Comparison Review: Lightweight Mountaineering Axes

Glissading down from a long alpine adventure with lightweight axe in hand.

There’s a huge variety of lightweight mountaineering axes on the market which can make choosing the right one for your specific adventure difficult. Most of the different axe types, designs, shapes, lengths, etc. have a specific use in mind be it alpine climbing, summer mountaineering, ski mountaineering and so on. Though some designs are simply carry-overs from days of mountaineering past which only sell because the sales staff at some outdoor retailers just don’t know better.

Mountaineering Axe Comparison Review
Various mountaineering axes from lightweight to heavy duty.

This comparison review will focus on lightweight mountaineering axes. The type of axe that you want for ski mountaineering, approaching alpine rock routes, etc. Not the type for alpine ice or mixed routes that require a much sturdier tool. The line-up includes:

  • Corsa Nanotech
  • Petzl Gully and Ride
  • Grivel Ghost and Ghost Evo
  • Black Diamond Raven Ultra

As you can see we’re only looking at the more common and widely available options. A number of very specialized companies have popped up in recent years utilizing fancy composites and other materials in an effort to shave off a few grams. This includes carbon fiber, Kevlar and of course titanium. However, as such tools tend to be fairly expensive and not all that easy to find I’ll skip them for now.

Lightweight Mountaineering Axe Details & Specs:

  Corsa Nanotech Petzl Gully* Petzl Ride* Grivel Ghost Evo** Grivel Ghost** Black Diamond Raven Ultra
Weight: 250g 280g 240g 313g 272g (48cm) 348g
Length Tested 50cm 45cm 45cm 48cm n/a 50cm
Lengths Available: 50, 60 & 70cm 45cm 45cm 48 & 53cm 48 & 53cm 50, 55 & 60cm
Pick Shape: Positive Curve Slight Reverse Curve Positive Curve Positive Curve Positive Curve Positive Curve
Head Type: Adze Adze or Hammer Adze only Adze Adze Adze
Head Material: Aluminum Alloy w. Steel tip Steel Steel Steel Steel Steel
Shaft Type: Bent Bent Bent Bent V. Small Bend Straight
Shaft Material: Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy
Spike Type: Cut Shaft w. Riveted Steel Spike Cut Shaft Cut Shaft Steel Insert Cut Shaft Cut Shaft
Spike Material: Steel Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy Steel Aluminum Alloy Aluminum Alloy
Hand-rest: No Yes No No No No
Other Features: Optional Leash Pick Weights

Tether hole in Spike

Tether hole in Spike Tether hole in Spike Color Options

Tether hole in Spike

Optional Leash

Tether hole in Spike

  • * The Petzl Gully and Ride have a lot of similarities so I will be reviewing the Gully mainly with some comment on the differences between the two.
  • ** Grivel makes two versions of the Ghost so both were included in the review table though the Evo is reviewed with a few comments on the original.

Each of the mountaineering axes are individually reviewed below. This is then followed by a summery. If you don’t see a specific axe here that you’re curious about shoot me a message and I’ll see if I can’t add it to the review.

Corsa Nanotech:

Corsa NanoTechMade by Camp, the Corsa line of mountaineering axes are very lightweight and functional. We chose to include the slightly heavier Nanotech version in this comparison because it’s a much more versatile tool for both summer and winter mountaineering.

Starting at the top, the Corsa Nanotech features a very unique and innovative composite steel-aluminum pick design. Basically the entire pick and adze is made of an aluminum alloy except for the tip which is made of a small piece of Sandvik Nanoflex® steel that is riveted into place. This provides the strength and durability of steel where it’s needed while utilizing the lighter weight aluminum where it’s not. Camp suggests that the axe is not designed for technical climbing but I’ve used it to get out of many a steep bergschrund without issue.

Corsa NanoTech
The large cut-out on the pick of the Corsa NanoTech does not work well with the carry systems on some packs and can fall off.

I’m not a huge fan of the design of the small aluminum adze. It’s no good for chipping at rocky ice but of course that’s expected. However it should be decent at digging in the snow for a t-slot etc. Unfortunately the large cut-outs on the adze allow snow though making it much less effective. This design was adopted to reduce weight of course but I think a bunch of smaller holes would have been a better design. Another cut-out issue is found on the pick where the large holes don’t work well with some types of pack carry systems.

Corsa NanoTech
The spike on the Corsa NanoTech is made from a small piece of steel riveted to the aluminum shaft.

The shaft of the Nanotech is slightly bent for better self-arrest performance and clearance in high-dagger but of course it still plunges quite well. The handle at the bottom of the shaft has small strips of grip tape for better handling when swinging. They can get gummed up with snow at times though.

Lastly, the spike at the bottom of the axe is made of a small piece of Sandvik Nanoflex® steel. Simple and effective. The bottom of the shaft also has a nylon plug to stop snow from getting too far up the inside of the shaft and adding weight. There’s no hole for clipping a tether but as I don’t use one it’s not an issue for me.


Pros: Lightweight, durable, versatile

Cons: Long cut-out on the pick and adze, no grip tape for high dagger

Overall: A very functional and lightweight axe that works great for both summer mountaineering and ski mountaineering. However the large cut-out on the pick does not work with the axe carry system on found on some alpine packs.

Petzl Gully (and Ride):

Petzl Mountaineering AxeThe Gully is a fantastic year-round mountaineering axe with all the features you really need while the Ride is a little less technical and more streamlined with a focus on really saving weight. As Petzl’s Gully and Ride axes are very similar this review will focus mainly on the Gully with some comments on the differences between the two options. For a full write-up on the Ride refer here.

