to self arrest and how to practice it safely...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QN58FtFy7dU

Do you know how to stop yourself sliding on snow by using an ice-axe self-arrest? This is an essential skill when walking and climbing in the winter mountain...

Correction:  It seems REI currently has the CAMP Nanotech in 50, 60 and 70mm lengths in the Outlet. 

Also CAMP have apparently updated the CORSA and Nanotech  for this season (Winter 2020) addressing some of the feature issues (eg the new models have a plug in the shaft and the head design is changed).  It remains to be seen if these changes affect the performance.  REI does not apparently have these updated versions available.

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Hi @kbethe01 - Thanks for bringing this question to the community! You are right, there is a lot to look into when purchasing your first ice axe.

@OldGuyot has some great suggestions and information for particular axes. For sizing, you will want to stand up straight and hold the axe by its head, with your arm relaxed and lowered by your side. Typically, the bottom of the axe should land between the lower portion of your calf and the top of your ankle. You can also check out this Expert Advice article titled ‘How to Choose an Ice Axe’ for more details.

If possible, we recommend going into your local REI to try various sizes out before purchasing, as well as seeing how the different weights and shaft grips feel.

Let us know if you have any more questions we’d be happy to help. We’d also love to hear about your thru-hiking plans if you’re willing to share! Happy hiking!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
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