Not to be left behind in the light-weight ice screw game, Black Diamond has released their own version of a composite, aluminum-steel, screw that they’re calling the Ultralight Ice Screw. Constructed from the ground up these screws feature a new aluminum hanger and aluminum tube that’s attached to a hardened steel cutting surface. They’re now the lightest screws on the market and, even better, have an absolutely fantastic tooth profile that really bites into the ice making placing easy… In the right kind of ice anyway. As with the Petzl aluminum screws, these new BD screws also tend to bind in wet or green ice on cold days. That particular issue seems to be a function of the thermal properties of aluminum, not the screw itself though one of our testers seemed to have really good luck with the Kailas aluminum screws.
Design & Performance:
- Aluminum Hanger & Shaft
- Wire-gate crank
- 2 clip-in points
- 2mm Thick Tube
- Steel Cutting edge
The new aluminum hanger sports two large clip-in points as well as a cool and unique crank. Based on the design of a wire-gate for a carabiner the crank is not only lightweight but also snaps open and closed. It doesn’t stand up to abuse though so you’ll want to take it easy on the ‘ol crank.
Black Diamond made the tube on the new aluminum screws a bit larger than their steel screws. This change was needed as aluminum isn’t as strong as steel so to achieve the required strength they needed to either make the tubes thicker or larger in diameter. Going larger in diameter saves on weight and material costs so is the obvious choice. The below table gives you a feel for the various ice screw tube diameters.
Tube Diameters for some Common Ice Screws:
|Petzl Laser Speed (Steel)||16.5mm|
|Grivel Ice Screws (Steel)||17.0mm|
|BD Express Ice Screw (Steel)||17.2mm|
|Petzl Laser Speed Light (Aluminum)||17.9mm|
|BD Ultralight Ice Screw (Aluminum)||19.2mm|
Now because BD’s Ultralight Ice Screws have a larger tube diameter than their steel brethren, the tooth profile had to change a bit. This new tooth profile is amazing! The screws are very easy to start as the teeth really bit into the ice. After climbing with a variety of different screws from different brands dangling from my harness this winter I found that I’d gravitate to the new BD aluminum screws when it really counted. Times when I was fatiguing and needed the screw to go in quickly or when the stance was a bit awkward. Of course, I do gravitate towards all-steel screws when placing in green or wet ice as the aluminum guys tent to bind.
The new aluminum Ultralight Ice Screws from Black Diamond come in the same lengths as the old steel Express screws with the exception of the stubby, 10cm screw which is only available in all-steel. However, for some strange reason BD decided to deviate from their standard colors with the 22cm screw. If you go with the Aluminum version the crank is purple where-as it’s green if you buy the all-steel version. Possibly because the screws are green?
Black Diamond Ultralight Ice Screw Lengths:
- Yellow: 13cm
- Blue: 16cm
- Grey: 19cm
- Purple: 22cm
Now the culmination of all the light-weight features that BD employed with their new Ultralight Screws has resulted in an exceptionally light ice screw. They’re 42-45% lighter than the equivalent size Express screw which is simply amazing! They’re also lighter than the Petzl Laser Speed Light screws by about 18% but of course a straight comparison is only possible on the 13cm screw as the sizing doesn’t line-up on the rest of them (see below table).
Ice Screw Weight Table
|Screw Length||BD Aluminum||Petzl Aluminum||BD Steel||Petzl Steel|
The hanger on aluminum screws are made of aluminum making them more delicate than their steel brethren. I’ve bent the odd Petzl aluminum hanger trying to get that last turn out of the screw when it just doesn’t quite want to go all the way around. As a result I’ve gotten out of the habit of forcing the last turn, it’s just not worth damaging the hanger. With the new BD screws I expect that they would have similar issues with bending but I never reefed on one hard enough to find out. The crank on the BD aluminum screws is also a bit more delicate than that on their steel Express screws and so won’t take as much abuse either. That being said, if you don’t abuse them I expect that the crank will stand the test of time.
Ice screw threads seem to stand up reasonably well in general, even on aluminum screws. But you grind the teeth into some rock and you’re going to be spending some time sharpening. A few rocks and sharpening cycles at home and you’ll want to send the screw to a pro to get a proper sharpening job done. With composite aluminum-steel screws there are definitely limitations to the amount they can be sharpened. On the Petzl version the limits seem to be imposed by the amount of steel around the tooth that lines up with the aluminum notch. On the BD Ultralight ice screws it seems that the aluminum tube extends all the way inside the steel cutting edge to the base of the teeth (see photo). This means that with very little sharpening of the steel tip will expose the interior aluminum tube and may weaken the teeth. Of course this is a speculation as I haven’t sent in any of these screws for sharpening yet nor had any tooth issues.
As with any new product, these new screws had a few issues when they were first released to the masses. The main issue that I heard about was a separation of the stainless steel insert from the aluminum tube though there was also some talk about broken cranks. The tube issue seems to have been corrected and, as I mentioned above, don’t abuse the crank and you should be fine.
Pros: Easy to place, lightweight, fantastic hanger design
Cons: More expensive than other options
Overall: Lightweight and functional screws that really bites into ice making placements quick and easy, definitely my new go-to screw. However, like the Petzl aluminum screws they bind in green or wet ice so it’s still a good idea to have a few steel screws on the harness.
Black Sheep Adventure Sports was provided with some test samples but of course this didn’t influence our opinion in any way.