The head of the Gully features a steel pick with the option of a lightweight hammer or an adze. Both the hammer and adze options are small but still functional. The cut-outs on the adze are thin and so don’t allow snow to flow through. This makes the tool much more effective at digging. The hammer isn’t the easiest to use as it’s small and the shaft is bent. However, that being said, it still works well at installing snow pickets, dulling the edges of rock for rappels and anchors or for re-setting a loose piton. The steel pick has a slightly more technical shape than the Ride and decent swing for such a light tool. A great option for short pitches of easy alpine ice or ‘shrund crossings.

Petzl Mountaineering Axe
The Gully (center & right)has both an adze or hammer option while the Ride (left) comes with an adze.

Both the Gully and Ride have a bent shaft for better self-arrest performance and better clearance in high dagger while still allowing the axes to plunge well. The Gully comes with a movable hand-rest that Petzl calls a Trigrest. This small device drastically increases the performance of the axe by providing a very secure grip at any point on the shaft. The Ride does not have a Trigrest and so can feel a little slippery with snowy gloves.

The spike on the bottom of both the Ride and Gully was created by cutting the aluminum shaft at an angle. A plastic plug finishes the bottom of the shaft to ensure that it doesn’t pack with snow. While this design is lighter than a steel spike it also sacrifices some durability as the point will wear and can get small burrs if used to brace against rock.

The Gully is the most technical of the axes in this review and it really shows when put to use in the alpine. It climbs and swings exceptionally well for such a light axe.


Pros: Climbs very well, versatile, only lightweight hammer option

Cons: Single length option (a 55cm option for taller people & monkeys would have been nice), no real spike

Overall: A very functional and lightweight summer and winter alpine tool that climbs amazingly well. Some very tall people may feel that it’s a bit short.

Grivel Ghost Evo (and Ghost):

Grivel Ghost EvoGrivel’s Ghost and Ghost Evo are almost the same tool so, like the Gully & Ride, will be discussed together. However, as I was only supplied with the Evo version for review, any comments on the original version of the axe are based upon the specifications and not actual testing.

The head of the Ghost features a pick with a very deep cross-section that flairs even deeper where it joins the shaft. This makes the axe fairly uncomfortable to hang onto when plunging or walking. The pick has a traditional positive curve with an adze welded onto the back end. The Adze has a single large hole cut out of it that almost renders it useless for digging in the snow for a t-slot, etc. though it does work for chipping ice.

Grivel Ghost Evo
The deep cross-section of the pick makes it a little uncomfortable to hang onto when walking.

The shaft of the Ghost Evo has a slight bend to facilitate self-arresting and high dagger use. The bend is less pronounced than that on the Petzl axes but the same as the Corsa Nanotech. On the non-Evo version of the Ghost the shaft looks to have an even more subtle bend. The shaft itself is made from shaped aluminum tubing and is coated with a very slippery paint making it quite insecure when wet or snowy. To combat this a small patch of grip tape has been added to the bottom of the shaft.

The spike on the bottom of both the Ghost Evo is made from a steel insert while the Ghost features a cut aluminum shaft with a plug much like the Ride or Gully. The steel pick makes the Evo more durable for use around rocks but of course this comes at the cost of some added weight.


Pros: Comes in two very functional length options

Cons: Not a very comfortable pick to hang onto when plunging or walking, large adze hole

Overall: Not my first choice.

Black Diamond Raven Ultra:

Black Diamond Raven UltraBlack Diamond’s Raven Ultra features a much more traditional design than all the other axes in this review. The head has a thin steel pick with a traditional positive curve that’s comfortable to hang onto. The adze has a single large hole to cut down on weight but of course allows snow to easily pass though rendering it almost useless for digging in the snow for t-slots. Chipping ice isn’t an issue though.

In a nod to traditional design the Raven Ultra has a straight shaft, the only such axe in this review. This makes it slightly less friendly for use in high dagger though the shaft-head connection is quite comfortable making up for the straight shaft. The shaft itself is constructed of a coated aluminum tube which can be slippery when wet or snowy though not as bad as the Ghost.

Black Diamond Raven Ultra
The head of the

The spike on the Raven is made from an angled cut of the aluminum shaft reinforced with a steel insert. This insert protects the bottom of the shaft from wear while providing more purchase on snow and rock. This same steel insert also stops the shaft from filling with snow. A very functional design.


Pros: Durable head, comfortable design

Cons: Heavy, large adze hole

Overall: Not as technical as the other axes reviewed but a solid choice for people that prefer a more traditional design.


While each of the reviewed axes are lightweight (some more than others) the different designs and features allow them to excel in different areas. So, based on the person and the expected use here’s where each axe is best used in my option:

Corsa Nanotech:

  • Just-in-case axe for ski mountaineering and summer alpine rock climbing where the axe is likely to spend most of its time attached to a pack and weight is critical.
  • A longer but still lightweight and somewhat technical axe is wanted.

Petzl Gully:

  • Technical alpine approaches on steep snow and ice where some actual climbing may be required.
  • A 2nd tool for big alpine missions where a solid workhorse of an axe is needed a lot but an extra tool may be required for shorter sections.

Petzl Ride:

  • Just-in-case axe for ski mountaineering and summer alpine rock climbing where the axe is likely to spend most of its time attached to a pack and weight is critical.

Grivel Ghost & Ghost Evo:

  • An option if neither the Corsa or Petzl axes are available.

Black Diamond Raven Ultra:

  • An ideal choice for anyone that prefers a more traditional, straight shaft design or people seeking a very comfortable axe to walk with.

Black Sheep Adventure Sports was supplied with test samples for this review but of course that did not influence us in any way.