What Size Of Ice Axe Do I Need?

mountaineering ice axe

If you’ve decided to take up mountaineering, then you’ll need to get yourself a good ice axe.

Ice axes come in different sizes, so you’ll have to choose a size before you set out for that high altitude adventure.

But which size of ice axe do you need?

Well, that depends on a few factors, so let us help you determine which size ice axe is best for your needs.

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How Long Should An Ice Axe Be?

As you shop for your mountaineering ice axe, you’ll notice that the lengths range from 55 to 75 cm. And they’re sold in 5cm increments.

Tip: Ice axe sizes state the distance from the tip of the axe to the top of its head.

Generally speaking, you’ve got shorter ice axes and longer ice axes.

Most people going mountaineering tend to choose a shorter ice axes because it offers more benefits.

Reasons to choose a shorter ice axe:

  • it weighs less
  • you’re going to be on steep terrain
  • you don’t expect to use your ice axe much
  • it’s more comfortable to use

NEVER get an ice axe shorter than 60cm because its spike will be dangerously close to your vital organs during a self-arrest.

Reasons to choose a longer ice axe:

  • you’re mostly going to be on low-angle snowfields
  • you’ll mostly use it to build snow anchors
  • you’ll mostly use it to probe for cornices and crevasses

Don’t get an axe longer than 70cm unless you’re tall enough to need an axe that size.

How To Measure For Ice Axe Size

The trick to getting the right size ice axe is getting a proper measurement of yourself. 

If you stand up straight and hold the axe by its head, then you can eyeball it to see if the ice axe is the right size.

If the spike falls below your ankle, then the axe is too long for you.

For proper sizing, the spike should be somewhere between the bottom half of your calf and the top of your ankle.

Okay, so here’s how to take your measurement to see what size ice axe best fits your body. (You’ll need a friend to help out)

  1. Stand, facing forward, and hold the head of the axe, with the adze forward and your thumb resting on it.
  2.  The arm holding the axe head should be down at your side and the spike of the axe dangling toward the ground.
  3. Have your friend look to see where the tip of the spike lines up with your body.

A properly sized ice axe should have the tip of the spike even with your ankle, or an inch above it, when you do this measurement.

parts of an ice axe
image via REI

As you can see, it’s ideal if you can do this measurement in your local outdoor gear shop while holding different size ice axes.

But, you can still get a proper measurement if you’re at home! Here’s how:

  1. Stand facing forward and pretend that you’re holding the ice axe as described above.
  2. Get a friend to measure the distance from the base of your thumb to your ankle.
  3. Take the measurement in centimeters, since that’s how the axes are sized!

Now, you’re ready to shop for the right sized ice axe before you set out on that mountaineering adventure.

And if you’re more of a visual learner, then check out the video below where Reuben from Next Adventure shows you how to determine the proper sized straight shaft ice axe for your mountaineering adventures.

Summary

As you can see, getting the right size ice axe for mountaineering is a relatively simple process.

Ideally, you end up with something that is long enough that you can use it somewhat like a walking stick or a cane on steep terrain but short enough that it’s not unwieldy and you can still self-arrest with it, should the need arise.

At the end of the day, sizing a mountaineering ice axe is a personal preference and there’s no single right way to do it. So, measure it out and see how your measured size feels in your hand – and feel free to go up or down as size, as needed.

And before you head out into the cold with your gear, make sure that you know how to use that ice axe properly.

top image: DepositPhotos

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