What is an Ice Axe? Ice Pick Differences Explained

Updated on December 20, 2022 by

An ice axe is a tool used by mountaineers and climbers to climb steep ice-covered slopes. It consists of a metal shaft, typically aluminum or steel, with a sharp metal spike at the front end and an adze (a cutting blade) at the back end. The shaft is long enough to allow two hands to grip it. The shaft ends in a spike which may be either straight or curved.

The adze is typically used to cut steps in the ice, chop steps out from snow banks, and chop footholds in hard snow or ice. It can also be used as an anchor when belaying another climber by placing it into cracks and overhangs on the rock surface.

An ice axe is a specialized type of mountaineering equipment used for self-arrest and to cut steps in ice or snow. This article will discuss the different kinds of ice axes, their use, and their history.

What is an Ice Axe?

An ice axe is a tool used by mountaineers to climb ice-covered slopes. It has a long shaft with an adze on the front and an ice pick on the back.

The adze is used to make the surface of the ice more solid and easier to walk on. It also helps in making steps for ascending a steep slope.

An ice pick is a tool used for climbing ice. It is often attached to the front of an ice axe and has a sharp, pointed blade that is used for stabbing into the ice.

The ice axe handle is made of wood, metal, or plastic. Modern ice axes are more likely to be made from strong and lightweight materials such as aluminum or Kevlar. The head is more likely to be a steel alloy for strength and durability.

A leash is a long strap of material, typically nylon or webbing, to secure an item to another.

The ice axe leashes attach the ice axes to the backpack. It is also used as a safety measure so that if you accidentally drop your axe, it will not fall down the mountain and get lost.

ice axe

What is an Ice Axe Used For?

Ice axes are predominantly used to climb ice, but they can also be used for other purposes, such as cutting steps in hard snow or as an anchor to belay another person.

An ice axe’s functions can be summarized as follows:

  • Self-Arresting
  • Digging into Ice
  • Step Chopping
  • Improvised Anchor
  • Climbing Steep Slopes

The head of the ice axe is typically made from forged steel and has two opposing picks, which are sharpened to penetrate ice well. The top of the axe is curved to help it fit into the palm of one’s hand.

The ice axe can be used in three ways: as an anchor to stop a fall, as an aid to self-arrest, and as an aid to ascending steep slopes.

The first use of the ice axe is for anchoring oneself on very steep or icy terrain where there are no natural anchors such as trees or rocks. This can be done by driving the spike into the slope with one’s weight and then attaching oneself to it by looping one’s climbing rope around it and tying it off.

What Size Ice Axe Do I Need?

An ice axe is a tool that is used in mountaineering and climbing. It is used to anchor oneself to ice, snow, or a glacier. The length of the shaft varies. A standard ice axe has a handle that ranges from 20 to 30 inches in length, but it can be shorter if it’s for kids or taller if it’s for adults.

Manufacturers have also produced lighter ice axes of only 18 inches in length for race mountaineering.

The angle of the blade also varies depending on the terrain and whether you are ascending or descending.

This table shows the recommended ice axe length based on the climber’s height:

HeightIce Axe Length
5’8″20 to 24 in
6’0″22 to 26 in
6’2″24 to 30 in

Ice axes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. The weight of the average ice axe ranges from 10 oz for a small mountain model up to 20 oz for a large mountaineer’s tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ice Axe vs Ice Tool vs Ice Pick

What is the difference between an Ice Axe and an Ice Pick?

An ice pick is a component of an ice axe. An ice axe is a mountaineering tool with a curved pick on one end and a spike (ice pick) on the other.

An ice pick is a part of the ice axe with a sharp point. It is designed for climbing steep ice.

You can also get an ice pick as a completely separate tool. The pick is usually shorter, and it has a metal point on the end that can be used for prying or digging out steps in hard snow or ice.

What is the difference between an Ice Axe and an Ice Tool?

The main difference between an ice axe and an ice tool is that the former is used to cut snow or ice steps while the latter is only used for climbing, ascending, or descending. An Ice Tool is generally shorter with a more pronounced curve used for more vertical climbing. An Ice Tool doesn’t have an adze on the back.


The conclusion is that ice axes are a valuable tool for mountaineers. They can help them climb steep slopes and provide stability on slippery surfaces. Make sure you select an ice axe with the correct length, weight, material of construction, and the leashing mechanism to ensure you don’t lose it.

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Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performed logging services for Oregan's forestry industry for over a decade. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I enjoy timbersports and have ranked in my local lumberjack competitions. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help. I also have a large collection of restored vintage axes that I carefully maintain.