Whether you're mixed climbing in Scotland, pumping out on pure Continental ice, or (whisper it) dry tooling, a pair of technical axes are your key weapons. Think of them as an extension to your body, the vital interface between your hands and the mountain. In this comparison review, seven pairs of techy axes from leading brands go head to head. Which is the winner? Well there's no one right answer. The choice of axe is a personal thing, based on what exactly you plan to do with it, and on that more elusive and subjective quality, the 'feel'. Every climber will have their own favourite; hopefully this review will help you choose yours..


We've been using this selection of tools since autumn 2017. In addition to putting them through their paces on Scottish winter routes, as conditions have allowed, we conducted head-to-head comparisons between them all in more controlled environments, both dry tooling and an indoor ice wall, Glasgow's Snow Factor. Input has been provided by a test team of several climbers, and since every member of the team had their personal favourites, the verdicts in this review reflect the consensus opinion on each axe.

Weight and balance

At just 514g (minimum weight) this is a real lightweight option, perfect for long mountain days - think alpine classics or big Ben Nevis ice routes. Balance is pretty neutral in the hand, though with the addition of hammer and adze attachments the weight does shift towards the head. For pure ice climbing some users might appreciate a bit more oomph for penetration, and here's where the additional pick weights come into play (a set come as standard with the axe and they can also be bought separately should you lose the first lot). With these weights fitted the swing is great, with good solid penetration into hard ice despite the overall lightness of the axe. For pure ice climbing we think the North Couloir really shines, in fact it's one of the best performers in the review! But thanks to its sheer lightness the North Couloir doesn't have the bombproof feel of the heavier models, and when mixed climbing this doesn't inspire quite as much confidence as a real workhorse of an axe might. When doing stein pulls or torquing, for instance, we can feel a very marginal flex in the shaft; however to be fair, CT did tell us that it wasn't designed with dry tooling uppermost in mind! This axe might not be the best choice if you anticipate giving it a lot of rough treatment - regular drytooling or loads of Scottish mixed for instance, but if saving weight is a priority then it's a bit of a winner.


Slightly less aggressively curved than its nearest relation in this review, the DMM Apex, the geometry of the North Couloir may be less well adapted than the crank-handled axes on test here to steeper and more technical ground (and arguably slightly less techy than the Apex too), but the flipside of this is that it's a better mountain all-rounder than all but the Apex. For climbing moderate-angled ground, this T-rated shaft works very well, and it can also be easily incorporated into an axe belay if necessary. But when things get harder the North Couloir is still very capable. We've used it on vertical ice, drytooling up to M7, and tech 6 in the real world, and it's not the axe that's holding us back!Handle and shaft

Formed from a simple rubbery cover over the shaft, the handle is comparatively basic, with minimal sculpting for extra grip compared to some of the more radical options on test. It has a narrower diameter and offers slightly less hand space than the Apex. There's still room for bigger hands in thick gloves, but we think the dimensions best suit small-to-medium hands - and the handles are not adjustable for size. Unlike the full-on handles of the more technical axes, the North Couloir can readily be plunged shaft-first, and to make this even easier the grip rests can be removed, giving it more adaptability as an all-rounder. The spike is good and sharp, with a hole that's big enough for a clip-in leash.

The lower hand rest is a bit smaller than the Apex's, which again better suits a smaller hand; the upper hand rest is significantly smaller still, and can feel a bit inadequate if you've got thick gloves or cold hands. On steeper mixed, too, using the upper grip rest can feel like it's slightly pulling the pick out of marginal placements - perhaps no surprise given the less extreme geometry of the shaft.


Both ice and mixed pics are available, and are sold separately at £37. With two bolts/nuts, and the need to exactly align the holes (or risk stripping the bolt threads - we managed to wreck two) changing them is a bit fiddly. The T-rated mixed picks are slightly beefier and more chisel-shaped, and feature a serrated top; however they are still skinnier and more pointed than the other mixed picks on test, and don't feel quite as tough. Perhaps the metal is softer than some - we managed to significantly blunt them after one day on a mountaineering route and a single dry tooling session. The ice picks are really very slender, and best saved for pure ice, for which purpose they are ace. For all-round mountain use we'd definitely stick with the mixed picks, and treat them with a little more care than some others. As with the Nomic (see below) a neat touch is the addition of a little cutout in the back of each pick, which allows you to slot in a separate removable adze and hammer. The axe functions with or without this additional piece, which is great if you're dry tooling or ice cragging one day, and then the next day heading for a mountain route. Bucking the trend for smaller fittings, the adze and hammer on the North Couloir are large, and both extend far back from the shaft. This helps them clear the curve of the shaft, which for clearing crud or whacking in pegs is a distinct advantage. The axe can be bought with adze and hammer included at a very good value £170; alternatively the attachments can be bought separately at £33 apiece.Picks and extras


Best for:

A new model this season. For a dedicated mixed or dry tooling axe, we would look elsewhere, but as an all-round, go-anywhere winter and alpine tool, the North Couloir is very capable and at £160 (or £170 with adze/hammer fitted) represents very good value. And on pure ice it's a joy! Slightly less aggressive than the other tool in its category, the DMM Apex, it best suits climbers who want one axe to do a bit of everything, from moderate mountaineering through to mid-grade ice and mixed routes. The design and finish are a little basic, but this is reflected in the price tag. It's not as durable as some heavier axes, but if you're primarily looking to save weight rather than smash it around on thuggy Scottish mixed routes then its lightness will be an advantage.


Climbing Technology say:

Technical ice axe designed for ice climbing and technical mountaineering. Icefalls, north faces and goulottes are all ideal terrain for this ice axe. The possibility to fully modulate the tool with various accessories gives it a unique versatility within its category. The lightness and the precise balance makes this piece of equipment suitable for both men and women.

• Price: £160 (or £170 with adze/hammer)

• Weight: 514g (min) 568g (hammer) 562g (adze)

• Fully modular head for adapting the axe to various activities on ice and mixed technical climbing

• Light alloy shaft with an anodized finish, with the geometry and length designed to better suit the various morphologies of the ice

• ICE pick with a shaped profile that enables optimal hooking and penetration into the ice

• MIXTE pick with a pronounced curve for greater accuracy on the rock

• Adze and hammer attachments available

• Ergonomic moulded handle for a great efficiency when used in traction

• Steel hook with a hole for placing a carabiner or leash