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Think Winter

Which ice axe do I choose?

The ice axe is an indispensable winter tool, essential for safe travel on snow and ice. The axe is used for balance, cutting, probing, extra security, support, digging, as a hand hold and as insurance should things go wrong.

As with all equipment there is a variety of designs for use in different terrains and for different purposes. Broadly, ice axes can be classified under three different headings – walking axes, mountaineering axes and technical climbing tools – and come in a variety of lengths, materials, designs and strengths.

At one extreme is a walking axe, which will have a long, straight shaft and a traditionally shaped head with only a slight curve on the pick, while technical climbing tools may have curved shafts and ‘reverse curve’ picks. It’s not just a matter of taste: each is a carefully designed tool for a specific job and the choice you make is important.

The best advice is to visit your local professional outdoor retailer such as Tisos, Cotswold, Nevisport or Craigdon, explain the sort of terrain you are intending to travel in and the staff will advise you accordingly.

You might want to check out this video, which shows you how to use your ice axe. Or, even better, sign up for one of our winter skills courses and training how to use your ice axe correctly.

Axe at the ready! This type of axe is suitable for walking or mountaineering.

Curved shafts and reverse curve picks are designed for climbing steep ice

If you fall for real, chances are you'll have no warning and you may even be tumbling out of control. This Mountain Training video explains how you stabilise yourself so you can carry out an effective ice-axe brake.

The ice axe is such a vital tool for stopping slips and falls that it's easy to forget its other uses. It's not just a jaggy walking stick, as these Glenmore Lodge videos show.

1. Cutting steps

2. Making a stance